RENTON, Wash. — At midseason, the Seattle Seahawks were a joke with most of the talk being about which top 10 draft position they might land.
Now they might be the team no one in the NFC wants to see slip into the playoffs.
Seattle (7-7) returned to practice Tuesday after winning for the fifth time in six games by routing Chicago 38-14 on Sunday, keeping alive Seattle’s slim hopes of the playoffs. It’s a remarkable turnaround from the first half of the year and perhaps more of an accomplishment than a year ago, when Seattle made the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
They’ve already matched last season’s win total with two games remaining. And Seattle needs both of those victories to even have a shot at sliding into a most unlikely playoff berth, beginning on Saturday when they host San Francisco. The 49ers hammered Seattle 33-17 in the season opener.
“We’re not the same team we were the first week of the season, just like they aren’t,” Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. “It should be a great matchup, a great test for us.”
No matter the circumstance this much is clear: Seattle needs to win its final two games and either Atlanta or Detroit must lose its final two. The rest of the playoff scenarios get jumbled, but the simplest would be Seattle winning two and Detroit losing two. If it’s Atlanta in the mix, Seattle would need another team involved in a three-way — or more — tiebreaker due to the Falcons’ win over Seattle earlier this season.
It’s long odds to be sure. But just having the word playoffs uttered in the Seattle locker-room is an achievement following the Seahawks’ 2-6 start.
“They are within reach and we know that, but we can’t look ahead because all we can focus on is San (Francisco),” Linebacker Leroy Hill said. “San (Francisco) is a tough opponent, we can’t look past them. You have to focus on them . . . . We’ll be ready, we’ll be geared up and we know what’s on the line. It’s almost playoffs for us now.”
Much of the second-half surge can be attributed to their second-half performances.
Seattle’s first-half offence has been dreadful at times, with last Sunday yet another example. Unable to ever get into a rhythm offensively, the Seahawks had just 84 yards, five first downs and their one touchdown came after a turnover deep in Chicago’s end. For the season, Seattle’s offence ranks 26th in the NFL in first-half scoring.
The next 30 minutes make for a completely different story.
The Seahawks are 11th in the NFL in second-half scoring, averaging 12.7 points. That total is somewhat inflated by the 31 second-half points against Chicago, 21 against Atlanta and 22 versus the New York Giants. But that number is plenty when the Seahawks’ second-half defence is taken into account. Seattle is sixth in the league and second in the NFC — behind San Francisco — in second-half points allowed at 121.
“Most of the time, what happens at halftime is you get back to the things that you intended to do and sometimes didn’t show up at the start. Quite often, that’s the case — not always,” Carroll said.
The key offensively against Chicago was the play of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. With the Bears loading the line of scrimmage to slow down Marshawn Lynch — who finished with 42 yards on 20 carries but scored twice — Jackson was forced to go to the air. He was 15 of 19 for 176 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 122.8 in the second half against Chicago.
Add in defensive touchdowns by defensive end Red Bryant and cornerback Brandon Browner and a halftime deficit turned into a third straight blowout for the Seahawks. Seattle has scored 30 or more in three consecutive weeks, the first time the franchise has done that and won all three games since the end of the 2002 season.
The Seahawks’ performance in the closing stages of this season couldn’t be any different from a year ago, when Seattle started quick before staggering to the finish. In Carroll’s first year, the Seahawks burst out to a 4-2 start, then won just twice in the final seven weeks — a 31-14 win over a Carolina team that finished with the league’s worst record; and a Week 17 win over St. Louis that got Seattle into the playoffs.
The way Seattle has played the last six weeks is the closing punch Carroll wants.
“There’s a lot of good feeling in our locker-room. These guys know what we’re trying to get done,” Carroll said.