The 2018 season has been a difficult one for Doug Baldwin. Injuries took their toll on the Seahawks receiver, who missed three games and played at something less than 100 percent for pretty much all of the other 13 games.
Baldwin, who had 29 touchdowns in the previous three seasons, didn't secure his first touchdown pass until Week 11, his reaction to that score after the game being a one word response of, "finally." And after piling up 247 catches and 3,188 yards in the previous three seasons and earning Pro-Bowl honors twice, Baldwin was limited to 50 catches for 618 yards and five touchdowns this year.
Baldwin, who missed training camp and the preseason with knee injury, only to hurt his other knee in the regular-season opener, causing him to miss the next two games, has battled knee, groin, hip, elbow and shoulder injuries throughout this season, and he again is on the injury report this week with a knee injury that limited him in Wednesday's practice.
But despite that designation, Baldwin has been healthier lately than he was for much of the regular season, which has shown in the impact he has made in recent games, most notably his 126-yard game in a Week 16 win over Kansas City that saw him make two of the game's biggest plays on very high degree-of-difficulty catches. And now that the Seahawks are in the playoffs, Baldwin feels like he can put all the struggles of the regular season behind him and start over relatively healthy and ready to help the Seahawks go on what they hope can be a long playoff run.
"The biggest thing is the emotional part of it," he said. "You feel like you're in the playoffs so it doesn't matter what's thrown at you. You can handle it, and there's a newness or a refreshing feeling to it because you feel like you're going into a tournament where anything can happen, and the only thing that really matters is winning, so you put aside everything that you've been dealing with in the past subconsciously and you can go for it. I mean, I was talking to our equipment staff yesterday about this. I just feel so much more vibrant. The energy is there because I know it's playoff time. We look forward to these moments, and I'm not saying that we treat them differently, I'm just saying that there's a certain energy when you get into the tournament. It's undeniable."
As Baldwin noted, the Seahawks aren't preparing for Saturday's game against the Cowboys any differently that they would a regular-season game. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has always preached the importance of treating every game as a championship opportunity, and that doesn't change whether it's the first week of the regular season or the Super Bowl, but that doesn't mean there isn't a certain buzz in the air come playoff time, even if it doesn't change preparation this week. And for a player who has battled through a difficult season full of injuries, that extra energy can provide a boost.
"It's a refreshing feeling in some ways," Baldwin said. "Again, the playoffs, to me, it just starts everything over again. Your mindset starts over again. Everything that's happened in the past, we've put that behind us and we've focused on what we can control. It is what it is, in terms of injuries, but it doesn't matter now. There's no more excuses. We've got to do what we've got to do. We've got four more games."
And while players like Baldwin and linebacker K.J. Wright are grateful for this return to the playoffs in part because it represents a fresh start after battling injuries all season, even their teammates who played all 16 games are especially appreciative to be back in the postseason after falling short in 2017. Veterans like Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, both members of Seattle's 2012 draft class, had never missed the playoffs before the Seahawks went 9-7 last year and missed out on a Wild Card berth, while Wright and Baldwin only missed the playoffs as rookies in 2011 prior to last season. Not that those four or other veterans took the playoffs for granted in the past, but having felt the disappointment of last year, getting back in a year later is a special feeling, especially in a season in which a lot of outside observers thought the Seahawks would take a step back, not get better.
"My whole mindset was to never miss it again," Wilson said. "… You always want to have a chance. Whenever you get to December, you want to have a chance to make it. I think that's kind of always been my thought is give ourselves a great chance to go where we want to go, and that's to win the whole thing. I think at the end of the day, we've been able to do that extremely, extremely well. Even last year when we didn't make it, we still had a chance, a really, really close chance. Unfortunately, we didn't make it last year, but every year's a new year. The great thing about this team is the fact that everybody was telling us we couldn't. I think that it shows the will of this team. It shows the heart of this team and it shows the mindset of this team to be able to think the way that you want to think and go the places that you want to go."
Prior to last season, the Seahawks had not only made the playoffs every year since 2012, but won at least one playoff game, meaning they were, at worst, one of the final eight teams standing for five straight seasons, so it's no wonder that Wagner had a rather blunt assessment of watching football from home at a time of year he was used to playing meaningful games.
"It sucked," Wagner said. "It was terrible. We had made the playoffs my whole time here since I've been here, so when you had that time off, you have to—the first couple of weeks, it just kind of felt like a bye week where it's just like 'All right, well other teams are playing and you're not.' Then, when you're starting to work out and get ready for next season and realize the season is still going, it's a terrible feeling to be done in January, so I'm going to do my best to make sure it never happens again."
Wright, showing the same connection with Wagner that on the field has made them one of the league's best linebacker tandems, had a very similar description of missing the postseason.
"That's terrible," Wright said. "That's terrible. I've always been to the playoffs since I've been here. Playoff football, it's just fun, it's just so much better… I'm glad that we're in it this year, and we've got to do something while we're in it."
Asked if missing the playoffs made him more appreciative of being back, Wright said, "Most definitely. We came up short last year, we didn't get it done, and we just got back to the drawing board. We had an interesting offseason, but we found a way to make it happen."
The Seahawks and Cowboys face off on Thursday Night Football, Nov. 30, 2023. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Cowboys.