The Seahawks face the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football this week, a prime-time battle between teams with a combined 15-2 record. Even Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, he of the "every week is a championship opportunity" approach, has to admit this is a big one, right?
"Shoot, this is a big week," Carroll said to open his Thursday press conference. "It's such a big week."
Then after a pause for comedic effect, Carroll added, "The Harlem Globetrotters are in town. Holy mackerel. Did you guys know that? They've got a great looking team, we showed the highlights today, they're ready to go. I would not want to play them."
Indeed, the Globetrotters are in town and a few of them were guests at Thursday's practice, but joking aside, Carroll refuses to talk about this week being a big game or a rivalry game or anything along those lines, because that goes against everything he believes in as a coach.
"No, it isn't in my mind," Carroll said when asked about a potential rivalry game with the team that currently resides in first place in the division. "Every game to us is a championship game regardless of who we're playing, where we're playing, what the situation is, what the schedule says, what the matchups are, what's happened before. In that case, there is no one game that's different than another. We want to play every game like it's the only game we've got. That's how we approach it."
Asked if the word "rivalry" wasn't even in his lexicon, Carroll quipped, "I mean I understand the word and I might say it once in a while, but it's not part of the mentality at all."
Carroll doesn't want his players to get extra hyped for this game, or any of Seattle's upcoming prime-time games—the Seahawks have three in a row after their bye—because if those are "big" games that everyone is up for, then what happens when they play a non-division opponent in the middle of the afternoon? Should they relax and not prepare as hard for that one? Not to mention that over-hyping a game is a good way to get players to try too hard and make mistakes.
"When you put so much into a game, you feel like you have to do something crazy because there's more people watching—your family is watching, more people's eyes are on you—you can sometimes do something that you wouldn't normally do or try hard because you want to be seen," linebacker Bobby Wagner explained. "That could mess up your game that day, and that could mess up the team, and that could come back to hurt you. Then, you think about how you put so much energy into that one game, and then the next game, it's not prime time and maybe with not as many people watching you don't put in that same energy into the game. So you could create an inconsistent performance because, you'll be up for the games you think everybody's playing or big games, and you'll be down for the games you think that people aren't watching or aren't as significant, and you'll have a rollercoaster of a season. If you treat every game the same, I feel like you'll have more of a consistent performance."
What the Seahawks' refusal to treat this game as a "big game" shouldn't be mistaken for is a lack of respect for their undefeated opponent. The Seahawks won't prepare any different than they would in any other week, but that doesn't mean they don't know that they have their hands full against the 49ers, who have scored the third most points in the league this season, allowed the second fewest, rank first in total defense and pass defense, and second in rushing offense.
"We're playing against a terrific opponent," Carroll said. "These guys have just done such a marvelous job this season. They played out ahead of games. They've played in tough games. They've been able to do it all. They've got a really good formula playing off their defense and the running game; you know how much we respect that. They've been really tough."
The 49ers' rapid ascension from five straight losing seasons, including a 4-12 record last year, to being the league's only undefeated team midway through the 2019 season might seem unlikely on the surface, but there were signs that San Francisco was headed for a turnaround. For starters, they played most of last season without their starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, and after several years of loading up on defensive talent in the draft, the pieces were in place for a big leap this season, particularly on defense.
"You could tell the way they were stacking their D line, you could tell the way they brought (Richard Sherman) in and got that veteran leadership—they were kind of young in places, they had veteran leadership in places—they had a bunch of first-round picks," Wagner said. "So you knew that if they were able to put it together, it was going to be something special and they've been able to do it so far. We'll see how they fare against Russ (Wilson)."
Added linebacker K.J. Wright, "I knew they were going to be good, because they did a good job drafting. And (head coach Kyle) Shanahan, whenever you've got him, you've got a good chance of winning—you saw what he did with those backup quarterbacks last year. So I knew they were going to be a good football team. I didn't think they'd be undefeated going into Week 10, but that's what it presents to us. It's a good matchup, we like tough games, and it's a division opponent, so we've got to make sure we get a win."
And even if the Seahawks won't treat this game as a rivalry, that wouldn't keep them from taking a lot of enjoyment out of a win over a really good team after the fact should they be able to pull that off.
"I think you appreciate it after the fact," Wagner said of so-called big wins. "You don't want to make the game too high, especially when you play on Monday night and things of that nature. It's just a regular game, it's the game that you've played before. But then, after you get done playing; maybe it's a team that you've faced multiple times, and you've had some crazy battles. You kind of think about the crazy battles you had, but I don't think it's something that you think about before, you wait until after the game, see how it turns out, and you appreciate it then."
So yes, if the Seahawks are able to earn a victory Monday night, they'll enjoy the heck out of it on their flight home from the Bay Area, but until then, the only thing unusual or special about this week is the appearance of a legendary basketball team that had folks whistling "Sweet Georgia Brown" at the VMAC on Thursday.
Photos from Thursday's Seahawks practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Monday's Week 10 game against the San Francisco 49ers.