It has been tough to tell at times over the past couple of days if it's a Seahawks playoff week or Improv at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
On Tuesday you had linebacker/fullback Nick Bellore explaining his third career carry by saying, "I was just looking for a warm place to lay down." Bellore also said if he were to try a spin move and reverse fields like Kenneth Walker III, it would result in "IR for sure. They'd probably end up naming the field after me. I think I would definitely tear both my hamstrings."
A day later, quarterback Geno Smith, who is days away from his first career playoff start, said of Tyler Lockett, "For a real estate agent, I think he's doing a great job at playing wide receiver."
Later, Smith was asked about his false start when lined up at receiver on a wildcat play, and explained he was trying to adjust his feet while simultaneously talking trash with Rams Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey, a combination that got him off balance.
"It was the matchup we were looking for, me on Ramsey," Smith said with a chuckle. "… I was about to sauce him up."
(For the record, Ramsey confirmed this account of their "matchup" via Twitter).
Yes, the Seahawks may be back in the playoffs after a down 2021 season, but if a relatively inexperienced team is feeling any added pressure this week, they sure aren't showing it. When the Seahawks face the 49ers on Saturday, they'll take with them to San Jose a 53-man roster that features 32 players with no playoff experience, including a quarterback in Geno Smith who has been on playoff teams but never played in a postseason game, and seven rookies—Tariq Woolen, Abraham Lucas, Charles Cross, Kenneth Walker III, Coby Bryant, Boye Mafe and Dareke Young—who are either starters or are making significant contributions.
"We've got such a young team, and when you hear about all the stuff that was said about us from the beginning of the year all the way until now, it's like, nobody expected us to be here, nobody expects us to win outside of our building," receiver Tyler Lockett said. "We believe that we can win, but nobody else does. Nobody thought that we would be able to do any of the things that we were able to do. Everybody was shocked that we even got into the playoffs. So for us it's like, we're just going to go out there and just play free. We're not going to play with any worries. We don't really care what the weather is going to be like. We really don't care about any of that stuff; we're just going to play like we've got nothing to lose."
For the Seahawks, their playoff essentially started in Week 17 when they got to the point of needing to win out to have any hope of making the postseason, and after beating the Jets and Rams to get to this point, they're not going to change much of anything about how they approach this game, which for any Pete Carroll-led team, means they're having a great time while putting in work.
"We've been like that the last couple weeks," safety and defensive co-captain Quandre Diggs said. "I just feel like nobody expected us to be in the playoffs, so the last two weeks we're just like, well, what do we really have to lose? Nobody is giving us a shot. Even the last week of the season, everybody is like, 'Oh, the Seahawks have a 30 percent chance of getting in the playoffs.' For us, we just continue to do our thing, dance at practice and have fun and enjoy the moments, because these moments all we can ask for—especially since what happened with Damar Hamlin last week. For us it's just like, you've got to enjoy these moments because you might never get these opportunities again. We're just taking it and enjoying it, and whatever happens, happens, but for us, we're just enjoying the process each and every day and just being the Seahawks that Pete just lets us to have fun and do our thing."
Of course, loose and fun are the factory settings when it comes to the Carroll and John Schneider-led Seahawks. And that's an important distinction to make when we're talking about this week. The Seahawks aren't changing things up by cracking jokes and dancing; they're just being themselves.
Bellore doesn't hold press conferences often, but when he does, they always turn into standup acts. Smith very likely would have made the same joke had he lined up against Ramsey in Week 13. Players dance before, during and after practice every day. And though it happened to be caught on camera this week, Pete Carroll does indeed zoom around the building on a scooter on a daily basis.
This goofiness is business as usual, and that's the point. As long as Carroll has coached this team, he's made it clear that working incredibly hard and having a lot of fun need not be mutually exclusive, so now that this young, emerging team has reached the postseason, the last thing he wants is for everyone to tighten up because the stakes are higher.
When Carroll talks about every week being a championship opportunity, he does that in part because he doesn't want his team to have regular-season letdowns—if ever there were a season that illustrates the importance of every victory throughout a year, it was this one—but he also preaches that message because when games are being played that actually will help determine the championship, he doesn't want his team to suddenly change the way they do things and make a bigger deal out of a playoff game than it really is.
If anyone has reason to make a big deal out of this playoff appearance, it would be Smith. A backup for the past seven seasons with the Jets, Giants, Chargers and Seahawks, Smith not only won a starting job in training camp, he went on to play every offense snap this season, set several Seahawks passing records, lead the NFL in completion percentage, make his first Pro Bowl, and most significantly, help lead the Seahawks to a 9-8 record and a playoff berth when just about nobody outside of the building thought that possible. But even if this is uncharted territory for the 10-year veteran, Smith is the same even-keeled player he has been throughout this season.
"Don't make it different," Smith said when asked what kind of message he might give his teammates as a leader. "Don't make it different. Stick to your process. You've been doing this for 18 weeks, even longer than that, 20-something weeks. Don't change your process. Don't make it more than what it is. It's another football game, another opportunity to go out there and compete. With the guys we have in this locker room, with the coaching staff, with the organization we have, that's what we're all about, competing. Coach Carroll is going to say the same thing. It's not bigger than what it should be. It's another football game. We get an opportunity to go out there and compete with your brothers and see what we can be after the game."
"We are trying to build a championship freakin' football team, right now."
What shouldn't get lost in the fact that the Seahawks are loose this week, or that they are, in Lockett's words, playing like they have nothing to lose, is that this team very much expected to be in this position, even if most of the rest of the football world didn't.
The Seahawks are happy they're in the playoffs, as are the other 13 teams that made it, but don't mistake that for them feeling like they're just happy to be here.
Yes the Seahawks parted ways with two of the best players in franchise history this offseason, trading Russell Wilson, a nine-time Pro-Bowler who rewrote the Seahawks record books, and released Bobby Wagner, an All-Decade linebacker who is all but a lock to end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But while just about everyone outside of the organization was assuming the Seahawks were rebuilding and wouldn't be competitive in 2022, Carroll and Schneider got to work coming up with a plan to bounce back from last year's 7-10 season and get back to the playoffs.
Only days after the trade that sent Wilson to Denver became official, Carroll and Schneider held a press conference in which Carroll was asked what he was looking forward to in 2022.
"Winning freaking football games, and a bunch of them," Carroll said. "Last year kind of sucked… We're going right back to business. We're going for it. Everybody that's coming here that's going to be a part of this is well aware. That's the only way we're looking at it. Let's go right now.
"There is a lot that has happened and a lot that has gone on that excites the hell out of us. This is a great time for us, this is a great challenge for us. This is that challenging time of the year and yeah we are faced with challenges, but all we see is what is going to go the right way, and what's going to happen for us. We look at this just like we look at every year, we are trying to build a championship freakin' football team right now. There is no future with doing it somewhere down the road, we don't think like that, we've never thought like that, and we aren't going to think like that now. What I'm sharing with you, that's who we are, that's how we operate, and that's what you can count on from us and our players coming in. As we draw other players to this team, that's where we are going. I hope that there is no misunderstanding at all and it's clear to you."
Plenty of people scoffed at that sentiment in March, yet 10 months later, here the Seahawks are, back in the playoffs for the 10th time in 13 seasons under Carroll and Schneider. As DK Metcalf explained, this season wasn't about proving others wrong, it was about validating the belief they had in themselves all along.
"We proved ourselves right," Metcalf said. "We knew what we were doing and we were setting out to at least make the playoffs this year, but every team's goal is to win the Super Bowl. We finished step one. Now just continue on this road to the Super Bowl."
Smith, who re-signed with Seattle this spring after spending some time as a free agent, felt like the team had something special long before he had even earned the starting job.
"I knew we had a chance way back in training camp, really back in OTAs," he said. "I think we were close to 100 percent in attendance, and guys were really working. It felt like a college atmosphere in the weight room and on the field when we were just running sprints. So much competition and everyone is just fighting for a job. Obviously with the talent we have, we can play with anybody, but I think our camaraderie and everything like that was built during that time in OTAs, and I think that's what allowed us to have a chance. We just continue to build on that, and we've been getting better each week. We've got a lot of young guys playing, and they've been getting reps and becoming vets overnight. Just having a chance with these guys and to compete with these guys, I always feel like we have a chance to be great."
Said defensive end Shelby Harris, who in his ninth season will be playing in his first playoff game, "We blocked all the noise going into this year and really played for each other, and got the result that we wanted. Now it's up to us. You're in it, now what are you going to do? Obviously, we're not satisfied just getting in, we want more."
So when the Seahawks travel to face the 49ers, the NFC's No. 2 seed who have won 10 in a row, they know they're facing a tough challenge, but they'll also go into the game with high expectations. And of course, as they always do, they'll also have plenty of fun as they get ready for that game.
"I think everybody is just free," Lockett said. "I honestly think everybody is just more free. You don't have to be uptight. You don't have to be tense. Obviously, we're going into a playoff game, and you can really make it like, 'Oh, my gosh, it's the playoffs,' but it's different when everybody is telling you that you have to win or it's a bust type of season, when people thought we were going to win four games… We really don't have anything to lose. We're just going to go out there and have fun, go out there and play, and I feel like we're getting better each and every week."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seahawks' Week 18 overtime win over the Los Angeles Rams on January 8, 2023 at Lumen Field. Eye On The Hawks is presented by Western Washington Toyota Dealers.