The most tangible measure of where the Seahawks stand 15 weeks into the NFL season is available via a quick glance at the NFL standings.
With their victory over the Rams Thursday night, the Seahawks improved to 9-4-1 and clinched their fourth NFC West championship under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, as well as a fifth consecutive playoff berth and sixth in seven years under Carroll and Schneider.
But what is more difficult to measure, and what can ultimately make the difference between a quick playoff exit and a Super Bowl run, are intangibles like team chemistry and locker room harmony.
Some past Seahawks teams have needed dramatic in-season moments that spark successful runs, such as when the 2014 came together following a confrontation in a walkthrough over sunflower seeds, of all things; or when last year's team took some time to get past everything that came with the previous year’s Super Bowl loss, just as the team before it had to deal with the challenges of winning a Super Bowl. But since the Seahawks came together last season, and perhaps provided their greatest example of togetherness in a season-ending loss, Carroll has seen his team only maintain a high level of chemistry.
"I love where we are," Carroll said. "I have all the way back to the Carolina game. It really was halftime of the Carolina game I think when the character really showed. It hasn't wavered since. It has only gotten better and stronger. We just have a really good sense about these guys and they have a good sense about one another too, so with that, we've got a chance to win some games here. We have a few games left and a chance to keep going."
Having that unwavering chemistry doesn't mean a season free of rough patches, both in terms of on-field performance and occasional off-field distractions. But a day after cornerback Richard Sherman had what Carroll described as "a moment in the game there that he got really worked up and really emotional," Carroll said the two had a "terrific meeting" Friday morning, and he truly believes both Sherman and the team will be better for it.
"I feel very good about the exchange that we had, and he wants to do everything he can to help his team," Carroll said. "I love this guy, I love who he is and what he's all about… These are all great lessons and opportunities to learn.
"The teachable moment came up, we seized it, and I'm really excited about it, because he's going to be better than ever."
For Carroll, part of the challenge of coaching this version of the Seahawks is making sure the messaging is still effective in what for some players is their fifth, sixth or even seventh season playing for the same head coach. That wasn't a challenge Carroll faced at the college level where players move on after four or five years, but it is one that the competitor in Carroll loves to meet head on each season.
"To be a good teacher, you've got to keep the students enthused and energized," Carroll said. "So you have to keep them hopefully in an environment that calls for them to be engaged and all. So that's what the challenge is, it's to keep guys who have been through this time after time—three years, four years, five years, and I'm still up here saying the same stuff—how can I keep it going where they're enthused and engaged? So you have to work at that. And part of that is continuing to find new creative ways to keep the same messages alive. Part of it is sharing the responsibility with them now to be teachers themselves and living examples of what we're all about, and feel that sense, like a big brother—you've got a little brother coming up an you want him to do well, so you look after him—that's a big deal in our world now.
"And I also think it's important to continue to broaden the scope of where we communicate and how we work at what's going on about being a part of a team and a part of a program, and in the middle of your career, your football life. You've seen guys of really do a wonderful job of extending their influence outside of football, but because of football. That's part of it too, they feel a greater sense of responsibility and accountability to the connection they have with their team. That's all rich stuff for men as they're growing. Our guys are just good men, they're doing good things, they're helping people."
As for the standings themselves, the Seahawks have wrapped up the division, but are not close to slowing down their year-end push. The Seahawks need help to earn a first-round bye, but if they win out and Detroit loses only once in a tough three-game closing stretch, Seattle would move into the No. 2 spot and earn that first-round bye. Yet while Carroll did talk to his team about its chance to clinch a division title during these final NFC West games, his focus now isn't on seeding, but rather on just getting his team ready for the Arizona Cardinals next weekend.
"We have two more games in the division and we'd like to own these games," Carroll said. "The rest of the stuff happens as it does; we have no control over any of that. It's a great illustration of, there's nothing we can do about that—Detroit, Dallas, whatever, that doesn't matter—we need to max out this chance, this opportunity, then we'll see what happens the next week. That's the only way we go. (Clinching the division) doesn't change anything."
Seahawks players and coaches react in the locker room following a 24-3 NFC West-clinching victory over the Los Angeles Rams.