Carroll’s genius deserves a vote
Pete Carroll won’t be named NFL coach of the year. The award almost certainly will go to the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh, who has sealed his front-runner status now that the Packers have been denied a perfect record under coach Mike McCarthy.
But Carroll’s ability to salvage a Seahawks season that was a lost cause halfway through the schedule represents some of the best work of a stellar coaching career that began in 1974.
Through eight games, his team was 2-6 and all but eliminated from the playoff race. Beyond the bleak numbers, the Hawks were a chore to watch and difficult to appreciate, often cheap-shot artists who did nothing else remotely artistic. How does a football team manage to be dirty and dull at the same time?
Carroll needed two months to clean up the slop, but clean it up he did. The Seahawks on Sunday looked like a team capable of beating anybody, anywhere. Granted, few opponents figure to be as dispirited as the Bears, who pretty much packed things up – for the day, and for the season – after perpetually-in-distress quarterback Caleb Hanie lobbed a can of corn into the hands of Hawks defensive end Red Bryant.
Bryant’s 20-yard touchdown return broke a 14-14 tie early in the third quarter, and over the course of the next 27 minutes, Seattle played its best football during a six-week stretch of very good football.
Remember when the Hawks were shut out at Pittsburgh in September?
Remember, a month later, when they barely crossed midfield at Cleveland? Remember when the Hawks were on a pace to replace Tom Flores’ 1992 team as the least productive offense in franchise history?
Did anyone envision the 2011 Seahawks crossing the end-zone plane five times in a single afternoon?
Anyone, I mean, besides Pete Carroll?
Seattle’s 38-14 victory pushed its streak of scoring 30-plus points to three. The defense had an obvious hand in the blowout – cornerback Brandon Browner contributed a second touchdown off an interception – but still, three consecutive games of 30-plus points is an achievement the Seahawks last accomplished in 2002.
The parallels between 2002 and 2011 are instructive: Like Carroll, the book on former coach Mike Holmgren was unsettled in ’02. Like Carroll, Holmgren had taken the Seahawks to the playoffs, but the playoff appearance belied the fact a comprehensive roster overhaul was afoot.
Like Carroll, Holmgren’s rebuilding project seemed to be stalled. The 2002 Hawks were 4-9, raising doubts about whether owner Paul Allen had whiffed on his hunt for a big-name coach.
Then the Seahawks beat the Falcons at Atlanta, and the Rams in Seattle, and the Chargers at San Diego, finishing the season on a 91-point roll. And make no mistake, it was a roll: The momentum gained at the end of 2002 turned out to be a crucial springboard for a five-year playoff run between 2003 and 2007.
Ah, the playoffs. An NFC wild-card berth remains a tall order, rendered even taller after the Detroit Lions escaped Oakland with a 28-27 victory Sunday.
Go ahead and pencil Atlanta in for one of the wild cards; the Falcons can finish no worse than 9-7, while Seattle can finish no better than 9-7 – and Atlanta owns the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage. The Lions worst-case finish is also 9-7, but here is where it gets interesting: Since they didn’t face the Seahawks this season, the first tiebreaker component is winning percentage in conference games.
Detroit is 6-5 in the NFC, with a conference game remaining at Green Bay. Seattle is 6-4 in the NFC, with conference games remaining next week at CenturyLink Field (against the 49ers) and at Arizona.
Clearly, the Seahawks best playoff hope is to win twice, and for the Lions to lose twice. Again, it’s a tall order, but the fact we’re even taking this discussion into the last week of December is a testament to Carroll’s coaching genius.
Whatever happens, the Christmas Eve showdown against the 49ers is shaping up as a deliciously tense day that’ll require fans to keep an eye on out-of-town scoreboard updates from Detroit, where the Lions and Chargers will be facing off at the same time.
Carroll will pay no heed to the out-of-town scoreboard. He’s all about staying in the moment, controlling only what’s in front of him. The Lions are not his concern, and for that matter, neither are the 49ers.
Pete Carroll’s philosophy in a nutshell: Play hard, play smart, and play with a conviction that good things happen if you play hard and play smart.
Coach of the Year?
He’d earn at least one vote, if I had one.