It was former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren who once said that for a team to have its best season the team’s best players needed to have their best seasons.
The recipe for success worked in 2005, when Holmgren got career performances from Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Robby Tobeck, Joe Jurevicius, Lofa Tatupu and Marquand Manuel as the Seahawks reached the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.
That same formula was on display during the 2013 season, when the Pete Carroll-coached Seahawks not only got to the Super Bowl but won it in convincing fashion because of the strong start-to-finish efforts of Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Bobby Wagner, Steven Hauschka, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett.
All played pivotal roles, because they put up career-best numbers: Thomas with his 100 tackles and five interceptions; Sherman with his league-leading eight interceptions and a couple of timely end-zone tips; Wilson with his 3,357 passing yards and 26-to-9 TD pass-to-interception ratio; Lynch with his 14 touchdowns; Wagner with his all-around game at middle linebacker (119 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions); Hauschka with his 41-of-43 performance on field goals, including the postseason; Tate with his 64 receptions for 898 yards and 11.5-yard average returning punts; Baldwin with his team-leading 13 receptions in the postseason; Chancellor with his intimidating presence as the enforcer, as well as his production, in the secondary; and Bennett with his team-leading 8.5 sacks.
All of which made it that much more difficult to hand out the season-ending honors in this special season:
MVP: So many from which to choose. The 1-2 punch of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson on offense. The playmaking quartet of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett on defense. Even the precision kicking of Steven Hauschka on special teams. But we opted for Thomas, because of his production, leadership, consistency and accountability. In his fourth season, the Seahawks’ free safety was voted All-Pro for the second time and to the Pro Bowl for the third time. After a 2012 season when it seemed we had seen the best of what Thomas can bring, he turned in a you-ain’t-seen-nothin’-yet performance in 2013. He was second on the team in tackles (100) and interceptions (five) and third in balloting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Previous picks: Sherman, first quarter; Thomas, first half; Wilson, third quarter; Byron Maxwell, fourth quarter; the entire defense, postseason.
Best offensive players: Lynch and Wilson. Or, Wilson and Lynch. Despite playing without key components in their supporting casts, each found ways to continue making plays. For Lynch, it was 1,257 rushing yards, 36 receptions and 14 touchdowns during the regular season, and a league-best 288 rushing yards and four more TDs in the postseason. For Wilson, it was 3,357 passing yards with 26 TD passes and nine interceptions during the regular season, with another 524 passing yards and three more TD passes – and no interceptions – in the playoffs. And the second-year QB saved his best for last, as he was 18 of 25 with two TD passes for a 123.1 passer rating in the Super Bowl, when Wilson also was 7 of 8 on third downs.
Previous picks: Lynch, first quarter; Wilson, first half; Doug Baldwin, third quarter; Golden Tate, fourth quarter; Lynch, postseason.
Best defensive player not named Earl Thomas: Sherman. Again, so many worthy candidates. Like Bennett, who led the team with 8.5 sacks. Like Wagner, who led the team with 119 tackles in 14 starts. Like All-Pro strong safety Kam Chancellor, the co-leader in tackles during the postseason who was third during the regular season. But the nod goes to Sherman, the All-Pro corner who led the NFL with eight interceptions, the team with 19 passes defensed and made so many big plays. Like his interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to send the Week 4 game against the Texans into overtime. Like his tipped pass in the end zone that Thomas intercepted to preserve the shutout of the Giants in Week 15, when Sherman also picked off two passes. Like the pass he deflected in the end zone that Malcolm Smith intercepted on the 49ers’ final play in the NFC Championship game.
Previous picks: Thomas, first quarter; Sherman, first half; Wagner, third quarter; Wagner, fourth quarter; Chancellor, postseason.
Best special teams player: It’s difficult to argue with near perfection, and that’s the kind of season Hauschka had. He was 33 of 35 on field-goal attempts during the regular season, with one of the misses a block. He was 8 of 8 in the postseason. He had 48 touchbacks on his kickoffs during the regular season, and nine more in the postseason. He scored 143 points during the regular season, second-most in franchise history to the 168 Shaun Alexander put up during his NFL MVP season in 2005. Hauschka added a playoff-best 33 points in the postseason.
Previous picks: Jeremy Lane, first quarter; Hauschka, first half; Hauschka, third quarter; Hauschka, fourth quarter; Hauschka, postseason.
Best free-agent additions: Another dual selection, because it was almost impossible to separate the contributions of Bennett and rush-end Cliff Avril. Signed two days apart last March to improve the Seahawks’ pass rush, Bennett led the team with 8.5 sacks and Avril had eight during the regular season, when Avril also forced five fumbles and Bennett returned one of them for a touchdown. Bennett (25) and Avril (14) also were 1-2 in QB hits. In the postseason, they combined for three of the team’s four sacks, four of the team’s seven forced fumbles and it was Avril’s hit on Peyton Manning that allowed Smith to make his pick-six and win Super Bowl MVP honors.
Best rookie: The Willson with two L’s – and a third in his first name, Luke. It was a little more than a year ago that coach Pete Carroll said it would be difficult for the 2013 draft class to have much of an impact because of the depth he and general manager John Schneider had compiled in the first three years of their collaborative roster-stocking project. Willson played the most, and the rookie tight end made the most plays (20 receptions, including a 39-yard TD catch).
Best unit: L.O.B. L.O.B. The Seahawks’ All-Pro-laced secondary not only goes by the Legion of Boom, it spent the season lowering the boom. Thomas, Sherman, Chancellor and their fellow Boomers held opposing quarterbacks to a 63.4 passer rating, the lowest in the league. They had 22 of the defense’s league-leading 28 interceptions – including four by Maxwell, who stepped in as the third option at right cornerback in December after Brandon Browner was injured and then suspended and Walter Thurmond was suspended.
Most-underrated unit: Wilson’s good-hands guys. Tate, Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse spent much of the season – too much – hearing how they weren’t this and they weren’t that. All they did in an offense that ran the ball more (509) than every team but the Bills (546) was combine to catch 136 passes for 2,022 yards and 14 touchdowns. That’s a by-committee approach to compiling beyond No. 1-receiver production.
Best performance in a cameo role: Percy Harvin. In a season where he could have called it quits on several occasions after having hip surgery Aug. 1 and then getting a concussion in the divisional playoff game, Harvin didn’t. The result of his perseverance was flashes of what’s to come when he’s healthy for an entire season: a 58-yard kickoff return and a falling grab of a 17-yard pass against the Vikings in Week 11, his only appearance during the regular season; a team-high three receptions and a 9-yard run before being knocked out of the playoff opener; and an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a game-high 45 rushing yards on two carries in the Super Bowl.
Best offensive play: Wilson’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Kearse in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers. This one is the choice because it’s oozing with style points. First, it came on a fourth-and-7 play, and on a free play after the 49ers’ Aldon Smith had jumped offside. Second, it gave the Seahawks their first lead, 20-17, on the second play of the fourth quarter. Third, the throw and catch were more difficult than Wilson and Kearse made it appear. And finally, it was so indicative of the types of plays that Wilson and Kearse found a way to make all season.
Best defensive play: Sherman’s tip of Colin Kaepernick’s pass that was intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone on the 49ers’ final play in the NFC Championship game. Smith intercepted the carom and the Seahawks had their six-point victory – and a trip to the Super Bowl. While Sherman’s postgame rant drew much of the attention – too much – the Seahawks would not be Super Bowl champions without the instincts and athletic ability he flaunted on that potentially game-tying pass.
Best special teams play: Harvin’s return of the second-half kickoff in the Super Bowl for a touchdown. It made the score 29-0 and slapped an early exclamation point on the Seahawks’ domination of the Broncos.
Best stat: It should be 16, the oh-so-sweet victory total. But there would not have been those franchise-record 16 wins without plus-27 – the Seahawks’ combined turnover differential from the regular season (a league-leading plus-20) and the postseason (a playoff-best plus-7). It’s all about the ball, as the signs posted throughout Virginia Mason Athletic Center proclaim. And then some. The Seahawks led the NFL during the regular season because they also had league-leading totals in interceptions (28) and turnovers (39). They topped the bottom-line category during the postseason because they turned the ball over once in three games while producing playoff-best totals in turnovers (eight), interceptions (four) and fumble recoveries (four).
Best trend: Next man up. Or, “We all we got. We all we need,” as Red Bryant likes to put it. The Seahawks had 12 starters miss a combined 49 games during the regular season, and it was almost across the board – the offensive line, where tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini were out for eight and seven games and Pro Bowl center Max Unger missed three; the receivers, with Sidney Rice missing the second half of the season and tight end Zach Miller missing two games; the secondary, where Browner missed eight games; the linebackers, where Wagner, K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin missed a combined nine games; the defensive line, where ends Chris Clemons and Bryant missed three games. How does a team go 13-3 with that many key components missing that much time? The credit goes to the players who not only stepped in but stepped up. From Smith, to Maxwell, to Baldwin and Kearse, to O-linemen Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Michael Bowie.
Best quote: “He’s Houdini. There’s some Houdini in there somewhere. I don’t know if he’s a relation.” – All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman on the uncanny ability of QB Russell Wilson to escape from pressure situations