PHILADELPHIA—If the Seahawks could have managed just another foot or so last week—on two different plays in the game's final moments—they would be NFC West champs and playing at home on Sunday.
Instead, coming a few inches short of the goal line meant the Seahawks had to head across the country where they find themselves back in the City of Brotherly Love for the second time in six weeks, the NFC's No. 5 seed who will play the Eagles in the wild-card round on Sunday. If the Seahawks are going to reach their ultimate goal, they'll have to win at least two, and in all likelihood three road games to get to the Super Bowl (Seattle could host the NFC championship game, but that would only occur if the sixth-seeded Vikings also reached the conference championship).
Winning three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl isn't a path any team wants to take, and it certainly wasn't what the Seahawks had in mind a couple of weeks ago when the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye were still in play for them, but even if a postseason on the road wasn't Plan A for the Seahawks, it's a challenge they're embracing as they prepare to face the Eagles.
"We're going to be on the road, and that's something we have done really well, and we're going to try to handle that really well," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "… Let's get cranked up, let's go to Philly and get going in the playoffs and see how far the Seahawks can roll. We're excited about our chances in that regard."
Since the current playoff format was adopted in 2002, only three teams have advance to the Super Bowl as Wild Card teams, the 2005 Steelers, the 2007 Giants and 2010 Packers, all of whom ended up winning the Super Bowl.
But the Seahawks believe they're a team capable of bucking that trend. The biggest reason the Seahawks are confident heading into the playoffs is that they're a talented group of players and coaches who believe in themselves after winning 11 games this season. But what comes to this particular challenge of being on the road for as long as their postseason run lasts, the Seahawks feel like they've got a real shot to do something special because of how they played on the road all season.
Over the course of the regular season, the Seahawks went 7-1 on the road, including a 17-9 win over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, giving them the best road record in franchise history. That road record included not just a win over this week's opponent, but also an overtime victory over the team the Seahawks could be facing next week if they beat the Eagles, the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers.
"No questions, we've been road warriors all year," Carroll said following his team's Week 17 loss to the 49ers. "Our guys have handled it well. I know why we've done well on the road… We're not worried about going on the road, that's for sure."
Said linebacker Bobby Wagner, "We've just been able to come together on the road. I've always thought of it as a very fun environment when it's just your group in the stadium that wants you to win, and everybody else is rooting against you. When you're able to quiet 70,000 people, that's a pretty fun experience."
A lot has been written and discussed about the Seahawks' road success this season, from a slight shift in logistics this season that calls for the entire team to travel to the stadium at the same time rather than have early and late-bus options; to the practice that dates back a few years of giving veteran players first class for the flight home after a road win; to the particularly close-knit bond this team has forged. But whatever the reason for Seattle's unprecedented road success, they believe they're the type of team that can defy recent history and keep their season going for a while longer.
"Obviously our history throughout this season winning on the road is really good," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "If you've got Russell (Wilson) back there at quarterback, you've got a great chance of winning. We know what it is, we know what's at stake. It won't be easy, all games are hard in the NFL, but we'll just see how it plays out. Maybe a ball or two will go our way, some good things will happen."
Added Wilson, "Some teams worry about playing on the road; I don't think we do… I think we have great experience, the leadership across the board is there for sure. Guys like Bobby, guys like K.J., Marshawn (Lynch) is back, so that helps too, and just to be able to settle down on the road is key. Just realize it's just football, it's the game that we love, the game that we prepare for, and hopefully we can transfer that to a tough environment in Philly."