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O’Neil: Seahawks’ remarkable feat was transforming without tanking

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson out-dueled Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes on Sunday night. (AP)

The Seahawks don’t have the defense they once did.

They had to white knuckle their way through the second half of Sunday’s game, breathing a sigh of relief that the Chiefs only managed 31 points.

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They aren’t nearly as brash anymore, either. Nor as defiant.

But they are back in the playoffs after Sunday’s 38-31 victory, having pulled off one of the more remarkable feats in the NFL. They transformed themselves without tanking.

It’s amazing, really. This team had one of the greatest defenses in the history of the league just a few years ago. They allowed the fewest points in the league for four successive seasons. They made the playoffs five straight years. They won one Super Bowl and then became the first team in 10 years to make it back to the title game the next season.

But that run ended last year. It ended first with the injuries, then the run of three losses in the final four regular-season games, then finally in a flurry of offseason moves.

Richard Sherman was released. Michael Bennett was traded. Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor retired.

And after all that, the Seahawks went out and played their way back into the postseason by outslugging the top-scoring offense in the league.

Russell Wilson outplayed Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who only led the league in passing entering this week. Running back Chris Carson became the first Seahawk in four years to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. And receiver Doug Baldwin found a way to catch seven passes for 127 yards and an absolutely incredible touchdown to highlight a season that he himself has described as total hell.

These are not the same old Seahawks. They’re not as good as the team that won the Super Bowl. They’re probably not as talent-laden as the 2012 team they’re often compared to, either. But they are a young group that has gotten better as the season progressed, finding an identity and a confidence behind an unyielding rushing game and a quarterback who is both lethal and aggressive when it comes to looking downfield.

If nothing else, the rest of the country saw Sunday that Russell Wilson is an absolute assassin, and the only reason he’s not described as such is because he’s not throwing as often as the other guys across the league.

Not that Wilson would ever see it that way, let alone say it.

“This year has been special,” Wilson said, “because I really think we came together.”

There will be plenty of those sort of platitudes getting batted around Seattle this week. Lots of talk about how the team came together, discovered an identity and found a common purpose – and all of that very well may be true.

But all that locker room spirituality has been aided immeasurably by the fact that they have a quarterback who isn’t just composed when the game is on the line, but finds that is the perfect opportunity to gut the opponent.

Like when he threw a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-3 in Carolina last month to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Or the 42-yard throw to Tyler Lockett in the final 4 minutes of Sunday’s game when the Seahawks were facing second-and-12, leading by three and seemingly prepared to nurse as much time off the clock as possible. Instead Wilson went deep, and then two plays later he did it again, completing a 25-yard pass to Baldwin that set up the game-clinching touchdown.

And that’s how a franchise once known for its defense wound up back in the playoffs without ever suffering through a losing season.

Photo gallery: Seahawks beat Chiefs, clinch postseason

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