Seahawks coach Pete Carroll didn't hesitate when asked if he thinks there is still time for his team to make a playoff push this season.
"I don't think it, I know it," said Carroll, whose Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.
Why does Carroll know it? Because he's seen his team turn a 4-5 start into a playoff berth before, and not all that long ago.
Back in 2015, the Seahawks lost a high-scoring, close game in Week 10 to an NFC West rival that was running away with the division, giving them a 4-5 record through nine games despite playing some really good teams tough in close losses. Sounds familiar, right? But as daunting as things looked at that point, the Seahawks went on to win five straight and six of their last seven, finishing 10-6 and earning a wild-card playoff berth.
Now it's worth pointing out that the 2015 Seahawks were quite a bit different from this team. Most of the roster has turned over since then, and there are new coordinators on both sides of the ball. As receiver Doug Baldwin, one of the players who was part of that team, put it this week, "We're a completely different team."
But different or not, the head coach is the same, as is the quarterback and some of the key leaders like Baldwin, linebacker Bobby Wagner and linebacker K.J. Wright. And for all the differences between the two teams, Carroll still sees in this version of the Seahawks a team capable of turning the corner and finishing the season on a roll that could take them to the postseason.
"What happened in 2015?" Carroll said. "I think we were right about right here and put on a good little run, and I don't know, I can't remember in 2015 if we felt as clear about our way of doing it as we do now, so it gives us a great opportunity. But we have to go, we have to take these one week at a time and start piling up some wins. I like our style and I like our style in playoff mode. I'd like to get that opportunity, so we've got a lot of ball to play here and there's a lot of games coming at us. A lot of opportunities at home and I think we should have nothing but the thoughts that we should build on where we are right now and have a chance to keep going and get better. Hopefully, we can stay healthy and give us a chance to play with the same guys."
Like his head coach, Russell Wilson, who enjoyed the best stretch of his career during that 2015 closing stretch, also sees the potential for a big finish in this team if it can clean up some of the issues that have come up in close losses when late comeback efforts have fallen short.
"No doubt," Wilson said. "I think this team is a championship-caliber football team. I think we've shown that in terms of who we've played and how we've played our games, we've just got to finish the right way. We have no fear on this team, we're completely together. We just have to remain steadfast and remain focused on what we're trying to do. We're going to make every attempt to make a championship run and that's our focus right now. We're looking forward to the opportunity."
Nothing has the Seahawks feeling better about their chances than the way they've found their identity on offense, rushing for 150 or more yards in a franchise-best six straight games, including a season-high 273 last week. And with that running game going, Wilson and the passing game have become more efficient even if the volume numbers aren't as high. Over his last five games, Wilson has thrown 14 touchdowns with two interceptions, and has posted a passer rating over 120 in four of those games.
"Long-term, when you run the ball, you really wear out your opponent," Baldwin said. "And over the course of the year, the opponents we're playing are going to be more worn down than we are, and I think that will be indicative in how we finish games late in games."
Baldwin also notes that the team has to find the balancing act between knowing that every game is crucial to their playoff hopes, and putting too much pressure on themselves in a way that it affects performance.
"It's a balance, because you have to be able to balance the mindset of, 'OK, we're in a situation where we have to trim the fat, we have to be as efficient as possible," Baldwin said. "We can't have missed tackles, we can't have dropped passes. They're more important now, right? But you also can't get so bogged down with that that you become paralyzed. So there's a balance we have to maneuver in order to move along in the right direction."
But if the Seahawks can find that balance, and if they can clean up a few of the problems that have hurt them in close games, they're confident that another big finish is within their reach.
"If you look at the games we've played this year, and the ones we've lost, we've been right in it, especially the last two weeks," said center Justin Britt. "You look at the Chargers game, we got it on the 1-yard line, and this past week, we were right there. We're right there, if we keep growing, we keep improving, we keep ascending as an offense, as a defense, as a team—and the work ethic on this team is unmatchable from what I've seen since I've been here—so the sky's the limit for us. All we need is an opportunity and a chance, and we can make a run."