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A year ago, the heartbreaking end of the Seahawks’ season felt more like a beginning. You knew the pain would be temporary. You knew that harsh lesson in Atlanta — blowing a historic 20-point, fourth-quarter comeback in the final 31 seconds — would only make a rising young team more determined.

Remember Russell Wilson’s reaction after that 30-28 playoff loss? He walked into the tunnel of the Georgia Dome, and amid the heartache, he told quarterback coach Carl Smith, “I’m so excited. I can’t wait to get to the offseason and work and work and work.”

His enthusiasm was justified. The Seahawks posted a sterling 13-3 record this season, tied with Denver for the finest in the NFL. But with that four-month excellence comes the inevitable now — postseason pressure.

The Seahawks were a young team enjoying their ascent a year ago. Now, they’re so high they would be wise not to fall.

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This is their time. This is an all-time team, the most talented and balanced in Seahawks history, more imposing than even the 2005 squad that stands as Seattle’s only Super Bowl participant. The Seahawks are the team that barks the loudest and hits the hardest, and with the road to the Super Bowl going through CenturyLink Field, anything less than an appearance in the big game would turn this season into a disappointment.

It’s easy to convince yourself that there should be more opportunities in the future. Wilson is just 25. All-Pro defensive backs Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are all 25 or younger. Marshawn Lynch is 27. General manager John Schneider has built a team that should thrive for years. But at the same time, in a game as volatile as football, there are no guarantees.

Winning a championship now is an urgent matter. The Seahawks have home-field advantage until the Super Bowl, and they have a fan base so starved for a title that they’re prepared to scream it to reality. The Seahawks could be the same team in a year and finish with an 11-5 record and endure a much more difficult route. They could lose their edge, or suffer a debilitating injury, or simply be the unlucky team in an NFC West division that now looks to be the NFL’s best.

Seattle sports fans are tired of next year anyway. Finally, there’s a team they can live in the moment with, a team whose toughness resonates with the entire region, a team whose moxie is growing on people.

Old pain tells everyone to be nervous right now. How many Seattle teams have blown it? How hard would that be to take again? Certainly, a championship road that starts with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints isn’t a Saturday afternoon cruise. But you can’t pound on the puny to win a championship, especially not in the NFL.

The Seahawks have won 15 of their past 16 home games and turned many quality teams into nincompoops during that span. The list of victims includes the Saints, who lost 34-7 here last month. But the Saints are former champions who will adjust, and the NFC has been the NFL’s power conference this season. There’s no escaping the difficulty of these playoffs.

After last season’s postseason experience, the Seahawks will be prepared.

“When we first got there last year, we didn’t know what to expect,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “We were just young and wanting to go out there, have fun and do our best. Now, we kind of expect the atmosphere. We know what we’re getting into.”

Last year, the Seahawks did something they must avoid this postseason: They fell behind by double digits in both of their playoff games. They overcome the deficit and beat Washington in the wild-card round. They mounted a comeback against Atlanta in the divisional round and led 28-27 with 31 seconds left in the game, but the defense couldn’t close the game.

That failure helped the Seahawks defense improve from very good to the league’s best this season. Despite the offense’s late-season struggles, the Seahawks are a better team in every way this season. Now they add star receiver Percy Harvin, their prized offseason acquisition who was injured for all but one game in the regular season, for this playoff run.

Harvin, who had hip surgery in August, couldn’t bear to miss the postseason. There’s too much at stake. This opportunity is too precious.

Sustained success is quite the feat in the NFL, and it appears the Seahawks are set up to accomplish that. But there’s a difference between the run of Tom Brady’s New England Patriots, which has included three championships, and the run of Donovan McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles, which didn’t produce a title. What the Eagles did in the McNabb era was impressive, though polarizing. What the Patriots have done in the Brady era is unforgettable.

These Seahawks have arrived at their moment. They’re two home victories from the Super Bowl. They’re three victories from a parade. They can’t blow it.

“I think the thing for us is, all these big moments, nothing is too big for us,” Wilson said.

The Seahawks probably have years of title chasing ahead of them. But only today matters. In this game, it’s best to treat every opportunity like it’s your last.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or

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