The Seahawks beat theKansas City Chiefs 38-31 to lock up an NFC Wild Card spot and improve to a 9-6 record. And they did it with key contributions from a mix of veteran stars and new faces.
Pete Carroll always insisted none of the goals had changed. That the finish line for this team was no different than it had been for any other since he took over as Seahawks head coach in 2010.
Retooling, he called it, when everybody else wanted to term this offseason of change a “rebuild.”
Sunday night, in a setting where the magic on the field and electricity in the stands was reminiscent of the old days, the Seahawks showed that even if the names have changed, not a lot else has.
With Russell Wilson matching presumptive NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes throw-for-throw and run-for-run, Doug Baldwin turning in two of the most amazing catches of a career filled with them, Chris Carson and the Seattle offensive line imposing their collective will, and the defense making the big plays when it had to, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Kansas City Chiefs 38-31 to earn a spot in the playoffs.
Seattle will be either the fifth or sixth seed in the NFC and it’ll be a team none of the other five will want to play.
Many thought Seattle might have to wait a week and beat the downtrodden Arizona Cardinals to get that done. That seemed the easier way to clinch a playoff berth as compared to beating Kansas City, a team that has spent much of the year as the toast of the NFL.
But then, all season long, Seattle hasn’t done what everyone expected.
So why should it now?
The result is Seattle’s seventh playoff berth in nine years under Carroll, and a return to postseason play after a 9-7 season a year ago spurred an off-season of change.
“There weren’t very many people that thought we would ever have the chance to be in this situation,’’ Carroll said. “But the guys in the room did. … these guys just did not think anything other than we were going to do something special with this team this year. I know it looked bleak at times — we started terribly (0-2) and all that. But this is a real statement about leadership.’’
Indeed, this was a game in which the leaders led.
Wilson had three touchdown passes — in the process tying Dave Krieg for the Seattle franchise career record with 195 — while also running for 57 yards. His 19-yard scramble on the first drive to convert a third-and-13 set the tone for the day.
Was Wilson wanting to show the world that while Mahomes was having an MVP-caliber year, he should be in the conversation, too?
“He won’t tell you that,’’ Carroll smiled. “But of course (he) did.’’
Carson scored the Seahawks’ other two touchdowns and rushed for 116 yards on 27 rugged carries, in the process becoming the first Seattle running back since Marshawn Lynch in 2014 to top the 1,000-yard mark.
And Baldwin shrugged off the myriad of injuries that have marred his season to turn in a game for the ages, with seven receptions for a season-high 126 yards and a touchdown. His performance was capped by a juggling one-handed grab on Seattle’s final drive to set up a final touchdown that finally put the Chiefs away. Carroll later called it maybe the best game of Baldwin’s career.
“Everybody was counting us out,’’ Wilson said, remembering all the negative talk in the offseason when the likes of Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett saw their Seattle careers end, and the Seahawks then lost Earl Thomas for the season in the fourth game of the year.
“And we had no fear,” Wilson said.
That was never more the case than when the Seahawks (9-6) got the ball back with 4:36 left after a scary-quick drive by a Kansas City team (11-4) that entered the night as the highest-scoring team in the NFL. The Chiefs’ touchdown at that juncture cut the lead to 31-28.
Perhaps everyone thought a Seattle team that rushed for 210 yards would again just try to pound its way to victory.
Instead, the Seahawks — seeing the Chiefs were playing the run and leaving Baldwin and Tyler Lockett in man coverage — decided to play as if they had nothing to lose.
“Let’s keep going for it,’’ Carroll said he told coaches and players at the time. “Don’t hold back now. Let’s go get it.’’
And then Seattle did. David Moore caught a pass to convert a third down and then Wilson uncorked one of his best throws ever to hit Lockett for 45 yards on a play that for a moment looked like Seattle’s play of the season.
That moniker lasted about a minute until Wilson — following a sack — fired to Baldwin on the other side of the field, with Baldwin outdueling Charvarius Ward to reach out and bobble the ball a few times and then reel it in at the 1-yard line. It was barely better than the twisting-and-turning touchdown catch he had made the previous quarter.
“Just guys making plays when it counts,’’ Wilson said, “That’s what championship teams do.’’
Seattle hardly looked like that after the 0-2 start that triggered national stories about how, perhaps, Carroll’s run had come to an end, and maybe the Seahawks were suddenly a bad fit for Wilson.
But Seattle found its identity the next week — a Carson-led running attack and a Wilson-powered passing game equipped them to take advantage with big plays. In their biggest game of the year, the Seahawks gained a season-high 464 yards against the Chiefs, and Carroll said, with a smile, “We needed every one.’’
And while there was the slip last week against the 49ers, this was otherwise a team whose identity never wavered again.
“Physical,’’ Carson said when asked to describe it in one word.
That also fit the defense. While it gave up lots of real estate, the Seahawks’ defense came up with some big plays of its own. There was a Dion Jordan forced fumble and Jarran Reed recovery that led to a touchdown, a Frank Clark stop on third-and-one to stop a third-quarter drive, a Shaquill Griffin pass breakup in the end zone to help force a Chiefs field goal on a drive inside the 10, and of course, the gutty performances of K.J. Wright and Bradley McDougald to come back from persistent knee injuries and add a steady presence to the back end of the secondary.
Baldwin said he couldn’t do it justice by trying to put into words what the Seahawks had done this season.
But then he inadvertently answered the question when asked what he thought had been the key question of this season.
“Who was gonna step up and what guys were going to fill the void of all the guys who left, all the guys who were missing?’’ Baldwin said.
The answer was so loud it could be heard even through the din of a crowd as loud as any heard in this or any other year.
Wilson, Baldwin, Lockett, Carson, Duane Brown, Bobby Wagner, and a host of others.
“We played like it has felt in the past,’’ Carroll said.
Like he insisted they would all along.