As an animated Pete Carroll addressed his team following Sunday's 10-9 playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Seahawks head coach had a question for his team.
"Let me ask you a question," Carroll shouted. "Can you win the game in the first quarter?"
Players responded with a resounding no. Same question for the second and third quarter, and two more nos. Then finally Carroll yelled, "Can you win the game in the fourth quarter?" to which there was a very enthusiastic yes.
It was a fun moment, but also one you've probably seen or heard before if you have been following the Seahawks under Carroll. A coach who preaches the importance of finishing strong, Carroll has seen his team do just that at an incredible level in the postseason.
Dating back to Seattle's first playoff game under Carroll, a wild-card win over New Orleans five years ago, the Seahawks have trailed by nine points or more at some point in seven of their 11 postseason games, and they have won five of those seven. Seattle trailed the Saints by 10 points twice in that game, they trailed Washington by 14 in the 2012 postseason and won, they trailed the San Francisco 49ers 10-0 in the NFC championship game two years ago and won, and in last year's NFC championship game, Seattle was down 16-0 before coming back to win in overtime. So after yesterday's comeback, Seattle is now 5-2 in the playoffs after trailing by nine or more points.
How rare is that? According to ESPN Stats & Info, everyone else in the NFL is 6-41 during that span after trailing by nine or more points in the postseason. In other words, while the rest of the league is almost always out of a game when it gets down by that much, the Seahawks come back so often that Carroll's "can you win a game in the…" speech is almost getting redundant. And that's a very good thing in the eyes of a coach who believes strongly in having a team that can outlast an opponent.
"I couldn't be more proud of that," Carroll said. "That's what we're talking about. That's how we hope to be. We've pulled off some pretty exciting finishes, and we've been part of the other end of it too, but for the most part we've done it really well. It's a really good thing to know about yourself when you're going into these games. I mention to the guys that we're not out of a game, there's no time we're going to be out of one. So whatever it takes—the offense, the defense, or (special) teams to get it going again, there's a spark just waiting to happen to get us rolling, and we're going to keep playing like that."
And while the Seahawks might have needed a bit of good fortune to avoid a go-ahead field goal by the Vikings, that win wasn't luck, nor was their wild comeback against the Packers last year. Were there a few fortunate bounces that went Seattle's way in those games, sure? But the Seahawks had to scrap and claw their way back into games to put themselves in a position where a fortunate bounce could make a difference. NFL games are full of weird, game-altering plays, and the Seahawks haven't been on the right end of all of them—"Nothing's a gimme in this league. We know that. We've been on the 1-yard line before and not made it. Nothing's a gimme," receiver Doug Baldwin said.
But what the Seahawks have done over the years under Carroll, and in the postseason in particular, is show enough fight or grit or resilience or whatever you want to call it to battle back in so many situations where other teams have not been able to do so. That ability to weather the storm and finish strong has allowed the Seahawks to outscore their opponents by a 64-point margin in the fourth quarter and overtime of postseason games under Carroll. The Seahawks have a minus-39 point differential in the first quarter in the postseason since 2010, then they just get better, going to plus-17 in second quarters, plus-26 in third quarters, then as mentioned above, plus-64 when it matters most.
"It just was another opportunity for our team to show who we were," cornerback Richard Sherman said following Sunday's win. "Guys continued to battle, continued to fight until the last second, even when it looked dire… The football gods were with us today.
"We just kept going. We didn't lose faith, we didn't lose confidence, we didn't lose anything when we were down and out. Most people give up. A lot of people would have folded and said, 'that's it.' We've got a team full of fighters."
The Seahawks hit the road and traveled to Minnesota for the second time this season for the NFC Wild Card Playoff matchup at TCF Bank Stadium and escape with a 10-9 victory to advance to next Sunday's NFC Divisional round.