If this has felt like a strange season for the Seahawks, well, that's because it has been.
Consistency has for several years been one of the strengths of the Pete Carroll-coached Seahawks, who went more than five years without losing a game by more than 10 points, and have reached at least the divisional round of the playoffs in five of the past six seasons. Yet this season, the Seahawks have, as Carroll put it, "shown all kinds of stuff" on their way to a 9-5-1 record.
On one hand, the Seahawks last month produced one of the most impressive regular season victories of the Carroll/John Schneider era, winning at New England on a short week when the Patriots were coming off of their bye, but on the other hand, the Seahawks have alternated wins and losses for the past five weeks after a three-game winning streak in November, an up-and-down stretch that included Seattle's most lopsided loss since 2010.
"The last month we haven't been as consistent as I would like," Carroll said. "We normally would expect us to be on top of this thing in the final month of the season, so this is an important game to finish on a good note. I can't not remember that, back in 2013, we were 2-2 in the last month also and we had to win the last game for all kinds of stuff. I feel like it's a very similar situation that we're in. We'll see if we can take care of business."
So no, the Seahawks haven't finished this season exactly like they would have liked, but before anyone hits the panic button, it's worth remembering that the Seahawks are NFC West champs for the fourth time in seven seasons under Carroll and playoff bound for the fifth straight season. If the Seahawks can win at San Francisco Sunday, they'll finish with double-digit wins for the fifth straight year, matching the number of double-digit-win seasons the franchise had between 1976 and Carroll and Schneider's arrival in Seattle. And as Carroll notes, the Super Bowl-winning 2013 team actually had the worst December of Seattle's recent playoff teams.
But even if the Seahawks are in pretty good shape, all things considered, they know they'll need to be better if they are going to make a deep playoff run, which brings us back to the topic of consistency. Offensively, the Seahawks are coming off of back-to-back games in which they performed significantly better in the second half than the first, gaining 490 yards and scoring 42 points in the second halves of those games after gaining just 200 yards and scoring 13 points in the first halves.
"We know how good we can be," center Justin Britt said. "You look at this last game, from the first half to the second half, we understand how good we can be, but we know we aren't that good if we're not going out there and being on point and on the same page consistently. I think we've been close for much of the season, but again, it all falls back onto preparation throughout the week, how much detail you put into being consistent and just focusing on the little things, because they add up and they matter.
Added offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: "We continue to work on consistency and doing things right, kind of like we did in the second half. We played really good football, so that's our focus, to continue to move in that direction.
"Basically it's just continuing to focus and focus each and every play, not get ahead of ourselves, not worry about the last play. Just continue to focus on that moment and be able to make that next play successful."
Bevell correctly points out that the offense has been good on third down, finishing at or near a 50 percent conversion rate in four straight games, and again, the past two second halves have shown how good the offense can be. Now the goal is to do it for four quarters. Then if they can put together a more complete performance on Sunday, the Seahawks know they'll need to back it up with another four-quarter effort when they begin postseason play.
"This business is week to week," said offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable. "To make more out of that I think would be foolish. It's what you do right now and again, the first half (against Arizona), not very good, the second half, spectacular. Maybe the best football we played all year. Where was that the first 30 minutes? That's really the question.
"If you ever think you've got it in this league towards the end or in October or whatever, you're full of baloney, because it's every week and you keep building it right. What we want to do is come off the second half and play our best football this week, then whatever is after that, try to do our best then. If we can capture that, then there would be a cool comparison to '13, but we have a lot of work to do, like everyone does in this league. Everyone says, 'this team is better than that team,' not really. We're all just getting ready to find out."
And Seattle's issues with consistency haven't just fallen on the offense. The Seahawks' usually stingy defense struggled to stop Arizona in the second half of last week's game and gave up an uncharacteristic number of big plays, while special teams had issues in the kicking game.
"The level of consistency, we have to make sure we maintain our level of focus," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "There's certainly the fact that we can't allow any letdowns by any means. Things happen from time to time, so we have to make sure we collectively as a group maintain focus throughout the whole entire game."
So how do the Seahawks find that level of consistency before they begin postseason play? Carroll hopes "three terrific days" of practice will jumpstart a more consistent performance this week and beyond.
"We're trying to really kick it in to our best mode, and I'm really fired up about what we did today," Carroll said following Friday's practice. "… That's why I'm fired up about this week, every day was really an extension of the first day out. Guys are very tuned in, they're trying in every way to make sure they're maximizing every snap in practice, and that's all we ask for. That was really accomplished this week, so I'm really looking forward to seeing them play."
The Seahawks are NFC West champs and still have all of their goals in front of them, but to be their best, they know now is the time to find a more consistent level of play.
The Seahawks and the 49ers will face off this Sunday at CenturyLink Field during Week 3. Seattle currently leads the all-time series against San Francisco 21-15 including one post-season game for the NFC Championship in January 2014.