Grown-up Seahawks remember lessons from playoffs 3 years ago

Jan 8, 2016, 12:48 PM | Updated: 1:03 pm
Before back-to-back Super Bowls, the Seahawks were bounced from the playoffs three years ago in Atl...
Before back-to-back Super Bowls, the Seahawks were bounced from the playoffs three years ago in Atlanta. (AP)
(AP)

“This year we’re going in as champions. It’s a different kind of fight. They have to take it from us.” – Richard Sherman

Seattle’s playoff run begins the same way its success started three years ago: on the road.

The cast isn’t all that different, either. Russell Wilson is still the quarterback and Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor headline the defense.

The roles have changed in those three years, the team has matured. The expectations have changed, too, because three years ago the Seahawks only started to see their potential.

Now?

Now, the Seahawks are seeking history by becoming just the third franchise in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl for three successive seasons. And to understand how they’ve gotten here, you have to look back to that 2012 season to understand when this team first glimpsed the fullness of its potential.

This was a team with a rookie quarterback, a second-year Pro Bowl cornerback and a pair of third-year safeties who were redefining the way their positions were classified in the NFL. It was a team on the cusp, but one that also let games slip away. The Lions came back to beat Seattle in the fourth quarter midway through the season. The Dolphins twice erased a fourth-quarter deficit.

And in December the Seahawks turned the corner. They beat Chicago in a game where Wilson was so good he won the game twice with a pair of touchdown drives, one in the fourth quarter and again in overtime after Seattle’s defense inexplicably allowed a 56-yard completion to set up a game-tying field goal.

That was a turning point for Seattle. The next four games, Seattle outscored opponents 170-43 over the final four games.

In Seattle’s first playoff game, the Seahawks trailed Washington by 14 points and came back to win. The next week in Atlanta, the Seahawks were down 20-0 at halftime before rallying to take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter only to give up two straight completions which set Atlanta up for a 49-yard field goal.

It was a loss that inspired the Seahawks the following season. A game that showed Seattle how close it had come and would breathe inspiration into how far Seattle would go the following season.

“We knew how close we were,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We had let one slip away. It seemed to help us then. It’s part of the lore for us in a sense.”

What did the Seahawks learn?

“Not to miss opportunities,” Sherman said. “That was an opportunity where we could have pulled that game out and won, and who knows what could have happened, good or bad.”

The Seahawks got their first look of just how good they could be. That was the moment. Down 20 points, the quarterback threw them back into the game, finishing with 380 yards in the game. The defense learned it needed more of a pass rush.

For the next two seasons the Seahawks played themselves into home games in the playoffs. They had the advantage.

And now Seattle is going back out on the road – first in Minnesota, and if the Seahawks win there, to Carolina the following week.

“We’re a different team than we were a couple of years ago when we went on the road,” Sherman said. “We were young. Young. A bunch of second, third-year guys that hadn’t had a lot of experience.”

They’re grown now. A team that has appeared in the Super Bowl each of the past two seasons, and if they’re going to make it back it will be because of those lessons three years ago.

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Grown-up Seahawks remember lessons from playoffs 3 years ago