RENTON – The Seahawks have nudged, trudged, finessed, finagled, willed and Wilson’d their way to a 7-2 record.
Now we’re about to find out how good they really are.
What we’ve seen has been merely a prelude, a throat-clearing, the calm before the storm. It’s not hard to see that the Seahawks have had to work way too hard to avoid disastrous outcomes against teams they should have trampled.
That luxury is ending. The margin for error is narrowing.
Looming on Monday night in Santa Clara, Calif., are the San Francisco 49ers, who have outlasted the New England Patriots to be the NFL’s final unbeaten team. That might or might not also make them its best team. This is a virtual must-win game for the Seahawks if they want to attain one of their biggest goals: home-field advantage in the playoffs.
But beyond that, it should give a strong indication if the Seahawks’ gaudy record – one game ahead of where they were at the nine-game mark in 2014, the last time they went to the Super Bowl – has a strong foundation or is a veritable house of cards.
That will be good to know, because from this game forward the Seahawks have the NFL’s toughest schedule, after skating this far with one of its easiest. Having compiled their victories against teams with a combined 17-39-1 (.304) record, the Seahawks have just one team remaining with a losing record – the Arizona Cardinals at 3-5-1. The total record of the Seahawks’ other six opponents is 37-13 (.740).
Oh, we all know what former coach Bill Parcells famously said: “You are what your record says you are.” And there is virtue in finding ways to win, as the Seahawks have done by the skin of their mouthguards. Throw out the relatively comfy 27-10 win over Arizona, and their average margin of victory in the six other victories is 3.3 points – including last Sunday’s overtime triumph over sputtering Tampa Bay.
Ask Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, and he’ll talk all day about how pulling out these tight games is strengthening their belief system and validating their culture. But sometimes a defense that can stop someone, instead of giving up the eighth-most yards per game in the NFL, is just as valuable as a group hug.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Seahawks obtained their record:
- They trailed still-winless Cincinnati entering the fourth quarter before pulling out a 21-20 win.
- Facing a Pittsburgh team without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back James Conner in the second half, the Seahawks needed the 2019 equivalent of a Doug Flutie Hail Mary – a successful overturn of a pass-interference call – to pull out a 28-26 win.
- The Seahawks’ most impressive win came by one point over the Rams in Week 5 – and it took a missed 40-yard field-goal attempt by the normally reliable Greg Zuerlein with 15 seconds remaining to pull it off.
- Plummeting Cleveland, the NFL’s most disappointing team, took a 25-20 lead with 9:06 left in the game before the Seahawks went back ahead to stay on a Chris Carson touchdown. It took a K.J. Wright interception with 2:46 to play to ensure the 32-28 win.
- With 38-year-old Matt Schaub replacing Matt Ryan at quarterback, the Falcons very nearly rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit. Seattle held on to win 27-20, but if Devonta Freeman hadn’t fumbled the ball away at Seattle’s 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, who knows?
- If the Seahawks hadn’t won the coin toss in overtime Sunday, it’s another “who knows?” The way the Bucs were moving at will against Seattle’s defense, it might have been them instead of the Seahawks, who marched down for the walkoff touchdown.
Now, to be fair, the 49ers have been playing a similarly cushy schedule, and there is a camp that believes they, too, have yet to really prove anything. The Seahawks’ two losses are against Super Bowl-caliber teams, the Saints and Ravens. San Francisco’s best wins are against the Rams (20-7) and Panthers (51-13).
The 49ers have beaten four of the same patsies the Seahawks have – Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Cleveland – but done so by a total of 70 points, compared with 13 for the Seahawks. The 49ers have a win over putrid Washington thrown in and are coming off a tense, hard-fought victory over Arizona on Thursday night.
Here’s how Carroll described the 49ers on Monday: “They really are sharp in all aspects of their team. Defense is just playing lights out. They’ve had the benefits of some really good drafts, and they’re loaded.
“Offensively, (coach) Kyle (Shanahan) has always presented a bunch of problems and a bunch of challenges with a really clear philosophy and approach; a real good sense for running the football, a real commitment to running the football. The play(-action) passes off that stuff really complements so well.
“Right now, the way they’re firing, they’re a very, very difficult team because they’re complete. They look like they’re really a complete football team.”
The Seahawks haven’t looked complete yet. Quarterback Russell Wilson’s brilliance and an offense that ranks fourth in yards per game and seventh in points per game have covered up many of their sins.
But that doesn’t work forever.