STACY ROST

Rost: How the Seahawks put a new twist on an old story

Jan 15, 2023, 8:05 PM | Updated: 8:16 pm

Seattle Seahawks Kenneth Walker III...

Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the 49ers. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Seahawks had been there before, but that was nearly a decade ago.

In the days that followed a heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, Seahawks fans, and likely players and coaches, tended to their wounds by telling themselves they’d found something special.

This loss didn’t need to feel like the end of something. Certainly not when they’d discovered a promising rookie quarterback and a stellar middle linebacker, had a cornerback record eight interceptions, and watched their 1,500-yard halfback bowl over defenders all year long. Not when the bulk of those players – Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate – were all 24 or younger.

They were right. It wasn’t the end for them. A year later they became the first Seahawks team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, and a year after that they managed a return to the Super Bowl.

It makes sense that Saturday’s wild card loss to the San Francisco 49ers would prompt comparisons to 2012’s iteration of the Seahawks. This year’s team had important contributions from their best draft class in years and made it to the playoffs one year after a losing season. Was this once again a team at the beginning, rather than the end, of a path toward contention?

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They very well may be. But they have plenty of work left to do to get there. Seattle’s 2012 team might’ve been underdogs a year prior, but when the Seahawks lost to Atlanta, they were third-best in the league at limiting opponent yardage (this year’s defense ranked 28th) and were fourth in rushing yards per game (they were 18th in 2022). They were also ninth overall in scoring, having added nearly six points per game on average from 2011. They’d be one of the better teams in this year’s NFC postseason race.

These comparisons only serve to highlight the improvements, particularly on defense, that Seattle needs to make. It doesn’t mean this can’t be a launching pad for a return to the Super Bowl. Seattle found plenty to build on: a rookie running back (Kenneth Walker III) who was a starter for just 12 games and yet surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. Two rookie tackles (Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas) that proved to be the more stabilizing part of the offensive line. And a cornerback (Tariq Woolen) who set a new franchise record for single season interceptions by a rookie.

Rather than a rookie passer, the Seahawks found one of the best comeback stories of the year in Geno Smith, a backup for seven seasons who set franchise records for yards and completion percentage.

But there’s another important aspect to this season.

The vast majority of the more than 1,000 responses to the tweet below – granted, a very informal measure – asking for a one-word description of the Seahawks’ 2022 season are positive. That’s despite the 49ers dominating Seattle in the second half to send them packing with an early playoff exit.

Surprising.

Encouraging.

Unexpected.

Hopeful.

That’s because the 2022 Seahawks added a new twist to an old story. They entered Week 1 as true underdogs. Not as a team with promising pieces looking to improve, like in 2012. Not as a wild card contender or quirky Vegas darling. But as a team that had traded away a franchise quarterback in his prime (a move widely criticized at the time), released its most decorated defensive player, and lost its starting running back. Seattle, particularly its head coach, had faced growing criticism for years: In an evolving NFL, could the Seahawks keep up?

This wasn’t a season where an average or middling performance was expected. This was a season that was supposed to be ugly. Unwatchable, even.

Instead, Pete Carroll energized his team through the ups and downs of the season, and general manager John Schneider proved he had a few more tricks up his sleeve when Russell Wilson flopped in Denver and Seattle’s rookies excelled. They were tied not only to one of the most fascinating stories in the league – a lopsided trade with the Broncos headlined by Wilson’s play falling off a cliff – but also one of the best. Smith’s journey from disgraced Jets bust, to seven-year backup, and back to a starter – though this time as a Pro Bowler who helped lead his team to the playoffs – was one of the year’s more unimaginable feats.

And so was the season.

The Seahawks have a ways to go to match the success of their previous iterations, but they’ve also come much further. In the months to come, fans and critics alike will take a hard look at a defense that struggled through much of the year, wonder aloud whether a 32-year-old Smith can be the answer, and wring their hands over the decision Carroll and Schneider must make with Seattle’s highest draft pick since 2009. The Seahawks will need to find a way to catch up to and surpass the best in their conference, beginning with the team that beat them three times this year, and must improve on a defense that has struggled for far too long.

Perhaps the comparisons to 2012 don’t need to be so direct. That team was closer to greatness, at least on paper, and lucked into one of the best situations in football: a phenomenal quarterback on a rookie deal. This team has different strengths, different weaknesses, a different story. But one thing remains true, for Carroll, for Smith, for Schneider, for this team and for its fans: there’s little in sports that feels as good as winning in the face of doubt.

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