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Clinching Playoff Berth “A Magnificent Feeling” For Seahawks

CenturyLink Field was rocking, the defense was forcing turnovers and getting big stops, while the offense, led by a dominant running game and an explosive passing attack, was making big plays, and the Seahawks were beating one of the best teams in the NFL.

This is a new year and a new team, but Sunday night’s game, an eventual 38-31 win over the Chiefs, also felt somewhat familiar to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, so at halftime he told his team, “This is it, you can feel the juice, this is what it’s all about. Let’s ride it and finish this game off.”

“We do have our own story,” Carroll said before later acknowledging, “That’s what it felt like in the past.”

The Seahawks are in so many ways a new team in 2018, having undergone significant roster turnover as well as changes to the coaching staff, but like so many other teams during the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era, the Seahawks are again playoff bound, having clinched a seventh playoff berth in the past nine seasons with their win over the Chiefs, who came into the game with an 11-3 record.

And as familiar as a big December win might seem for this franchise, none of what happened on Sunday was considered likely by most observers heading into the season, and especially after the Seahawks started the season with back-to-back losses. As big players moved on in the offseason, and as Carroll made changes at offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and offensive line coach, he and Schneider refused to call this a rebuilding year—and now everyone is seeing why—but there was no denying that the 2018 Seahawks would be quite a bit different than recent teams. Gone were longtime defensive standouts like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril; and Earl Thomas broke his leg four weeks into the year, while K.J. Wright played in just his fourth game of the season on Sunday. On offense the Seahawks saw starting tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Paul Richardson move on in free agency, and they made changes at both guard spots.

Then after all that change, the Seahawks opened the season looking out of sorts on offense in losses to Denver and Chicago. But since that game, the Seahawks have won nine of their last 13 games, including five of their last six, and they’ve become the league’s No. 1 rushing offense, while the defense, despite all those departures, has still come up with enough takeaways and big stops to win games.

“I don’t know if we’ve played any more complete that we did in a game where we needed it against such a good team,” Carroll said. “That was a blast, that was just so much fun, the whole thing was.

“It’s a fantastic night for us, we’re going to the playoffs. I’m really proud that this team has done that. There weren’t very many people who thought we would ever have a chance to be in this position, but the guys in that room did, led by the leaders—Bobby (Wagner), Russell (Wilson), Doug (Baldwin), Frank (Clark), (Jarran) Reed, Tyler (Lockett), all those guys—they just would not think anything but that we were going to do something special with this team this year. I know it looked bleak at times and all that, we started terribly and all, but this is a real statement about leadership, a magnificent job, because we’re a young team. They led these guys to believe it, and here we are.”

Carroll has said a few times, including on Sunday, that he’s having as much fun coaching this team as he ever has, but in addition to being fun, this season has also been an emotional one because of what this group has been able to accomplish.

“There’s an emotion to it that’s deep, and it’s because there weren’t very many people that thought we could do this,” he said. “Most everybody thought we didn’t have a chance. To hang together, hang through it, we got it done before the season is over. I wish we would have nailed it last week, too, to keep this feeling that’s going on the last 6 or 7 weeks or whatever, I don’t know how many weeks it’s been, but we’ve been riding it. It’s a magnificent feeling that gives us the confidence that we can go anywhere and play anybody. We’re ready to roll.”

Seahawks players were confident that they could be where they are now, even after an 0-2 start, but believing in themselves didn’t mean they were immune from seeing predictions of their demise.

“You hear it,” Wright said. “You hear the noise. You hear the 4-12 predictions, the 5-11, and that stuff motivates you. We kept believing."

The Seahawks won Sunday because their offense put up a season-high 464 yards, including 210 yards on the ground and too many big plays to mention out of Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett in the passing game. They won because the defense, despite giving up points and yards to the league’s No. 1 offense, made enough big plays to make a difference, including two takeaways in the first half and some big red-zone stops in the second half. They won because they were aggressive on offense late in the game, punishing the Chiefs with deep passes when Kansas City sold out to stop the run. And they won because of unsung heroes like Ed Dickson, who willed his way to a first down on third-and-15, setting up an eventual touchdown, and like Ethan Pocic, who started the game at right guard because of one injury, then finished at left guard after another injury. But the Seahawks also won and punched their ticket to the postseason because of a special bond that has formed in their locker room.

“It’s not just football players—these are great human beings,” Baldwin said. “These are great men. When you put that combination of great men together with the right mentality of resilience and perseverance, actually caring for one another—there’s a chemistry and a rapport that’s—it reminds me a lot of something. I’ll let you figure that out. This is a beautiful thing to see men come together and care about each other and really play for each other. You can’t put it into words, you really can’t.”

Added Wilson, who on Sunday threw his 195th career touchdown pass, tying Dave Krieg for the most in franchise history, “We’ve been to the playoffs six times out of the seven (since 2012), and this year was special. This year was special just because I think we really came together. I was talking to some of the guys last night and saying that one of my favorite parts about this season has been watching guys celebrate with one another—when Bobby scored his touchdown on the 98 yarder. Guys on offense, when you score touchdowns in the end zone, everybody is together, and on special teams. In practice, the little things, really enjoying every day. You don’t take that for granted. I think for us, it’s been a really special year. It’s been amazing just to see us come together as a collective effort. Everybody was counting us out early on and we had no fear."

And now that the Seahawks are back in the playoffs, they feel like they can play with anybody if they perform like they did against the Chiefs on Sunday.

“This is a really good accomplishment, this is a really special accomplishment, but what’s really exciting about it is that we’re so young and we’re just getting started,” Carroll said. “It feels like we’re just getting warmed up. We don’t care who we play or where we play, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to go play the way we’ve been playing and see if it holds up, and count on that it will. For everybody to embrace that—they all know, that locker room knows. They know what we’re doing, they know who we are, and we’re ready to go, so it’s thrilling.”

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