The Seahawks didn't want to try to let the Panthers back into the game last weekend, turning what looked like a blowout into a one-score game in the final minutes. But while they would have preferred to have closed out that 30-24 victory a little stronger, the Seahawks were able to gain some valuable experience in those final minutes when the Panthers turned a 30-10 game into a tight finish.
A defense that was missing six starters by the end of the game, including captain and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, had to figure out how to operate with so many young players on the field. And no, the results weren't great, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has pointed out a couple of times this week that those young players will be better for that experience. Seattle offense, meanwhile, was put into a situation where it was asked to close out a one-possession game in the final minutes, and did so, despite some penalties, with a combination of Chris Carson runs and a clutch Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett conversion on third-and-11.
"I love close games," Carroll said. "I think they help you. They make you stronger. They keep you in the game longer. They make you have to focus farther, and it prepares you for more kinds of things that can happen that you need background and experience in. It would really be OK if we could win by a lot sometimes. That'd be fun. (But) this is this season. These seasons write a story and that's kind of the story of what's been going on all year long. We're certainly not trying to let them back into it. That's not the idea. I think it's only going to help us. I think all of the young guys that have been through those games, they're not tensing up. They're not worried about what's going to happen next. Just keep thinking we're going to find a way. That's powerful. It really supports what the experienced guys have been around and how they think. It's just the way it is. I'm sorry for the fans. Like I've said before, you've got to suck it up and enjoy the wins. Sometimes, they just come out later than you want."
Carroll has always been comfortable in these tense moments, as has quarterback Russell Wilson, but this year has been particularly nerve-wracking for fans, even by Seahawks standards. With Sunday's win in Charlotte, the Seahawks improved to 10-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer, making them just the second team, along with the 1978 Houston Oilers, to win 10 one-score games in a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Seahawks have won close games because it was a tight, back-and-forth battle throughout, they've won close games because they fell behind early by double digits and had to come back, and they've won close games where they let big leads slip away late.
And again, this isn't by design for the Seahawks, but it should come in handy in the postseason when every team is really good and so many games come down to the final few possessions.
"I think that's the most valuable thing that you can do is, learn how to win in different scenarios," Wagner said. "… That's where you get your confidence, you grow your confidence as you get to the end of the season and get to the playoff run. You have those games where you're down 10 or down seven and when you've been in that situation so many times, you believe in yourself, you believe in your team that you're going to pull it out. I think that's what you learn the most from those situations; is having the confidence. You have as much time that's left, and you can win the game no matter what's on there, because we've had some pretty crazy wins these last few years I've been here."
Added linebacker K.J. Wright, "I think it'll help us a whole lot. It's definitely nerve-wracking (for fans), I get it. When you're blowing out somebody and they get withing one score with plenty of time left, it's not a good feeling, but it'll help us out, because we know that in the playoffs, most games are going to be decided under seven or 10 points. So you need that adversity, you need that confidence to know that you can get the job done. It's going to pay off in the long run."
Wagner noted that all of these high-pressure finishes are particularly valuable for a team that relies on so many young players on both sides of the ball.
"I think it's really important, because there are a lot of young guys that haven't been in these situations so their brain is kind of going crazy," Wagner said. "They are thinking, all right, these last few minutes have to be different than what the rest of the game was. These plays are a little bit more significant, but they're still the same plays that we were seeing. They're not going to change their whole offense for the last two minutes of the game. It's just kind of getting everybody to relax and recognize the formation and make your plays when they come to you. I think everybody just needs reminders, and that's what I feel like me and Russell are."
As Wagner points out, it falls on players like him, Wilson, Wright, left tackle Duane Brown and other veterans to make sure their less experienced teammates are in the right state of mind in tense, late-game situations, and Carroll pointed right to the poise of Seattle's veteran players when asked why his team has won so many close games this season.
"I think we're a poised team," Carroll said. "I think it comes right from Russell and Bobby. I think those guys on the field make other guys stay within themselves and not get scattered and continue to help us execute. It means really, the leadership that those guys offer, I would go right to that. We're never out of anything. We don't ever feel like that. To be like that and extend that message, you have to come across with poise or guys aren't going to listen to you and it's not going to have the effect. We have really good leadership. I would like to think that's a big part of it."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 15 game against the Carolina Panthers. Eye on the Hawks is presented by Western Washington Toyota Dealers.