Seahawks coach Pete Carroll always likes to say that it's not how you start, but how you finish, and once again the Seahawks finished the 2015 regular season on a roll. Other than a hiccup in Week 16 against St. Louis, the Seahawks finished the season playing their best football, winning six of their past seven games, including a dominant victory over a 13-win Arizona Cardinals team that had been on a nine-game winning streak before Sunday.
"We had a really good finish to the regular season," Carroll said, "… We feel good about where we're going right now and it was just fun to finish playing football like that."
We'll recap the entire season whenever the Seahawks' season comes to an end, but in the meantime, let's take a look back and who and what stood out from the final four games of the 2015 regular season.
MVP: QB Russell Wilson
Yes, it's a four-quarter sweep for Russell Wilson, who is not just the MVP of the team, but along with Carolina's Cam Newton was probably the most valuable player in the entire league in the second half of the season. Wilson did finally throw an interception against St. Louis in Week 16, ending his NFL record five-game run of throwing three or more touchdowns without an interception, but he ended the season with yet another brilliant performance before giving way to Tarvaris Jackson in the fourth quarter of a blowout win.
Even with an "off" game against the Rams, Wilson had a 13-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the final four games. In his fourth season in the league, Wilson led the NFL with a 110.1 passer rating, and he set franchise records for passing yards (4,024), touchdowns (34) and completion percentage (68.1).
Best offensive player not named Russell Wilson: WR Doug Baldwin
We're going back to the category we invented last quarter to give Doug Baldwin his dues after an impressive stretch of play, and Baldwin has been too good over the last four games to not get a mention again.
Baldwin caught 23 passes over the final four games, not a crazy number by itself, but six of those were touchdowns, giving him 14 to finish the season, which is tied for the most touchdowns in the NFL this season. Baldwin's 73 catches and 1,023 yards are both career highs, and his touchdown total is a franchise record. He also became just the third Seahawk along with Steve Largent and Joey Galloway (twice each) to have 1,000-plus receiving yards and 10-plus touchdowns in a season.
>>> READ: Baldwin's Regular-Season Review
And while Baldwin was the standout of Seattle's receivers, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the entire position group, and in particular Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett. Kearse finished the season with 20 catches and two touchdowns over the final four games, including a regular-season best 110-yard game against Cleveland. The final quarter of the season also saw Tyler Lockett collect the first 100-yard game of his career along with three touchdown catches.
Defensive MVP: LB K.J. Wright
As has been the case all year with Seattle's defense, a case could be made for a number of standout players, but K.J. Wright, who finished the season with a career-high 116 tackles, marking the second straight season he has led the Seahawks in tackles, deserves credit for the work he did both down the stretch and all season long. Wright had 27 tackles over the final four games of the season, and was one of several players who played a big role in the Seahawks leading the NFL in run defense for the first time in franchise history.
Special Teams MVP: Tyler Lockett
As mentioned above, Lockett was a big part of the offense as a receiver, but he also continued to show why he earned Pro Bowl honors for his return abilities. Against Arizona, Lockett had four punt returns for 139 yards, all in the first half, to establish a franchise record for punt return yards in a game. In that game, Lockett also became the only player in the last 10 years to have three punt returns of 30 or more yards in a single game. In his previous two games, Lockett had 197 yards on kick returns, helping affect field position.
For the season, Lockett finished with 1,915 all-purpose yards, a franchise rookie record and fourth-most in a single-season for Seattle, while also tying Baldwin for the fifth-most catches (51) by a Seahawks rookie.
Pleasant surprise: RB Christine Michael
When the Seahawks traded Christine Michael prior to the start of the season, it appeared they were done with the player they took in the second round of the 2013 draft. But because things didn't work out for Michael during his stops in both Dallas and Washington, he was available when the Seahawks had a need at running back when Thomas Rawls went down with a season-ending ankle injury.
In his first game back with the Seahawks, Michael rushed for a career-high 84 yards on 16 carries, then last week he rushed for 102 yards on 17 carries. For Michael, physical ability was never the issue, but having been traded by one team then released by two more cause him to come back to Seattle with a different mindset.
"I think he's more humble than he was," Carroll said. "I think he was really trying to be flashy and all of that. He's just come to work every day. He's really serious about fitting in, and it feels like he's matured in the sense that makes him a great candidate to play for us. We're really excited about him."
Best play: DeShawn Shead's goal-line interception in the fourth-quarter against the Cardinals.
Yes, Shead made a very nice play to earn his first-career interception, but what really made that play memorable is that, by preventing a Cardinals touchdown late in a blowout win, Shead allowed the Seahawks to finish with the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense for a fourth straight year, something than has not happened during the Super Bowl era.
"I know that there's a record I couldn't be more proud of than to see our guys go four straight years leading the league in scoring defense," Carroll said after the game. "That's a remarkable accomplishment by a bunch of guys dedicated to the program and what we're doing and all of that. It's hard to do things over a long period of time that well."
Worst play: The Rams returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown.
This was just one bad play in a day full of them for the Seahawks, who fortunately were able to prove the following week that that Rams game was an aberration rather than a step back. Will Tukuafu's fumble was just one of five in the game, which was also marred by penalties, bad snaps and other miscues that the Seahawks have otherwise avoided for the most part in the second half of the season.
Not only did the Seahawks make up for that performance a week later in Arizona, so too did Tukuafu, who on his birthday paved the way for a Bryce Brown touchdown run with his blocking, then later had the first touchdown reception of his career.
Trend to build on in the postseason: Third-down efficiency.
Through nine games, the Seahawks never finished with a third-down conversion rate over 46 percent, and five times it was under 40 percent. Since then, the Seahawks have been 50 percent or better in every game but one, and over the final four games the Seahawks converted on 33 of 56 third downs. That ability to convert on third down has played a big role in overall growth of the offense, which can score more when it stay on the field and convert more frequently in the red zone.
Trend to build on in the postseason, Part 2: Road success.
The Seahawks followed a blowout win over Minnesota with another lopsided win at Baltimore, then closed their season with one more big road win, this time over the Cardinals. Overall the Seahawks have won five straight on the road, which is good news considering they will have to play all of their remaining games this season on the road, however many that is, away from CenturyLink Field.
"The thing we're most proud of right now as we go into the challenge of playoff season, if you look at our last few road games, we've just been on it," Carroll said. "We have really played well knowing we have to do this to get into the playoffs and move our way through it. I'm really fired up about that, because these guys are really confident that we can go wherever we've got to go… That's a really good asset for us right now. Hopefully we can build on that."
Thing to clean up for the postseason: Challenges
We're nitpicking here, because not a lot has gone wrong other than some isolated problems in the St. Louis game, but if there's something the Seahawks could do better in the playoffs, it would be their use of the challenge flag. Over the past three games, the Seahawks are 0 for 4 when Carroll throws the red flag. Until that stretch, however, the Seahawks were a solid 4 for 6 on challenges this season, so the time for panic (does anyone panic over challenge flags?) is probably not upon us just yet.
The Seahawks were all in for the final regular season matchup against NFC leaders, the Arizona Cardinals and team photographer Rod Mar captured the exclusive moments of the team's dominating performance.