As the Seahawks headed into the locker room Sunday facing a 7-3 deficit following a frustrating first half of football, they did so with a sense of calm. Seasoned fans watching from home or at MetLife Stadium also likely had a feeling that a better second half was all but inevitable.
Seahawks players, coaches and fans alike didn't expect the strong second half that eventually materialized—Seattle went on to win the game 24-7—just because they had been statistically dominant in the first half, only to fall behind because of a turnover and failed trip to the red zone; that second-half surge was also so predictable because it followed such a familiar script.
Watch a video of just about any Seahawks postgame celebration following a dramatic victory, and you'll see head coach Pete Carroll shout to his players, "Can you win the game in the first quarter?" To which the locker room enthusiastically shouts, "No!" The same routine follows for the second and third quarters before Carroll takes his voice up a notch and yells, "Can you win the game in the fourth quarter?" At that point, players scream, "Hell yeah!" or something along those lines.
Of the lessons Carroll hopes to pass on to his players, few are more important than the importance of finishing. Sure, Carroll would love his team to start every game well and play four quarters of perfect football, but he also knows that's not always realistic, so he wants his team to know that, no matter how things go early in games, they can still put it together when it matters most and pull out a win.
And this season, as has usually been the case under Carroll, the Seahawks are again a very good finishing team, having outscored opponents by a 53-9 margin in the fourth quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that's the best fourth-quarter scoring differential in the NFL, and Seattle's 9 fourth-quarter points allowed are the fewest through six games since Denver allowed 6 fourth-quarter points through six games in 2012. That philosophy also applies to seasons, with the Seahawks typically fining the year much stronger in November and December than they begin the year.
"I think that's exactly what we're looking for," Carroll said when that 53-9 number was brought up. "We hope to post numbers like that… Finishing is a big deal. We make a big deal about it and executing down the stretch."
One player who embodies that philosophy as well as anyone is quarterback Russell Wilson. Through his career, Wilson has a 105.6 passer rating in the fourth quarter, his best rating in any one quarter, and this year the numbers are even more dramatic, with Wilson posting an NFL-best 134.2 fourth-quarter passer rating.
So yes, those first-half offensive struggles can be frustrating at times, but don't lose sight of the big picture, which shows a team that, time and time again, has put together a pretty solid performance by the time the final whistle is blown.
"We always want to play better early, that'll help us a little bit, but I will say that to play championship football, you have to be great in the fourth quarter," Wilson said. "You have to be relentless, you have to be lights out. I think that's the mentality we have—no matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the score it, whatever, that fourth quarter, we're going to put our foot down and try to do everything we can to be great out there, to be perfect, really."
So how do the Seahawks do it? No one can point to a single reason for the team's ability to finish strong, game after game and year after year, but there are a few reasons that help explain it, ranging from the way Carroll structures practice to the coach's ability to stay calm in the most stressful situations to the team's physical style of play to, maybe most significantly, the heavy emphasis on finishing that players are indoctrinated with from Day 1.
"If you preach something so much, it's just embedded into your head," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "If you emphasize it so much, you have no choice but to buy into it. The fourth quarter has been great for us. We talk about that the day before the game—finishing and giving great effort, so that's just want we do, and we've got to continue it."
Added Wilson: "I think it's the character of the players that we have, I think it's the way we practice. I think there's an edge, a way to find a way to win. Winners find a way to win, that's just how it is. I don't have the perfect answer for you, but I do believe that it's because of the character of the guys we have, the style of coach that we have in Coach Carroll, his demeanor—he keeps everyone relaxed in big moments. And ultimately, if you want to be a great football team, you have to be able to do that."
Owning the second half and fourth quarter won't be easy this week against a Houston Texans team that also has a knack for finishing strongly, particularly when playing from ahead. Since Bill O'Brien took over as Houston's head coach in 2014, the Texans are 21-0 when leading at halftime, making them the only team in the league to have not lost a game it lead at halftime in that time frame.
"It's one of my favorite characteristics that teams finish well, and they are doing that and putting people away," Carroll said of the Texans. "They are off to a tremendous start this season and they could be easily better than their record right now. It's a young spunky group of guys. Coach O'Brien is doing a good job. Guys are fighting hard. You can see it all the way across the board. All three phases are really tough and physical, getting after it and they give us problems everywhere, so that's no wonder that they are finishing well and putting people away."
Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Texans as the two teams ready to face off during Week 14 at NRG Stadium.