Heading into the 2014 season, with his team still basking in the glory of a dominant Super Bowl victory, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll sat his team down to show them highlights from all close games that 2013 team played on its way to a championship.
Five of the Seahawks' 2013 wins were decided by one score, as were both playoff wins leading up to the Super Bowl, and all three losses were also one-score games.
The point Carroll was trying to make was, that in a league built around parity like the NFL, even the best teams play a lot of close games, and that the margin between a great season and a mediocre one can be pretty slim.
"Coming off of the Super Bowl season, the first meeting we had, I showed these guys the nine games that we had that could have gone either way to make them realize again how slim the margin is when you think that you are all that," Carroll said. "You win the world championship, and you think you have it made, well every single game of those nine games during the course of the season could have easily gone the other way, just like these last few games have gone. You have to respect the challenge of it and the details that it takes to execute so that you can finish the games in charge of the outcome instead of the other side of it. That's how it goes, every weekend is highlighted by five or six games that come down to the last play or kick. That's common in the league because everyone is so much the same. Yeah, it's really obvious to me that this is how it is."
The unfortunate other side of the equation is on display this season, when the close games have not gone Seattle's way. With the Seahawks unable to close out games in the fashion they're used to, they have lost four close games, two of which went to overtime, and in each of their past three losses, the offense has had the ball either at the end of regulation or in overtime with a chance to win the game. Almost doesn't mean much in the standings, but the Seahawks also remain confident because they know they're just a few plays here and there or a late drive or two away from having a winning record.
"Sometimes it's a play or two here that can change your whole season," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "I think that's why you have optimism. That's why you understand each play is important because you never know which one can be the deciding point of the game. There's a lot of football left, and we definitely feel like we can position ourselves on a nice little run if we can get out of our way."
It isn't exactly breaking news to say there's a lot of close games in the NFL—that's part of the reason the league is so popular—but so often the Seahawks have been on the right side of those games, in part because the strong emphasis Carroll places on finishing has permeated through all of his teams, and as Carroll has noted on a few occasions recently, in no small part because Russell Wilson, who has been unavailable for the last three close finishes, is a Hall of Fame talent who happens to thrive in late-game scenarios. So with the Seahawks suddenly losing several close games to start a season, it can be jarring for fans who are used to seeing the Seahawks pull off those late-game wins.
"I think that's why I reflected the thought about Russ, because he has been in so many of these games for us over the years," Carroll said. "We have a lot of experience of being in those situations, a lot of positive ones too. We have been very fortunate that we have been able to win a bunch of them."
Said tight end Will Dissly, "This isn't college, every team we play is going to be a tremendous opponent. They pay players to go make plays too. I think it's on us to find that way to be that guy to make that play to win the game. I think it has nothing to do with lulls or anything, it's just the way the balls have gone. There's been some mistakes made that haven't gone our way. I mean, you can look at all our games, we've been in most of them. A 50-50 call here or there, explosive play here or there, and it's a completely different ball game. You can't dwell on the past. You can't dwell on how we've done. We keep focusing and we keep working every week to find a way to finish, to find a way to win games, and that's really our goal. You can't look back. You've got to move forward, be positive, and go get some wins."
"In any football game, if it's a one score game, there's probably a handful of plays, six to eight plays on either side of the ball that really make a difference. Here in our building, we talk a lot about turnovers. We've been really good on offense not turning the ball over. Then on defense, it's making sacks. Creating negative plays to limit their points. They've done a really good job of holding teams to field goals. They've played well here in the past. I think it's finding a way to merge the two, offense and defense working collectively. We can be a really great football team."
Of course, if we're going to note that the Seahawks could be a lot better than their 2-5 record if not for coming up short late in games, then it's also worth pointing out that this week's opponent, that Jacksonville Jaguars, are playing a lot better than their 1-5 record might indicate.
Prior to earning their first win two weeks ago in London ahead of their bye, the Jags led the undefeated Cardinals by nine points in the second half before Arizona came back to win, and the following week they led into the fourth quarter against the Bengals, another team with a winning record.
"Even if you look at (Jacksonville) right now, they don't have the wins, but if you watch the film or look at the games, they've been in a lot of those games," Wagner said. "I think they were up on Cincinnati, they were up on Arizona as well and didn't finish the games."
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