The word “finish” is repeated often inside the Seattle Seahawks’ practice facility, a concept the franchise made part of its identity as the Seahawks won a Super Bowl and finished a yard short of another, and so the first two months of this season baffled them. In nine games, they suffered five losses and led in the fourth quarter in every defeat. Given the chance to finish, to validate how they defined themselves, the Seahawks made implosion routine.
“We were kind of losing focus, and teams were rallying back on us,” defensive end Cliff Avril said. “It was a shocker.”
Three weeks ago, the Seahawks stood at 4-5, peering in from the outside of the NFC playoff picture, embarrassed at home by the division rival Arizona Cardinals. It is a tricky proposition, attempting to summon past success while pushing forward, to reject complacency while leaning on tenets of recent triumph. The Seahawks lost part of themselves, and now they found it again.
Sunday afternoon, the Seahawks trounced the previously 8-3 Minnesota Vikings, 38-7, in Minnesota for their third straight victory. It was their most dominating performance this season. Their newly pyrotechnic offense gained 433 yards, and their defense held the Vikings to 125 total yards and nine first downs. Avril said the Seahawks made stopping Adrian Petersen their top priority, and they turned him into a non-factor who gained 24 total yards on eight carries and four catches.
“I don’t know how we can expect to hold them down as well as we did,” Coach Pete Carroll said. “Really, really good day for us.”
The Seahawks currently occupy the first wild card position, which this season would earn them the pleasure of playing the winner of the dreadful NFC East in the first round. As December begins, they have emerged again as a preeminent threat in the NFC, a contender to return to the Super Bowl for the third straight season.
“Each year, you create a new identity for yourself,” Avril said. “I think we’re just finding ourselves more than recapturing what we’ve done in the past.”
The Seahawks have built their recent reign on defense, but their identity this year may be based on the other side of the ball. Russell Wilson probably received too much credit as he leaned on Seattle’s ferocious defense over the past two seasons. Now, as he plays without running back Marhsawn Lynch and tight end Jimmy Graham, he may not be getting enough credit. He’s carrying the Seahawks now, not the other way around.
In his past three games, Wilson has completed 66 of 86 passes for 879 yards and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions, adding 96 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin, so often overlooked, has again emerged as his top target, catching 17 balls for 299 yards and five touchdowns during the Seahawks’ winning streak.
“The past 12 quarters have been unbelievable,” Baldwin said in an on-field interview with ESPN. “He hasn’t played at this caliber ever. It’s phenomenal to see, because he put in the work.”
Carroll noticed the Seahawks’ confidence growing over the past two weeks, as they scored 29 points against the 49ers and 39 against the Steelers. He called it “sticking with our style” and “meeting standards that were set.” At home against Pittsburgh, Seattle’s defense held off the kind of rally they had succumbed to earlier in the season. Players reminded one another to finish the game. Those reminders have ceased.
“Now we’re to the point where, we know what to do,” Avril said. “We know the game is not over, because we’ve seen teams come back on us. Nobody’s really saying anything, because we know.”
The Seahawks should only build on their winning streak. Their next three games will come against the 4-8 Ravens, 2-10 Browns and 4-8 Rams. They may not be able to catch Arizona, which won its 10th game Sunday, but the Seahawks will see them again in Week 17. By then Seattle will be potentially – if not likely – riding a six-game winning streak.
“I always had confidence,” Avril said. “I knew we had the right personnel and the right scheme. We knew what we were capable of doing. It was all about just doing it. There’s no feeling of change.”
Only three weeks ago, it would have been difficult to believe Avril’s confidence. Now the Seahawks are back, not quite the same as ever, but finally becoming the best version of themselves.