Somewhere along the way this season, math finally caught up to the Seahawks.
As well as they were playing in the second half of the season, the Seahawks dug themselves a big enough hole with their 2-4 start that it became highly unlikely, then eventually impossible, to catch the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. That didn't mean the Seahawks couldn't make the playoffs and chase a third straight Super Bowl appearance, but what it did mean is that any postseason success this year would have to come on the road, a new challenge for a team that has had the luxury of playing at home on the way to consecutive NFC titles.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn't set preseason goals like winning a Super Bowl or even going there, but rather he wants to build a team that can own its division, year in, year out. One of the biggest reason for that is that winning a division title comes with at least one home playoff game. But despite falling short of that goal, going on the road is a challenge the Seahawks are embracing.
"Weeks back, you could see it kind of coming," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "So we've been setting our sights on preparing to get really right on the road, so that we can max out our opportunities when they come. So we're looking in that regard, yeah, really excited about doing it. We know what it's like to do it when you have a bye and you're playing at home, and you have two games to win. That's a pretty good shot. This is different, it's more challenging. There's three games to get through it and all that, so we'll see."
Knowing they would have to go on the road in the playoffs is why the Seahawks took a two-day trip to Arizona last week—usually a one-night trip—so they could stay in the travel routine they'd need for a trip or trips farther east in the playoffs. It's the routine that has served them well as they won their final five road games this season, two of them against NFC playoff teams (Arizona and Minnesota), and one they hope will work out well for them when they play the Vikings in the wild-card round on Sunday.
"When we're on the road, it's just us," safety Earl Thomas said. "There's no distractions. Wives, babies, they're at home. It's just us. We like it that way."
Whether it's the lack of distractions, or as defensive players have noted, the ability to communicate better away from the cacophony of CenturyLink Field, for one reason or another, the Seahawks have been as good if not better away from home than on the road this season, and especially of late, outscoring the Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals by a combined 109-19 margin.
"The confidence is high," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "We've looked really impressive on the road, offense has been playing lights out, same thing on defense. It looks good, I'm glad we're on the road, and let's just continue it."
Added linebacker Bruce Irvin: "To be honest with you, I think we're a better road team than a home team this year. It's funny this road thing kind of played in our favor. We've just got to take care of our business. It won't be easy… I don't know. Maybe we're focused better on the road. I don't know what it is, I just feel like we're a better road team than we are a home team this year."
The Seahawks last went on the road in the playoffs in 2012 as a younger, less experienced team, and after winning at Washington, they pulled off a big second-half comeback against the Atlanta Falcons, only to lose on a last-second field goal. Players have said that experience in Atlanta served as motivation that helped them eventually win a Super Bowl the following season, and looking back on that season, the Seahawks believe they're much better equipped to handle road games to perhaps go further into the postseason this time around.
"We were too young, we weren't ready," Wright said. "We were a young team and we didn't know nothing about the playoffs. It was all our first time there for most of it. I'm glad we got that year under our belt to prepare us for the future."
With more postseason experience under their belt, and a five-game road winning streak carrying them into the postseason, the Seahawks are ready to try to get back to a third straight Super Bowl by doing things the hard way.
"I think it's going to be a great challenge, but I think we're poised for this situation," defensive end Michael Bennett said. "I think our team is embracing it."
The Seahawks play their 11th wild-card game in franchise history this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. This gallery throws you back to each of the Seahawks' previous 10 wild-card games, including their first-ever playoff game in 1983 facing the Denver Broncos and their most recent in 2012 versus the Washington Redskins.