RENTON – As Pete Carroll met the media four days before the Seahawks played their season opener at Carolina, he excitedly declared “the championship season is on.’’
And every week since, Carroll has used some version of that phrase, often settling on calling each game a “championship opportunity,’’ be it Jacksonville in September, St. Louis in October or Tampa Bay in November.
Finally, though, comes a real, true, undisputed “championship opportunity’’ as the Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at CenturyLink Field with the NFC title and a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII on the line.
It’s one, in fact, that might be as big as any championship opportunity in Seattle sports history given the ever-increasing interest in the Seahawks and the heightened intensity of the rivalry with the 49ers.
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But the Seahawks insist they will treat the game no differently than they did those against the Jaguars, Rams or Bucs — or even as they would a July practice — even if the prize for beating the 49ers would be the team’s second Super Bowl appearance in 38 years as a franchise.
It’s that mentality — treating each day, each game, the same as — that they say got them here, and the one they say can take them to New Jersey on Feb. 2.
“Everybody thinks that’s (BS) when we say that,’’ said receiver Doug Baldwin. “But it’s not. We honestly believe when we go into a week that it’s a brand new week, the most important week of our lives at that point. So it doesn’t change.’’
No doubt, that’s easier said than done.
Seattle players, though, say buying into that concept has been critical in going along with everything else Carroll has tried to instill since taking over as coach in 2010.
“It sounds good to say,’’ said fullback Michael Robinson. “But when you are going through the grind of the National Football League every week, you start to say to yourself, ‘Man, this is not a championship game.’ But this year, and some last year, you started to really feel it. Every single game had that juice about it, that electricity about it. And that came from us — it wasn’t the media hyping the game or something like that. It came from us. So I feel like this team is growing up.’’
Or as linebacker K.J. Wright said of treating Sunday’s game the same as any other, “It’s not a factor with us. We’ve had hype throughout the whole season. Everybody has been watching us. It’s just football to us. We know everybody will be watching and it’s a big game. But at the same time, we’ve just got to go do what we do.’’
Certainly, that’s worked well against the 49ers in the past, particularly in Seattle, a formula the Seahawks will try to replicate.
Seattle has beaten the 49ers by a combined 71-16 in the past two games at CenturyLink, including a 29-3 win Sept. 15. Those two wins stand as among the biggest testaments to the power of Seattle’s home-field advantage, and why winning one more regular-season game than the 49ers — Seattle was 13-3 to San Francisco’s 12-4 — proved so vital.
In each game between the teams in Seattle the past two years, the Seahawks were able to shut down San Francisco’s running attack (especially running back Frank Gore, held to a combined 44 yards) and force quarterback Colin Kaepernick to beat them, instead. Kaepernick couldn’t do it, particularly in the game earlier this year when he recorded a career-low passer rating of 20.1, throwing a career-high three interceptions.
San Francisco’s receiving corps, though, is healthier now, notably with the return of Michael Crabtree.
Offensively, Seattle got Marshawn Lynch going in each home game (a combined 198 yards), which helped set up quarterback Russell Wilson for timely big plays.
Seattle had the second-most rushing attempts in the NFL this year (509) and the 49ers were third (505). They were the bottom two teams in passing attempts (Seattle 420, the 49ers 417).
“We know them really well, they know us well,’’ Wright said. “It’s just going to come down to who wants it the most. Who hits the hardest.’’
Or as offensive tackle Breno Giacomini put it: “They don’t do much on defense, so it’s really just us executing, just targeting right on the runs and the pass, beating your guy.’’
If the Seahawks do that, then a chance at football immortality awaits. If they get there, then, they say, maybe they’ll acknowledge it’s more than just a regular championship opportunity.
“If we’re fortunate enough to make it to next week, we might sit there and think, ‘Man, we’ve made it to the big game,’ ’’ said cornerback Richard Sherman. “But we’re not at the big game.’’
Just one step away.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org