Battered by injury, controversy and every foe’s best shot, the Seahawks talked quietly about building toward something better. They didn’t want to describe it as a replication of last season, because that’s a dead team’s ambition.
Three wins over lesser foes showed flashes of the idea, and they played the past Sunday a good Chiefs team to a standstill in Kansas City, yet lost.
The idea was simple: Get over their 2014 selves and smash someone in the grill.
May as well be the team with the NFL’s best record.
“It was,” said coach Pete Carroll after the 19-3 win, “a really clear exhibition of just good Seahawks ball today.”
Getting to that point of clarity against the Arizona Cardinals (9-2) was less about a game plan or a football feat and much more about the outcome of a meeting convened by Carroll during the week with about 10 players. Apparently the meeting discussed pulling together in the fashion of last season by shedding individualism for the greater good.
“Everyone in the NFL is talented physically,” said WR Doug Baldwin, who attended the meeting. “What separates good from great from legendary is the mental side, and the emotional side.
“If you can play the game with love, trust and commitment to each other, that’s the hardest thing for (opponents) to stop.”
Also on hand for the chat was FS Earl Thomas, who believes in the non-tactical side of football with an almost religious fervor.
“It was up and down this week,” he said, referring to arguments among team members. “We had battles with each other. But it turned out beautiful.
“Hugs, emotions, meetings. I love all that, man.”
The result they sought seemed to transcend the impact on the standings.
“It’s a special win because we did it together,” Thomas said in his usual effusive style. “For the first time this season we played for (purity). There was no motives attached. We put our egos aside, admitted when we’re wrong.
“Playing for each other is what makes us, us. That’s why we were the best team last year.”
Thomas admitted his ego was sometimes in the way.
“Trust, to be totally honest, that’s what we been missing.” he said. “We haven’t been trusting each other. I got to realize that myself, because sometimes I go into hero mode. It’s fun, because I get absorbed in all the energy and emotion.
“But, I’m in the middle of the field and I wasn’t trusting guys like I needed to. I let myself down, kinda handicapped myself. I wasn’t able to focus on my job.”
The return of two more practical elements also helped: MLB Bobby Wagner, out five weeks with a toe injury, and the 12s, whose energy was down from last season’s breathless fury.
Wagner meant the defense had back 10 of its original 11 starters from the opening game (missing only injured DT Brandon Mebane). The audio riot helped stunt Drew Stanton, Arizona’s backup QB. The result of this swirl of the esoteric and the pragmatic was 204 yards of offense for the Cardinals; Stanton, replacing injured starter Carson Palmer for the balance of the season, was 14 of 26 for 149 yards and an interception, and was sacked three times.
“The crowd,” said Thomas, “made me feel like I was on another planet.”
Naturally Carroll, architect of the meeting to stitch together the team’s psychology, was pleased.
“I loved the way the guys rallied to play together,” he said. “It was the best feeling (on defense) we’ve had all year — the best sense for one another, the best focus and intensity. I thought (Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman) really just kind of touched other guys during the week and made sure that everybody was going to go.
“It felt like it was the first really big-time game that we played. It comes at a good time.”
No kidding. A fifth loss, especially to a division foe, at this later point in the season would have forced the Seahawks to run the table to assure a place in the playoffs. Especially since the season resumes Thursday in Santa Clara, where the 49ers beat Washington 20-17 Sunday to match Seattle’s 7-4 record.
After early disorder, both teams have regained some equilibrium that restores luster to the NFL’s best rivalry. Neither offense has flourished, the Seahawks travails Sunday primarily revolving around a line missing starters C Max Unger and LG James Carpenter, as well as FB Derrick Coleman and TE Zach Miller.
Despite five ventures into the red zone, the Seahawks managed a single touchdown against the Cardinals’ formidable defense, which held Marshawn Lynch — he of the upset stomach Sunday to go with a perpetually sore back — to 39 yards rushing.
Russell Wilson was sacked seven times, tying his career high. But when he emerged vertical from under the outstretched arms of the Cardinals, he hit 17 of 22 passes for 211 yards, including a 20-yard pass to third-string TE Cooper Helfet for the game’s only touchdown.
“I thought he played a really good football game under extreme duress, and showed great poise,” Carroll said. “When the protection was there, he stood strong in the pocket and made his throws.”
Football traditionalists may struggle with Thomas’s advocacy of “hugs, emotions and meetings.” But it doesn’t matter what traditionalists think. What counts is what the Seahawks believe.
They believe that, but for an erroneous non-call of pass interference in Kansas City — which the NFL told the Seahawks Friday they were right to be pissed — they would be on a five-game winning streak heading into the first 49ers game.
The Seahawks also believe they are over themselves, always the most formidable opponents.