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The beginning of the finish
Home might be where the heart is. But when it comes to the Seahawks, it’s also where the victories are. And the big plays. And the fourth-quarter rallies. And pretty much the best things that happened to the team in the first half of its season.
The Seahawks are 3-0 at CenturyLink Field entering Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, in large part because only two of their 13 turnovers have come in those three games; 10 of the 21 sacks and three of the seven interceptions generated by the defense have come in those three games; and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has not thrown an interception and produced 11 of his 16 pass plays of 20-plus yards in those three games – including game-winning TD passes to Sidney Rice (46 yards) and Golden Tate (44 yards) in the closing seconds against the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, and a 22-yarder for a TD against the Dallas Cowboys.
No place like home? That’s definitely been the case for the Seahawks this season, when they’re 1-4 on the road. Homebodies? Yeah, that too. Because after playing at home once in the past five games, the Seahawks can’t wait to get back into the frenzied confines of CenturyLink and surf the tsunami of emotions generated by the 12th Man crowd.
“It’s always good to come home and play at home and have your crowd behind you,” said nickel back Marcus Trufant, who has been playing in front of this crowd and in this stadium since being the team’s first-round draft choice in 2003.
“We’ve got the best crowd in the NFL, so that’s big for us to come home.”
Not just this season, when the Seahawks will play five of their final eight regular-season games at home; but every season. Since Trufant’s arrival, the season after the stadium opened, the Seahawks went 8-0, 5-3, 8-0, 5-3 and 7-1 at home from 2003-07. They slumped to 2-6, 4-4, 5-3 and 4-4 the past four seasons. But the magic has been reawakened in 2012.
The defense has been stingier, allowing an average of 14 points. The offense has been more productive, averaging 307 yards and producing four of its five longest scoring drives. The special teams have been even more special, with a return of a blocked punt for a score and higher grades across the board than in the road games.
“We’re definitely looking forward to coming home. We’ll be in front of our crowd,” defensive end Red Bryant said. “It’s just a sense of familiarity in terms of how well we play at home. There’s a confidence factor in playing at home, because you can just go out there and just be free.
“You have the crowd behind you and it makes it real difficult on our opponents. We definitely feed off the energy in the stadium. So when you make a big play it seems like you have more momentum, and when you have more momentum it just seems like good things start to happen.”
And good things need to continue to happen if the Seahawks are to play beyond their regular-season finale on Dec. 30. Because of that 1-4 road record, which includes losses to the other three teams in the NFC West, the Seahawks have fallen two games behind the San Francisco 49ers. But only two teams in the conference that are not currently leading their division have a better record than the 4-4 Seahawks – the Vikings and Packers, both 5-3. The Seahawks hold the tiebreaker over the Packers, and will over the Vikings if they can take care of business on Sunday.
“It’s going to be an awesome scene, obviously,” Wilson said. “The fans know what’s going on, and how close this race is. So it’s going to be a great atmosphere. We’re going to play at a very high level.”
And that is imperative, because the Seahawks can’t just stroll into the stadium and expect good things to happen. They must force the issue.
“This is really important to us, it’s really important,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ve always made anything that has to do with finishing something of the utmost importance, and this is the beginning of the finish, if you will.
“And after getting knocked around, not getting those wins on the road, this is really crucial that we play well at home and we take advantage of our fans and the setting and all of that. Knowing that we have a heavily weighted schedule at home, I’d love to see us get momentum and play great and get cracking right now.”
With those expectations, Carroll admitted, comes pressure.
“This is important to us, and hopefully we’ll be able to play a good game,” he said. “Minnesota is really good and they do a lot of really good things, and they’re going to make it really hard on us.”
The Seahawks just can’t compound that by making it hard on themselves.