When Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner and the rest of the 2012 draft class arrived in Seattle, the franchise had yet to go on a multi-season run that would become the most successful period in franchise history, but there was already something brewing.
The Seahawks weren't a great team in 2011—they went 7-9 and missed the playoffs—but in the second half of the season, that team started to find something. And while they didn't always win, that group had bought into Pete Carroll's "Always Compete" mantra, and a mixture of young talent and a few important veterans learned a bit about resiliency that they passed onto the next group of rookies who arrived the following year.
"We had older guys when I first got here that had that experience and they shared it to us," Wagner said. "So we're the older guys now and we try to share it with them that no matter where we're at, no matter what it is, you've got to keep going because you can either win or lose the game at any given point."
NFL rosters can change rather drastically from one year to the next, never mind what happens over the course of six or seven years, but what has been a near constant since the early years under Carroll and general manager John Schneider is a remarkable level of resilience, be it during a season when things don't always go well, or in an individual game when the team falls behind early or finds itself down a score or two with time running out.
All of that explains why Carroll did not hesitate when asked seven weeks ago if this team, which sat at 4-5 following consecutive losses, still had a chance to finish the season strong and contend for a playoff spot.
"I don't think it, I know it," Carroll said in mid-November when asked if his team could make a playoff push. Carroll went on to note that his 2015 team also started 4-5 and went on to make the playoffs, and sure enough, this year's Seahawks went on to win six of their last seven, sending them to the playoffs where they'll play at Dallas in the Wild Card round on Saturday night.
Asked what he saw in this team that made him confident even when the Seahawks started 0-2 and later lost two in a row to drop to 4-5, Carroll said, "All of the same elements that have come alive were there. That's why we were optimistic going into the season, it just took us a while to get started. The restructure of the guys up front on offense we thought really would make a difference, but didn't show in the first couple of weeks and it had to come around. We felt that once that came together, we were really excited about the running game, the running backs, the whole group of them. It's a great meeting room with guys with all different kinds of makeup and all that. That would add to the fact that we thought we could run the football and the signature part of our play this year, so that's what I was counting on. Knowing that we have to grow—we've had to grow a lot defensively. And we haven't been as clean as we'd like to be throughout the year, we've given up some stuff that we shouldn't have given up. It just seems like the heart and the soul and the potential and the speed and the youth and then the leadership, all of those elements were there that would be necessary. We just felt like we could. It helps when you've been through that before too, it was very similar to other years."
But there's more to the Seahawks' turnaround than a running game and an improving defense or anything else the team improved upon on the stat sheet; there's also that belief that is so ingrained in Carroll's teams.
"It's our mentality here, how we preach about finish and go about it," center Justin Britt said. "You take that and carry it into all aspects of your life, and you kind of get programed with that. If you're not up, you have no doubt you'll fight your way back into it. When you have a group of guys who believe in that, it's dangerous."
That mentality is a big reason why the Seahawks have made the playoffs with strong finishes to the season in four of their six playoff seasons since 2012. The Super Bowl winning team in 2013 started strong and never really slowed down, while the 2016 team used a quick start to earn an eventual Wild Card berth, but the 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2018 teams all overcame early struggles to make the playoffs. The 2015 season most clearly mirrors this season—both teams started 0-2, and both won six of seven after falling to 4-5—but the 2012 and 2014 teams also had to show their resilience to get to the playoffs. In 2012, the Seahawks started 4-4 then closed by winning seven of eight, while the 2014 team came out of the gate slowly after a Super Bowl-winning season, but won nine of 10 after a 3-3 start and made it back to the Super Bowl.
Receiver Doug Baldwin said that resilience comes from "a combination of a lot of things. I can't pinpoint one thing. I would say that the mindset that Pete Carroll instills in us from day one that every game is a championship opportunity, that you're going to prepare the same way every day, competition is everything—I think that's part of it. I think that they did get lucky a long time ago with a whole bunch of alpha-competitors who, when they practice, they practice like it was gameday and everybody had to follow suit. That's hard to replicate if you don't have the players who are willing to buy into that. They found a lot of guys who were willing to do that at the very beginning, and that mentality and that philosophy has been instilled in the younger guys as they come through the ranks because you have the proper leadership to do that. You can point to Bobby Wagner, to Russell Wilson, and these guys have always demonstrated that on a consistent basis. I think that's just part of the mentality that when you're here, you just absorb it and you become part of it."
One might argue that acquiring those alpha males was a matter of good scouting and not luck, but either way Baldwin's point remains that it takes both the coaches creating a culture, but also players who don't just buy in themselves, but also pass that mentality on to the players who come after them.
"That's something I've been hearing since I've been here, and it's something we just keep emphasizing," linebacker K.J. Wright said, later adding that passing that message is "all on us" as veterans. "We've been through it, we know what it looks like. Most guys would probably see that record and be like, 'Dang, this is not good, we're not off to a good start.' But it's all about that fourth quarter finish, it's all about finishing strong in December."
And as anyone who has watched the Seahawks knows, that resilience applies to individual games as well. Between Week 9 of the 2011 season and Week 2 of 2015, the Seahawks never lost by double digits, and they've only lost four times by double digits in their last 132 games, playoffs included. On the other hand, when the Seahawks lead, it's very difficult to come back on them, as is evident in the fact that, since 2012, they have a 52-0 record when leading by four points or more at halftime.
As Wagner described it, the Seahawks play with the confidence that "you can kind of get out of anything. You don't want to start slow, you want to start fast, but I think that the environment that we have here especially with Coach Carroll, just always talking about 'finish' and always talking about 'it's not how you start,' so when we start bad we have the confidence that we can pull it together. It's never over. That's what it is. We're very resilient. We always believe that we're in it, no matter what. I think that's what it is. A lot of the guys just understand that as long as we have a chance, it's going to be great."
Given the impact quarterback play can have on a team's success, it's not a coincidence that Wilson has the type of positive demeanor and calming presence that can help a team believe even when things aren't going well.
"One of the things that is admirable about him is that he's always positive," 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 to me 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 from the first play to the fourth-and-goal play that we need 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 the Seahawks don't have exclusive rights to resilience, as Saturday's opponent has shown this season. The Cowboys, who lost to Seattle in Week 3, eventually fell to 3-5, but have since won seven of their last eight to win the NFC East. So the Seahawks know they'll have their hands full when they take the field at AT&T stadium, but thanks to another season that featured a strong finish, the Seahawks head into the playoffs confident in what they can accomplish.
"You can grow a lot though (a season) and we've done it many times before," Carroll said. "It's not a surprise really how this has happened. We've got years that look very similar when you look at our track record. That's just us."
The Seahawks and Cowboys face off on Thursday Night Football, Nov. 30, 2023. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Cowboys.