The Seahawks season came to an end in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, and while the team hoped to extend its season a bit longer, there was still a lot to be proud of in a season that saw the Seahawks win six of seven to close out the year, securing a Wild Card berth after a 4-5 start to the season.
"The season was a season of growth, progress and proving and coming to grips with who we are and what we can do, in a great fashion," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his end-of-season press conference. "It was a marvelous season of work with our guys. It was so much fun to see these guys grow and to see them see the future and go for it and not take a step back at any time as far as how they went about it and took to the challenges. We come out of here with a great feeling about our future. Our guys are excited about it… I love this team, I love where we're going."
With the season over, it's time to look back at the players, plays and trends that stood out from the 2018 season.
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Russell Wilson
While the Seahawks' ability to get the running game on track played a big role in their offensive success in 2018, no one player meant more to the offense than Wilson, who had arguably the best season of his seven-year NFL career.
Wilson, who last week was named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster as an injury replacement, broke his own franchise record for passing touchdowns in a season with 35 while matching his career-low in interceptions with seven, allowing him to establish a new career-high in passer rating (110.9), also a franchise-best mark.
Wilson also became the Seahawks' all-time leader in touchdown passes with 196, moving past Dave Krieg, who had 195 as a Seahawk. Yet for all Wilson did statistically, he meant more to the team than just touchdown passes or yards; his leadership and positive mindset were also big for a young team that had to overcome some early-season struggles to make the playoffs.
"One of the things that is admirable about him is that he's always positive," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "He always has a positive mindset. It doesn't matter what situation we're in, he's always talking about belief and thinking that no matter how negative the situation may appear, we have an opportunity to come out of it unscathed. It's infectious for our team, and I think as the face of this franchise and the leader of our team, you've got to have that in order to be successful in any given situation. That, to me, is probably the greatest thing that stands out about Russ.
"It's a calming thing, for one. I think a lot of guys, especially young guys in this league, they can get overwhelmed by the moment, and Russ comes in and he's no different in the first play to the fourth-and-goal play that we have to get it done. He's no different and I think that's a pillar for guys to look to in those crucial moments for a stabilizing, calming presence. I think that's probably the greatest attribute in the huddle when we're in those moments."
Of course, plenty of other Seahawks made big contributions on offense that merit a mention here, from running back Chris Carson, who rushed for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns, becoming Seattle's first 1,000-yard rusher since Marshawn Lynch in 2014; to Tyler Lockett, who had a career-year, catching 57 passes for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns, with Wilson posting a perfect passer rating while targeting him in 2018; to a much-improved offensive line, led by veterans like Duane Brown, Justin Britt and offseason acquisitions D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Bobby Wagner
For all Bobby Wagner has accomplished in his Seahawks career, it's hard to imagine him getting any better seven years into his career, yet he might have done exactly that on his way to earning first-team All-Pro honors for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
"He's done it again in the same fashion, but just a little bit better," Carroll said late in the season. "He just seems like he's a little bit better. He's made more big plays, more significant plays that have affected the game than ever. The thing I love about looking at great players is do they show that ability to do it year after year after year. I think that's what greatness is all about. Bobby's put together a resume of really Hall of Fame stuff. This is the kind of guy that gets there some day. To add on to that, the leadership that he's brought and the direction and focus that he's brought on a regular basis—really, he's been a perfect Seahawk throughout the whole time he's been here. We're just very lucky to have him."
Wagner, who has recorded at least 100 tackles in each of his seven NFL seasons, had 138 in 2018, as well as a career-high 11 passes defensed. He also had the first interception return for a touchdown of his career, returning a pick 98 yards in a Week 13 win over the 49ers.
The Seahawks had a number of other defensive standouts in addition to Wagner, most notably Frank Clark, who led the team with 13.0 sacks, Jarran Reed, who had a breakout year with 10.5 sacks, a huge number for an interior linemen, and Bradley McDougald, who provided leadership and playmaking ability for a young secondary, recording 78 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and nine passes defensed.
Special Teams MVP: Punter Michael Dickson
Trading up to select a punter in the fifth-round of the draft seemed like a bold move at the time, but it also proved to be a smart one, with Dickson quickly becoming one of the NFL's best punters as a rookie. A native of Sydney, Australia, Dickson didn't begin punting an American football until 2015, but he was still able to establish himself as an NFL prospect in just three seasons at the University of Texas.
Dickson finished the season averaging 48.2 yards per punt and had a net average of 42.5, both of which established new franchise records, helping him earn first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as a rookie.
"I couldn't have imagined that he could be so consistent throughout the season in his rookie year," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last month after Dickson was named to the Pro Bowl roster. "… I just couldn't have imagined he could be that consistently good. We're thrilled about the pick and thrilled about having that guy on our team. He's got a great attitude about it, he's handled everything well. Really proud of him."
Of the non-specialists, Barkevious Mingo was regularly the top-graded special teamer, and finished tied with Justin Coleman for the team lead with 12 special-teams tackles. Mingo also forced a fumble and had one fumble recovery on special teams.
Best Rookie: Cornerback Tre Flowers
It wouldn't be a stretch to go with Dickson again here, but instead we'll give the slight edge to Flowers given that his position required him to be on the field every snap on defense while playing a very challenging position.
Flowers finished the season with seven passes defensed—two of which led to interceptions by teammates—three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, and recorded 67 tackles, which ranked third on the team. Flowers' rookie season would have been impressive without any context, but when you factor in that he was a fifth-round pick who played safety in college, his future looks even brighter.
"Tre had a fantastic season," Carroll said. "…The sky is the limit for him really. He's got all of the attributes that you're looking for. He's a real heady player too and he's going to learn and he's going to grow. That savvy that he gains—he's one of those guys that the day he steps back with us in April, he's going to be a whole new football player because of what he's been through. You can't clear away from that first experience until you get away from it and then you look back and all of the stuff, all of the lessons—he should be a tremendously improved player, which is really bright because he played a good football season for us anyway."
Were it not for a season-ending knee injury, tight end Will Dissly definitely would have contended for this honor, having enjoyed a very strong start to the season. And while running back Rashaad Penny saw his rookie season get off to a bit of a slow start following a finger injury in training camp, he showed a ton of potential and big-play ability, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while rushing for 419 yards.
Take a look back at some of the best game action images from the Seahawks' 2018 season.
Best Free-Agent Additions: Guards D.J. Fluker & J.R. Sweezy
It's impossible to separate Sweezy and Fluker given that they both signed with the Seahawks before the 2018 season, both started at guard, and both played big roles in the Seahawks leading the NFL in rushing.
Thanks in part to the play of those two guards, the Seahawks rushed for 2,560 yards in 2018, the third highest total in franchise history, and a big factor in the Seahawks scoring the second most points in franchise history. That running game is a big reason why Carroll said of the Seahawks' offense, "We've got some identity to us and we know who we are."
As mentioned above, Mingo was a difference maker on special teams while also playing strongside linebacker in base defense; Ed Dickson made big contributions at tight end after returning midseason from injury; Jaron Brown added five touchdown receptions; Sebastian Janikowski kicked three game-winning field goals; and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen was solid in the middle of the defensive line all year long, recording 24 tackles and two sacks.
Most Improved: Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed
The Seahawks selected Reed in the second round of the 2015 draft in large part because they considered him the best run-stopping lineman in the draft, and for two seasons Reed lived up to that billing, playing a big role in the middle of Seattle's defensive line. But in 2018, Reed emerged as a pass-rush threat in a way few people saw coming, recording 10.5 sacks to become just the third defensive tackle in franchise history with double-digit sacks, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and John Randle.
"That's good company," Carroll said. "It's a fantastic season for him, we could see it coming. You guys were asking those questions as he was starting to get three and four and five (sacks), what's going on? He's just growing up. He's grown up into a well-rounded football player, not just in the running game like when we saw him in the first couple years. He's just expanded his game, he's using his talents, he's using his instincts and it's really come through. He's always been tough, always been a fantastic effort guy, but it just kind of didn't get applied in the pass rush part of the game and he just has caught fire. It's great to see."
Most ridiculous number: 158.3
After sustaining a serious leg injury late in the 2016 season, a broken leg that required surgery and a long rehabilitation process, Tyler Lockett made it back for the start of the 2017 season, and the fact that he played all 16 games that year was a big accomplishment in its own right, regardless of his numbers. The Seahawks rewarded Lockett with a contract extension prior to the start of the 2018 season, and he responded by having the best year of his career, catching 57 passes for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns.
And it wasn't just that Lockett put up big numbers that was so impressive, it's how absurdly efficient the Seahawks were when targeting him in 2018. When Wilson threw to Lockett during the regular season, he completed 57 of 70 attempts (81.4 percent) and did not throw an interception, giving him a perfect 158.3 passer rating. That's the first time a quarterback has had a perfect rating when targeting a receiver at least 50 times since 2009 when Saints quarterback Drew Brees had a perfect rating throwing to Robert Meacham.
"I always think about the analogy of a baseball player that gets a big contract and he hits .198 or something the next year—that didn't happen," Carroll said. "He got a new contract, he got rewarded for the work that he had done and the future that holds, and then he just took off. It was a challenging year for Tyler. He was very emotional about the whole transition of getting the new contract and representing his future and all that. It was a really big deal to him. It really mattered to him that he did well and man, did he do well. The stat that we've got to always remember—having the highest efficiency that you can possibly have with your quarterback. I've never heard of that stat being taken into account, but what a number. Look at what he did the last game (against Dallas), he had four or five catches for a hundred-and-something yards. He just did it again. Every single opportunity he showed, he came through and he's got to be considered one of the most explosive, one of the most dynamic players in the game. That's what he looked like, and he showed it. Really excited about that."
Unsung Hero: Tackle/Tight End George Fant
George Fant opened the year as a backup tackle who rarely saw the field, but due to injuries at tight end, the former college basketball player started seeing the field early in the season as a sixth offensive lineman, or a really big tight end, depending on how you want to describe his role. That experiment worked out so well that as the season went along, "No. 74 is eligible" became a common phrase heard at Seahawks games, with Fant playing anywhere from a third to half of Seattle's offensive snaps on any given Sunday.
"It's been obvious that he has helped us," Carroll said midway through the season as Fant's role became a more regular one. "When you put a guy that weighs 50 pounds heavier than the guys that are playing, or guys that are playing 60 or 70 pounds heavier than some of the guys that play tight end for us, it makes a difference. He can make good movement at the line of scrimmage and pass protects well. He runs really nice routes too."
In Seattle's Week 14 win over the Vikings, the Seahawks finally targeted Fant as an eligible receiver, the result being a 9-yard catch, run and stumble to the CenturyLink Field turf. Fant also showed his value as a more traditional lineman, starting the final two games of the regular season at right tackle in place of Germain Ifedi, who missed one game with an injury and started another at guard in place of an injured D.J. Fluker.
Grittiest Performance: WR Doug Baldwin battling through an injury-plagued season.
Statistically speaking, the 2018 season was one of the least-productive of Doug Baldwin's impressive NFL career. After piling up more than 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns from 2015 to 2017, earning Pro-Bowl honors twice along the way, Baldwin was limited to 50 catches for 618 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. Baldwin missed three games due to injury, and was at something less than 100 percent for just about every one of the 13 games he did play, battling at various times injuries to both knees, his hip, groin, elbow and shoulder. So while on paper this wasn't Baldwin's best season, it was also one he was very proud of because of all he had to fight through to get on the field.
"I would argue that this is a season indicative of who I really am," Baldwin said following Seattle's playoff loss to Dallas. "All the struggles, all the challenges, all the obstacles, facing injury and the emotional, spiritual and mental parts that come with that. I battled my ass off. To be completely honest with you, I'm proud of the way that I have tried to handle it."
Carroll agreed, saying, "I thought it was a heroic season for Doug. I thought it was so hard for him because it was so different. He has never missed anything—maybe there was a couple days in practice or something in years past—but he had to deal with that, kind of find a way and mode that he could get through the weeks and prep. Which I don't mean to feel sorry for him, but it was the challenge for him. It was just a new way of looking at the world and he had to shift gears and all that. I thought he finished just in tremendous fashion. He made all of the plays he had chances to make. He came through and was huge down the stretch here. I was really happy for that so that he could recapture the feeling of being a big part of the club and what was going on and being able to factor in like he pictures he could. He's an incredible player."
Best Play, Offense: Russell Wilson to David Moore for a game-tying touchdown on fourth down.
A number of Russell Wilson deep passes to the likes of Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin would be worthy of inclusion here, as would some of Chris Carson, Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny's best runs, but the one play that stood out most, both for the play itself and for its significance, was Wilson's 35-yard touchdown pass to David Moore on fourth-and-3, a key play in a Seahawks road victory.
The Seahawks were trailing the Panthers by seven points with under four minutes to play when they decided to go for it on fourth down, and considering how well the Panthers offense was playing that day, there were no guarantees the Seahawks would get the ball back if they didn't convert. With Carolina playing aggressive coverage at the line of scrimmage, Wilson and Moore made the Panthers pay, with Wilson lofting a perfect pass to the end zone that Moore was able to secure with his left hand while a defensive back had his right arm pinned down. That score tied the game, and the Seahawks would eventually drive for the winning field goal in a win that helped propel the Seahawks to a strong finish to the season.
Best Play, Defense: Bobby Wagner takes it 98 yards to the house.
Wagner was already having a huge game in Seattle's Week 13 win over the 49ers before he intercepted Nick Mullens late in the game, but that interception and subsequent 98-yard return helped cement the All-Pro linebacker's performance as one of the top individual efforts by a defensive player in team history. Wagner finished that game with a team-high 12 tackles, a forced fumble, which he also recovered, a sack, two tackles for loss, two passes defensed and two quarterback hits. In other words, he filled out every category on the defensive stat sheet.
The play showed not just Wagner's athletic ability—not a lot of linebackers could outrun an offense 98 yards for a score—but also his intelligence in how he used a patient approach to bait Mullens into making the throw.
"You can't talk about this game unless you talk about Bobby Wagner," Carroll said after the game. "He just had a phenomenal game. There's not many more things the guy could do. He had (12) tackles, he took the ball away from them on a fumble, he had a sack, he had an interception for a touchdown, all-time ever longest play in the history of the franchise. Just did another marvelous job of taking care of all the leadership stuff that he does, too.
"He's playing as good as you can play the game. He's a phenomenal football player, really in the peak of his career, doing a great job, making all the plays. But he does so much more than that for us. He's a great Seahawk, and we're lucky to have him."
Trends to continue in 2019: Turnover differential and a strong running game.
The Seahawks led the league in turnover differential in 2018 with a plus-15 mark, a big reason why they returned to the playoffs. Particularly impressive was the way the offense took care of the ball, committing just 11 turnovers, which is one more than the NFL record for fewest in a season.
Also big was the way the offense found its identity with a physical running game that so perfectly complemented Wilson and the explosive passing game. The Seahawks expect to see their offense continue to grow as they head into their second season with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, so it might not look exactly the same in 2019 as it did in 2018. But if the Seahawks, who ran for a league-best 160.0 yards per game, can pick up where they left off with the ground game, the offense should get off to a much better start than it did in back-to-back losses to open the 2018 season.
Thing to clean up in 2019: Big plays given up by the defense.
The Seahawks defense did a lot of things well in 2018, particularly in key situations like third down and the red zone, and that group obviously also played a big role in the aforementioned turnover ratio. But for the defense to be even better in 2019, it will need to clean up some of the issues that led to big plays by opposing offenses.
The Seahawks allowed 126 explosive plays (Runs of 12 or more yards and passes of 16 or more), the most given up by a Seahawks defense since Carroll took over in 2010. That total was tied for the 10th most allowed in the NFL, so while they weren't one of the league's worst teams in that department, they didn't live up to their usual high standard.
On a more positive note, the Seahawks started cleaning things up late in the season, allowing a total of 15 in three of their final four games, with the only outlier being Kansas City, which had 11 explosives in Week 16, hardly a big surprise considering the Chiefs were the league's No. 1 offense in that department.
Best Random Subplot of the Year: Elaborate touchdown celebrations.
One of the consistent themes throughout the season was the level of fun everyone was having, from veteran players to newcomers to the coaching staff, and while that showed up in a lot of ways, it was never more evident than when a receiver caught a touchdown pass, often leading to a well-choreographed celebration.