Focus on: Fourth-quarter honor roll

Posted Jan 1, 2014

After starting 11-1, the Seahawks went 2-2 in their final four regular-season games. But it was good enough to finish what they started, and Byron Maxwell, Golden Tate and Steven Hauschka were three of the biggest reasons why.

It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

The Seahawks didn’t heed one of coach Pete Carroll’s cornerstone mantras, going 2-2 in the final quarter of the 2013 regular season. But it was enough to finish what they started – a 13-3 record that earned them the NFC West title, a bye in this weekend’s first round of the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

“Remember who we played against at the end,” Carroll said. “We have played against some really good defenses here down the stretch.”

That they did. From the 49ers’ No. 5-ranked defense in a 19-17 loss at Candlestick Park in Week 14; to the Giants’ No. 8-ranked defense in a 23-0 victory in the Meadowlands in Week 5; to the Cardinals’ No. 6-ranked defense in a 17-10 loss at CenturyLink Field in Week 16; to the Rams’ No. 15-ranked defense in Sunday’s 27-9 victory that clinched the division title.

And here are our selections for the “best of” in the final quarter of what was a highly successful regular season:

MVP: Byron Maxwell. He didn’t start his first NFL game until Week 13, and it was as the third-option at right cornerback. But in the final four weeks of the season, Maxwell was as good as anybody on the Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense that features three Pro Bowl players in the secondary – cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor; and others who deserved the recognition to match their performance – most noticeably nose tackle Brandon Mebane. In the final four games, Maxwell intercepted four passes and tipped a fifth that Chancellor picked off in the end zone.

Best offensive player: Golden Tate. The fourth-year receiver/punt returner used his hands and his legs to give the offense a needed spark. In the final four games, Tate had 18 of his team-leading 64 receptions and 253 of his team-high 898 receiving yards – capped by Sunday’s eight-catch, 129-yard effort against the Rams. His season totals were career-highs, as were his totals against the Rams. Tate also did his bit to provide the offense with needed field position by returning punts 38, 29 and 22 yards.

Best defensive player not named Byron Maxwell: Bobby Wagner. The second-year middle linebacker finished the regular season the same way he finishes plays – with a burst. He averaged 9.8 tackles, including 10 and 12 in the two wins, in leading the club with 119 for the season. He also had 2.5 of his five sacks in the final four games.

Best special teams player: Steven Hauschka. He actually missed a field-goal attempt, slapping a 24-yarder off the left upright against the Cardinals. But he also hit seven, including three against the Giants and two against the Rams in salvaging points from six of the Seahawks’ 12 red-zone possessions in the final four games.

Best free-agent addition: Clinton McDonald. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were brought in during the offseason to improve the pass rush, and they did just that with Bennett leading the team in sacks (8.5) and Avril finishing second (eight). But McDonald was brought back after being released on the roster cut to 53 players and finished with 5.5 sacks – including two in the final four games, when he also had 12 tackles and four QB hits.

Best stat: 38. The combined rushing yards allowed by the defense in the victories over the Giants (25) and Rams (13). That’s how a run defense that ranked as low as 19th in the league at midseason improved to No. 7 by the end of the season.

Worst stat: 14 of 51. That’s what the offense was on third downs in the final four games. That’s a 27-percent conversion rate, and that’s just not good enough. As a result, the Seahawks had 16 three-and-outs in those four games, compared to 14 scoring plays by the offense (seven touchdowns and seven field goals).

Best quote: “If there’s anywhere the (NFL) Defensive Player of the Year should be it should be in Seattle. Whether it’s myself or Earl (Thomas).” – All-Pro and Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman.