Despite all the turmoil and challenges of the 2015 season, this is a team poised to do great things.
The degree of difficulty has been ramped up to max level. The Seahawks are no longer the NFL’s darlings, as they were in 2013, or its poster boys, as they were last season.
They’ve gone from prohibitive favorites to anyone’s guess. As the postseason dawns, the Seahawks are just another team trying to slog their way to the Super Bowl through a rugged playoff path — one that will take them away from the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field, their happy place on the way to two consecutive NFC titles.
But here’s the thing for Seahawks fans: It’s still possible to believe, and not just hope and pray. Despite all the turmoil and challenges of an inconsistent 2015 season, this is a team poised to do great things.
Part of it is muscle memory. Once you’ve prevailed in a series of crucial games, such as an NFC title game last year in which they trailed Green Bay 19-7 with four minutes remaining in regulation, you begin to think it’s your birthright.
Part of it is pride. The one big game over the past two years in which the Seahawks didn’t prevail, last year’s Super Bowl, is the ultimate motivator for this team. For a good, long while, it looked like they might succumb to the dreaded Super Bowl hangover, one exacerbated by one of the most stunning defeats in pro-sports history. But if the Seahawks indeed have broken through that barrier, they would have the galvanizing promise of redemption to propel them back toward the Super Bowl.
But the biggest part of a plausible Super Bowl scenario is that these Seahawks are still a supremely talented team, one that took a little longer to find itself but has played as well as any in the conference over the past seven weeks.
Keep in mind that even in the struggling portion of the Seahawks’ season, when they started 2-4 and 4-5, they were excruciatingly close to being undefeated. It’s not as if they lost their way completely; they just lost their bearings.
• They lost 34-31 in overtime in the opener at St. Louis when holdout Kam Chancellor’s fill-in at strong safety, Dion Bailey — who would be cut barely a week later — got beat for a 37-yard touchdown with 53 seconds left.
• They lost the next week at Green Bay despite beginning the fourth quarter with a 17-16 lead.
• They lost 27-24 on the road to eventual AFC North champion Cincinnati — again in overtime — when the Bengals scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, including a tying field goal as time expired in regulation.
• They lost 27-23 to NFC top seed Carolina when Cam Newton hit Greg Olsen with a 26-yard touchdown pass with just 32 seconds remaining.
• They lost 39-32 to Arizona — the team that supplanted them as NFC West champions — when they couldn’t hold a 29-25 fourth-quarter lead.
Of course, it’s reasonable to view all those excruciating losses as the mark of a team that has lost its killer instinct, that no longer possesses the indescribable quality that made others fear it. Certainly, the Seahawks lost a sizable portion of their intimidating aura last February in Glendale, Ariz., when Russell Wilson’s goal-line pass went into the arms of New England’s Malcolm Butler rather than Seattle’s Ricardo Lockette.
But the second half of Seattle’s season has been about getting it back. Wilson has re-invented himself into a nearly unstoppable force, and wide receiver Doug Baldwin has emerged as a prime weapon for the Seahawks’ resurgent offense. The defense that faltered early has gotten progressively more explosive, wrapping up Seattle’s fourth consecutive scoring title.
That marks Seattle as the team no one wants to play. Postseason football is a fickle beast, of course. The Seahawks easily could go to Minnesota, site of one of their most rousing victories this season, and get unceremoniously booted from the tourney. The return of Marshawn Lynch from hernia surgery adds an air of mystery, and their stumble against the Rams two weeks ago showed they haven’t purged all their woes.
Yet the Seahawks still have a chance to author their greatest story. In a year when Chancellor held out, when Jimmy Graham and Lynch were lost to injuries(Graham for the season), when it seemed at one point the Seahawk magic was gone, they still have a chance.
The road to the Super Bowl doesn’t go through Seattle this year. But the NFC entrant might still have to go through the Seahawks.