SEATTLE — Finally safe from the San Francisco defenders who had menaced him all game, Russell Wilson stood on a podium with his celebrating teammates and told a nation of viewers that the Seahawks road to Super Bowl XLVIII started with a simple question he asked way back last spring.
Why not us?
He bluntly questioned his teammates if they saw any reason why they couldnt be the ones who played their way to the Super Bowl.
In the early part of Sundays NFC Championship game, Wilson and his teammates supplied some answers to why not.
Such as: The offense was sporadic and ineffective and couldnt capitalize on opportunities, and the defense couldnt tackle San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
They were behind and struggling and looked the inferior team, despite the contributions of the frenzied fans at CenturyLink Field.
But they earned the franchises second trip to the Super Bowl by accomplishing something theyve been working on since Pete Carroll got to Seattle four seasons ago: Finishing.
In the second half we outscored them 20-7, Carroll said after the Seahawks claimed the NFC title by a 23-17 score. Regardless of how it came about and how it looked, that was a great finish for these guys. We needed to take the next step, finish this football game.
They learned the secret the hard way, by failing to finish in last seasons playoffs at Atlanta. They learned it again this season on the road against San Francisco when they lost a late lead. And they learned it at home against Arizona in December when they discovered they really werent, after all, invincible at CenturyLink Field.
Its something weve been preaching the whole year, receiver Golden Tate said. We never felt like we were going to lose that game; we were so confident that it was just a matter of time until we started figuring it out ... and we did.
Never any doubt, he claimed.
Oh, it was not pretty, Tate said. Especially late in the game when we were fumbling and all that, but we found a way.
In the second half, they remembered the strengths that took them to 13 regular-season wins and the NFCs top seed.
They remembered that when they ask the strong-willed Marshawn Lynch to carry them, he often answers with the kind of third-quarter performance that reawakened the team. In the third quarter alone, Lynch had seven carries for 70 yards, including a 40-yard tackle-blasting breakaway that effectively defibrillated the offense.
They remembered that Wilson may bobble the ball and overthrow some receivers, but he can also, in a moment of greatest need, find a Jermaine Kearse with a dart in the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown.
After he lost a fumble on the first Seahawks snap, a play that could have rattled even a veteran, Wilson thought, without panic: Ive still got a lot of game left.
And they realized that its rare that a team can fool Seattles No. 1-rated defense for an entire game. Kaepernick shook loose for 98 yards on scrambles and designed runs in the first half, but he finished with 130 and was not a threat in the second half.
We had to play more zone just to make sure we could see him and come out of coverage to tackle him, Carroll explained of keeping Kaepernick in check.
The Niners helped out when the game was on the line, with 30 seconds left, when they threw to the end zone in the neighborhood of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. It was the only challenge of Sherman all game, and he deflected the ball back to linebacker Malcolm Smith, who pulled it in to end the San Francisco threat.
I dont know what they were thinking, fullback Michael Robinson said of throwing it near Sherman, who led the NFL in interceptions during the regular season.
But thats how you finish. Thats the kind of play they didnt make last year in the loss to the Falcons, or earlier this season against San Francisco.
I think the Atlanta game last year helped a lot, Robinson said. To be able to push through a game like this.
None of us wanted to feel what we felt in Atlanta again, Sherman said. We felt we let our team down.
This game was physical, and it was raw and flawed at times.
But these guys didnt blink, Robinson said. They handled all the adversity and distractions.
And it allowed them to finally overcome a fierce rival, a Niners team that was playing as well and as tough as any team in the NFL.
Center Max Unger said that definitely made this a win worth celebrating briefly. Because they havent totally finished their work yet.
Dont forget, we still have another game to play.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440; firstname.lastname@example.org; @DaveBoling