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Seahawks’ defense saves its best for last

Posted Feb 10, 2014

Fifth quarter: It consisted of only three games, but the Seahawks’ Super Bowl season did generate another quarter. So Seahawks.com hands out its honors for the best of the team’s postseason run.

The 2013 Seahawks went where no other team in franchise history had.

Yes, the 2005 team also made it to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL. The 2013 team got to Super Bowl XLVIII and then finished what they started in emphatic fashion by dismantling the highest-scoring offense in NFL history during a 43-8 romp over the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2.

It was the championship opportunity that a season’s worth of championship opportunities had led to. And, as they had 15 other times in their previous 18 games, the Seahawks reached their goal by going 1-0 in the only game left to play – and win.

“At the end of the day, I think coach Carroll has done a heckuva job at teaching us from Day One that every moment is a championship moment,” said wide receiver Golden Tate, who arrived as part of Carroll’s first draft class in 2010 and was the team’s leading receiver in this special season. “Nothing is ever too big for us … and once the game kicks off, it’s just another game.”

It wasn’t, of course, just like the NFC Championship game against the defending conference champion San Francisco 49ers was not just another game. Neither was the divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints the week before. Stumble in one of those games and the season would have been over, far short of the expectations that began even before the players had their first team meeting with Carroll way back in April.

The Seahawks got the job done during each step of the postseason by taking each those win-or-else games as they had every game all season.

“There were times I forgot it was the Super Bowl,” Tate said. “At the end of the day, it was football. It was what I’ve been doing my whole life. It wasn’t too big and I feel like that’s why we played so well, because it was just football. We were just doing our jobs, doing what we’ve been doing and playing our tails off.”

With that said, here’s a look at Seahawks.com’s selections for postseason honors from the fifth quarter of this unprecedented season:      

MVPs: Yes, it’s plural, because it was the entire Seahawks defense. Cop out? Hardly. After what coordinator Dan Quinn’s crew pulled off in the postseason, how can the pick be anything but the entire unit that held the Saints to 15 points in the divisional playoff game, after they scored 414 and averaged 25.9 in the regular season; the 49ers to 17 points in the NFC Championship game, after they scored 406 and averaged 25.4 during the regular; and the Broncos to eight points in the Super Bowl, after they scored a NFL-record 606 points and averaged 37.9 during the regular season? And members of every unit within the unit made plays during the Seahawks’ defense-driven march to the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. From linemen Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Chris Clemons; to linebackers Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith; to the Legion of Boom secondary that featured the All-Pro trio of cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

Best offensive player: Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks’ Beast Mode back and Kid QB, Russell Wilson, swapped roles in the Super Bowl – when Lynch was held to 39 yards on 15 carries, but did score a touchdown; and Wilson passed for two TDs while completing 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards and a 123.1 passer rating. But in the games that got the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, Lynch ran for 140 yards and two TDs against the Saints and 109 yards and another TD against the 49ers. In the three games, he had 288 yards and four of the Seahawks’ seven offensive touchdowns. In seven playoff games with the Seahawks, Lynch has seven touchdowns and four 100-yard rushing performances. And that’s why the Seahawks worked the trade with the Bills in 2010 to acquire him.

Best defensive player: Chancellor. This could have gone so many ways, but connecting the dots between the strong safety’s stats creates the leading candidate: 34 tackles to share the team lead with Wagner; two interceptions to share the lead with Smith; and a team-leading six passes defensed. And don’t forget, it was Chancellor’s don’t-come-in-here-with-that hit on Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos’ leading receiver, on Denver’s third offensive play that set the tempo for the beat down that was to follow.

Best special teams player: Steven Hauschka. After being money all season, the Seahawks’ kicker was even better in the postseason. Three of three on field-goal attempts against the Saints, with a long of 49 yards. Three of three against the 49ers, with a long of 47 yards. Two of two in the Super Bowl. Just as it was all season, consistency was the key to Hauschka’s performance in the post season.    

Best rookie: Alvin Bailey. With apologies, and honorable mention, to tight end Luke Willson, Bailey was a key to the success of the running game against the 49ers’ tough-to-run-on defense as the third tight end. Signed a free agent in April after the NFL Draft, Bailey saw action primarily as a blocker on special teams during the regular season before being unleashed in the postseason.

Best free-agent additions: Bennett and Avril. They arrived almost as a package deal in March to improve the Seahawks’ pass rush, which they then did by leading the league’s No. 1-ranked defense with 8.5 and eight sacks during the regular season. Avril displayed his expertise with the strip-sack by forcing a team-high five fumbles during the regular season and two more in the postseason. It also was his hit on Broncos QB Peyton Manning that led to the fluttering pass that Smith intercepted and return for a TD in the Super Bowl. No wonder his teammates dubbed Avril “The Big Turnover.” Bennett, meanwhile, returned a fumble for a touchdown during the regular season and during the postseason he shared the team lead in sacks (1.5) with Avril, forced fumbles (two) with Avril and Clemons and led the team with two fumble recoveries.

Best assistant coach: Quinn, of course, as the Seahawks’ defense accomplished things no other defense in the 94-year history of the NFL ever had. The capper was not only holding the highest-scoring team in league history to eight points, but matching the Broncos’ point total with Smith’s pick-six and Avril’s touch of Knowshon Moreno in the end zone for a safety on the first play of the Super Bowl. During the regular-season, the Seahawks ranked No. 1 in average points, yards and passing yards allowed, as well as turnovers and interceptions. All this oneness in Quinn’s first season as the coordinator. 

Best offensive play: Jermaine Kearse’s touchdown reception in the Super Bowl. The former rookie free agent caught the pass from Wilson at the Denver 18-yard line and then spun from pairs of Bronco defenders twice in getting into the end zone. Kearse, who played at Lakes High School and the University of Washington, made tough catches look routine all season and then topped them all with his third-quarter TD in the Super Bowl.

Best defensive play: “The Immaculate Deflection,” as it’s being called. On the 49ers’ final play in the NFC Championship game, Colin Kaepernick went to Michael Crabtree in the back corner of the end zone. Sherman tipped the pass with his left hand and Smith made the end-zone interception to seal the Seahawks’ six-point victory that sent them to the Super Bowl.

Best special teams play: Percy Harvin, come on down. The one thing the Broncos’ kickoff coverage unit could not do in the Super Bowl was give Harvin an opportunity to break one. But that’s exactly what happened on the kickoff to open the second half. Harvin took the ball on a bounce and 87 yards later was in the end zone. Seahawks 29, Broncos 0.

Best stat: Plus-7, the Seahawks’ turnover differential. And it just got better by the game – plus-1 against the Saints; plus-2 against the 49ers; and plus-4 against the Broncos. And it was good from both ends, as the offense did not turn the ball over in three playoff games while the defense forced seven turnovers (four interceptions and three fumble recoveries). The Seahawks also led the league during the regular season at plus-20.

Best celebration: This one is obvious, for 700,000-plus reasons. That was the estimated crowd that turned out for the Super Bowl celebration parade in downtown Seattle last Wednesday. But there also were memorable scenes in the locker room at CenturyLink Field after the NFC Championship game, when Carroll brought general manager John Schneider to tears by presenting him the game ball; and at the team hotel in Jersey City after the Super Bowl, when owner Paul Allen laid down some serious guitar licks while playing with his all-star band during the private post-game party and was followed by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

Best quote: “My mind is blown. My body is cold. But we’ve got the best fans in the world.” – Sherman, before climbing out of the Legion of Boom vehicle at the end of the parade and before the championship celebration in front of 50,000 fans at CenturyLink Field last Wednesday