By Danny O’Neil
ST. LOUIS – The Seahawks have the most significant home-field advantage in the league.
It’s their ability to win on the road, however, that might turn out to be this team’s most important asset because what was once seen as Seattle’s greatest flaw is becoming its forte.
Seattle will play its fourth road game in five weeks on Monday in St. Louis, a gauntlet that would have been a death march three years ago but has turned into a demonstration of this team’s maturity.
A win in St. Louis would be the Seahawks’ fourth road victory this season, their most in eight years, and Seattle still has half a season left to play.
“It’s showing growth,” said Red Bryant, one of Seattle’s captains, “showing that this is not necessarily a young team as it was when coach Carroll first got here. Especially if you’re trying to do anything special, you’ve got to win on the road.”
Easier said than done for a franchise that has finished with a winning road record just twice in its history and a team that was dogged by blowout road losses through Pete Carroll’s first year and a half as coach.
Yet Seattle has won five of its past six regular-season road games, won on the road in the playoffs for the first time in 29 years last January and progressed to the point that the biggest question this week is how the Seahawks will react to the potentially apathetic environment in St. Louis, where the game may be remembered most for the number of empty seats.
“I think they’ll fill it up for the World Series,” Carroll said.
Cue the laugh track.
Oh, the stadium is going to be full, all right – Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals will host the Red Sox in Game 5 of the World Series. The game in the Edward Jones Dome between the Seahawks and Rams, though? That’s more of an afterthought locally, tickets being sold for as little as $5 locally and a possibility that huge swaths of seats might be empty on Monday night.
So what’s that mean for the Seahawks?
710 ESPN Seattle hosts weigh in on Seattle’s Week 8 matchup against St. Louis, finishing the sentence, “The Seahawks will win unless … ”
|• Brock Huard: St. Louis scores two or more non-offensive touchdowns.||• Dave Wyman: They commit more than four turnovers and more than 10 penalties.||• Jim Moore: They commit four turnovers.||• Dave Grosby: They commit five or more turnovers.||• Bob Stelton: They commit red-zone turnovers and penalties that repeatedly put an inept Rams offense in Seahawks territory.||• Danny O’Neil: MLB umpire Jim Joyce is appointed referee and he rules obstruction on a diving catch by Golden Tate, awarding the Rams a game-winning touchdown without St. Louis actually reaching the end zone. Seriously. That’s the only way.|
“Doesn’t matter,” Carroll said.
That answer speaks to a deeper goal in Seattle and an emerging identity for this team. It’s not about being able to go into a hostile environment any more than it is about sustaining focus against a winless opponent or – on Monday – playing in front of a crowd that may sound like it’s attending a tennis match.
That consistency of both effort and execution is something Carroll has preached since he arrived, something his team has begun practicing only recently, and a win in St. Louis would constitute one more shovel full of dirt as Seattle buries the storyline that it struggles on the road.
“The point of this is we can’t allow the environment to be the factor,” Carroll said. “It takes tremendous discipline on our part and focus and understanding of those elements that can be involved in a game so that we can put them in the place they properly fit, which is no factor. So it doesn’t matter whether we’re at home or on the road or whatever the magnitude of the crowd is or the game or whatever, we want to play the same every chance we go.”
The Seahawks have won 11 consecutive home games, one away from matching the longest streak in franchise history, but it’s the ability to win on the road that is the most distinguishing trait. They’ve come a long way from the start of Carroll’s tenure in Seattle when the Seahawks lost nine of their first 21 road games, with every one of those defeats coming by double digits.
“We weren’t playing very well,” Carroll said. “When you don’t play very well, you get your butt kicked.”
It wasn’t always about effort, though. It was about a young team that was learning as it went, the defeats from those first few years hardening into the scar tissue that has made Seattle so tough this season.
“This group definitely has got better at it,” safety Kam Chancellor said. “You just can’t make a lot of mistakes on the road.”
That goes for everyone who keeps asking Carroll and his Seahawks about the difficulty of winning on the road because it’s a mistake to keep citing that as a problem. The whole country should get a good look at that reality on Monday night even if most of the folks in St. Louis are watching a different game.