A November or December NFC West game with playoff implications has become the standard for the Seattle Seahawks in the decade Pete Carroll and John Schneider have run the show.
For the unbeaten 49ers, who host the Seahawks at Levi's Stadium Monday, a game of this magnitude is something new to almost everyone associated with the team. And make no mistake about it, that's no knock on the 49ers. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have built one the NFL's most talented teams and most ferocious defenses, and they helped lead a remarkable turnaround from four straight seasons with double-digit loss totals.
But while a turnaround this drastic is unusual, in a way what the 49ers have done is the norm in the NFL. Almost all teams have their ups and downs in a league set up to create parity. Now not every team can take those high draft picks and build a winner, but that's exactly what the 49ers have done.
In a lot of ways, the Seahawks' consistent success is the outlier in the NFL, and facing the 49ers in a game with playoff implications is a good reminder of that. In a sense, the NFC West has come full circle since Carroll and Schneider's early years in Seattle, with the Seahawks again battling the 49ers for NFC West supremacy.
In 2010, the Seahawks managed to hold off the St. Louis Rams for a 7-9 division title. The Seahawks went 7-9 again the next year, their last non-winning season under Carroll and Schneider, while the 49ers emerged as the NFC West power, winning the next two division titles and advancing to one Super Bowl. After falling short and ending up with a Wild Card berth in 2012, the Seahawks won the division each of the next two years, going to back-to-back Super Bowls, then Arizona took its turn on top of the division in 2015, with the Seahawks again a Wild Card team. The Seahawks won the NFC West again in 2016, followed by the Rams winning back to back titles the past two seasons, making it to the Super Bowl last year. And now the 49ers are back on top of the division after several years of struggles.
Add it all up, and in the nine seasons Carroll and Schneider have been in Seattle, the Seahawks have four division titles and seven playoff berths, two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl title, while the rest of the division has seven playoff berths, five division titles and two Super Bowl losses. As a result of that sustained success, the Seahawks have also had continuity at the top, keeping the same coach and GM together while the rest of the other three NFC West teams have had 12 head coaches and two interim head coaches.
The Seahawks haven't always been the best team in their division over the last decade, but they've always been in the mix, which is a big point of pride for head coach and GM who strive to build, as Schneider has put it on so many occasions, a "consistent championship-caliber football team."
"I do take pride in that," Carroll said. "That's what we're trying to be, uncommonly consistent. That is important. There's been quite a few coaches going through (the division). It's hard. We're still here. I'm glad we're still here. Happy for that."
Linebacker K.J. Wright, the only current Seahawk to experience a losing season in Seattle, having been a part of a 7-9 team as a rookie, said the team's consistent winning has been "amazing. Credit the guys they kept here, me, Bobby (Wagner), Russ (Wilson), and they did a great job drafting, and Pete has been a great leader. His message has always been the same. We never had that dip. I believe the most games I've lost was my rookie year, nine games. So this is just a championship team, it's a great culture here, we just know how to win… It is rare. You see other teams, they just find a way to not have a good season, but we've done a tremendous job. Russ has just been amazing since he's been here, back when we had Marshawn (Lynch), he was phenomenal. So we just always find players to plug in and be successful. I don't plan on (a losing season) ever happening while I'm here. It's been fun."
Even the people in charge of the team trying to hold off the Seahawks and win the division have a lot of appreciation for what Carroll and Schneider have done in Seattle.
"Kyle and I have a great deal of admiration for those guys," Lynch said Friday on Sports Radio 950 KJR. "… We've tried to model it very much like that. I've got a great deal of respect for that organization."
Lynch, who went from the broadcast booth to a general manager job, got to see how Schneider and Carroll did things up close as member of FOX's broadcast team, and he decided that if he were ever to work in a front-office role, he wanted it to look something like what he saw in Seattle.
"One thing I always admired about those guys, when I was talking to John if I was up doing a broadcast, or talking to Pete, they spoke the same language," Lynch said. "So, if I ever did this, it was going to be with a guy who I felt I could on the same page with. I think those guys have done that as well as anyone, it shows in their roster. When they rebuild their roster, they're simpatico, they're on the same page."
Of course winning year after year isn't easy. The Patriots are the extreme outlier, while teams like the Seahawks, Green Bay and Pittsburgh are also the exception and not the rule in a league where the vast majority of the teams have the occasional big dip in the win column. As Wright referenced, having a great quarterback obviously helps, and the Seahawks have had that in Wilson since 2012. But consistent success takes more than just one great player, even if he is a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback. And what has allowed the Seahawks contenders year after year is the same approach that makes them good week after week, and that has made them one of the toughest teams to beat in the NFL even on their bad days, with only five double-digit losses, postseason included, since the middle of the 2011 season.
"It's discipline," Carroll said. "It's the discipline of staying focused on what is right in front of you right now. That's what I'm selling out for. It's the ability to not be distracted by what's going on, what just happened, or what's coming up… I think it takes tremendous discipline to do that. It takes tremendous commitment in your language and in your approach to find that consistency that keeps you from going up and down because it's human nature—you're up and down. When it's tough assignments, you toughen up. When it's not as tough, you lessen—we can't do that if we're going to be different than everybody. I've been on this one for what seems like 20 something years now. I'm just trying to drill it home about focusing and establishing the mentality so that you don't get distracted with all the things you can get distracted by. It's what we talk about. We're trying to control those variables whenever we can."
And again, it takes a daily commitment to that type of consistency in approach for a team to be a playoff contender year after year for a decade.
"If you're not working on it the whole time, you can't create the mentality that catches you and keeps you on track with what it takes to really be in the moment right now," Carroll said. "Mindfulness is a big part of this and a strict discipline and the reminders and all that. That's just trying to separate from the rest of the crowd. Otherwise, you're going to be up and down. You're going to be like everybody."
And in an NFL where most teams have their ups and downs, the Seahawks don't want to be like everybody. They want to be uncommonly consistent.