SEATTLE, Wash. — The excitement in the Seahawks locker room was palpable following Saturday night's Wild Card playoff victory over the Detroit Lions. As music blared, players exchanged hugs and laughs and congratulations, all while documenting the moment on their preferred form of social media.
Of course any locker room is going to be upbeat after a postseason victory, but the energy in the locker room following Seattle's 26-6 victory still felt unique, and perhaps the Seahawks were so upbeat not just because they had advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the fifth straight season, but also because of how they did it.
For the first time in a while in what has been a strange, up-and-down season, the Seahawks looked like, well, the Seahawks. Physical, productive run game? Check. Dominant defense? Check. Field-position changing plays on special teams? Check.
"That was the game we've been looking for style-wise, fit-wise with offense and defense," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Both sides of the ball played great tonight. I'm really fired up to see us run the football like that. Thomas (Rawls) got a bunch of yards, but the guys up front did a fantastic job, starting with (Justin) Britt and working on out, everybody. Tight ends contributed, Marcel (Reece) contributed too at fullback. It was just a terrific night to sees us run the football. Defensively, to hold those guys without a touchdown is really bigtime this time of year in playoff football."
At the center of the Seahawks return to their style of play was running back Thomas Rawls, who set a Seahawks postseason record with 161 rushing yards on 27 carries, a true team rushing effort spearheaded by what Carroll said was the offensive line's best run-blocking game of the season.
"Offensively, defensively, even in the kicking game, we had our identity," said Rawls, who became the first Seahawk to have more than 100 rushing yards in the first half of a playoff game. "We wanted to run the ball. We wanted to do it on the ground. We wanted to maintain our identity and stay true, and that's exactly what we did and showed. We had a great week of preparation also. We've been running the ball, the offensive line has been doing a great job, a tremendous job, and we know that the defense is going to hold us down and those guys did a great job."
Rawls was especially appreciative of his record-setting day because the self-described "kid from Flint with a lot of heart and toughness" didn't get a chance to play with his teammates in the postseason last year after breaking his ankle late in the regular season.
"I've been waiting my whole life for this," Rawls said. "I wasn't here last year. I broke my ankle, I was sitting on the couch, I had my leg up. I told myself, when I got to this point, oh man, I'd do whatever I have to do for it. Anything. Doesn't matter."
Long after the game had ended and the locker room had mostly cleared out, Carroll walked over to Rawls, who was still sitting in his locker, and the two shared an embrace and a few words.
"He was just so excited, just to see me happy, and just to see us win, and also how we did it," Rawls said of his exchange with Carroll. "We did it on the ground. The identity that we always try to maintain is running the ball. We want to run hard, tough. We want to run it, and that's exactly what we did. So when we are true to our identity and things of that nature, it feeds the crowd. It feeds the offense. It feeds the special teams. That's one thing we want to maintain and carry out through the rest of this journey."
For the Seahawks, the next step of this journey takes them to Atlanta for a Divisional Round game against the Falcons on Saturday. And while the Seahawks will have their hands full against the Falcons, who averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game this season, they came out of Saturday's game feeling like they found the formula that can carry them on a postseason run.
"We were close all year, it was just a matter of us fitting our helmets, running our feet, finishing our blocks, our runners getting downhill, making their cuts and getting north and south, and that's what you saw tonight," right tackle Garry Gilliam said. "It's nice to have our run game back. It feels like Seattle again.
"It's just a matter of being focused. Look, no one else in this country believes in our offensive line, so why not us? Why not go out there and show us who we really are, show them who we can really be? Put this team on our back if we need to and do it. The defense carries the team when they need to, but as an offense, if we can keep them off the field, that's what we've got to do. We did great on third down, got down there and scored points and handled our business."
Seattle's running game didn't just account for 177 yards and a Rawls touchdown, but with that also came so many of the things that demonstrate why Carroll is so committed to having a balanced offense. In part because the running game kept the offense in manageable down-and-distance situations, the offense was able to go 9 for 16 on third down and 3 for 4 in the red zone, and with the threat of the run game affecting Detroit's defense, Wilson and his receivers were able to make big plays in the passing game, most notably a 42-yard catch by Doug Baldwin and 27-yarder to Paul Richardson.
"It opens up everything for us," said Baldwin, who finished with 11 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. "Everything runs through our run game. When Thomas Rawls is doing that, they can't help but put another safety in the box, and then that gives us one-on-one matchups on the outside. You saw Paul Richardson take advantage of it, Jermaine (Kearse), myself. We had a lot of opportunities in the passing game because of what Thomas was doing on the ground. I have to give a lot of credit to our offensive line; they were doing a hell of a job tonight. An unbelievable job tonight."
And while the defense played very well in its own right, that group also benefited from Seattle's huge advantage in time of possession (36:39 to 23:21) and total plays (71 to 50), a lighter-than-unusual workload that might benefit players moving forward as they face one of the league's top offenses coming off of a bye.
"It helps a lot," safety Kam Chancellor said. "It gives us time to get reps, gives us time to go over adjustments of anything we see out there on the field, and it's just a credit to the offense—O-line, running backs, everybody—they gave 1,000-percent effort and they gave us time to get a break. They actually came to the sideline saying, 'We're going to keep you all off the field.' That's just that camaraderie, that brotherhood."
As for that defense, the Seahawks were on point all night, limiting the Lions to a season-low 231 yards, 13 first downs and a pair of long field goals as Detroit never moved the ball past Seattle's 33-yard line. The Lions went just 2 for 11 on third down, well below their regular-season mark of 42.6 percent, which ranked eighth in the NFL. That continued a trend of strong third-down defense for the Seahawks, who have held four straight opponents to 25 percent or lower conversion rates, and seven of eight opponents under 40 percent.
"Shoot, we didn't give up any touchdowns, had some big fourth-down stops, guys just all over the place, flying around having fun with it," Chancellor said. "That's the most important thing, man. We've got to have fun out there and that's what we did."
From the physical running game complemented by an explosive passing game to a dominant defensive performance to special teams controlling field position with plays like Jeron Johnson's two tackles inside the 20 on kick coverage or new long snapper Tyler Ott downing a punt at the 4-yard line, Saturday night's win felt like a vintage Carroll-era Seahawks performance. Repeating this complete of a performance in Atlanta will be no easy task, but this week's victory over the Lions was an encouraging step in the right direction.
"This felt like old times," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "This felt great. The offense controlled the game with the run game. Huge plays, explosive plays in the pass game. On defense we kept them out of the end zone, and it felt right and it felt correct."
Action photos from Wild Card weekend vs the Lions at CenturyLink Field.