The last time the Seattle Seahawks lost an exhibition game, Steven Hauschka kicked a 51-yard field goal with two seconds left to play.
He kicked it for the Denver Broncos to beat the Seahawks, 23-20. It was Aug. 27, 2011. The Seahawks haven’t lost an exhibition game since, taking a string of nine wins with them to Denver for their Thursday exhibition opener against the Broncos.
Such winning streaks aren’t really touted in the NFL, where most don’t believe that winning exhibition games is of value. For the Seahawks, though, it is likely the outgrowth of a core principle.
“We treat every game like it’s a championship game — even the preseason,” said Seahawks safety Jeron Johnson, an undrafted free agent who, in good part, owes his career to strong play during his opportunities in exhibition games.
“If we came out here on this (practice) field and somebody would try to beat us, we’d play to win,” he said. “We want to win, whatever it is we’re doing.”
Considering the Seahawks keep score in everything they do, exhibition games represent prime competition whether they count in the standings or not.
Across the league, August is the time for young players to earn jobs, to learn the schemes and techniques of their positions, and to give video evidence of their skills. Coaches collect all this in their evaluation of prospects.
But it’s fairly obvious in the Seahawks’ camp they also embrace the idea of teaching newcomers what it takes to win games.
During the span of nine exhibition victories, the Hawks have outscored opponents 252-83, or an average of 28.0 to 9.2.
Often, success during the exhibition portion of the schedule has no correlation to regular-season production. The Seahawks won seven of eight exhibition games in 2008-09 but won just nine games combined in those two regular seasons.
When asked of the winning streak, coach Pete Carroll stressed that it’s not a function of the Seahawks playing their veterans for extended periods just to rack up victories. “I think we’ve played more free-agent rookies than anybody,” he said. “We give these guys a great opportunity to show what they can do.”
Proof of his assertion is that 11 of the Seahawks on the Super Bowl 53-man roster arrived in Seattle as undrafted free agents and largely proved themselves in exhibition games that were, to them, hardly meaningless.
Johnson explained the attitude he has taken into these games. “I try to have a Pro Bowl preseason, that’s my approach to it,” he said. “With the safeties I’m behind (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor), I don’t expect to get many reps during the season, so the preseason is my time to shine and have that Pro Bowl mentality. Those are the expectations I have for myself, but, really, nobody out here wants to lose.”
The attitude, he says, reaches to the lower rungs of the depth charts. “These games come down to the young guys, top to bottom, and everybody around here goes out to win games.”
A theory holds that the Seahawks win so many exhibition games while playing young guys because they’ve constructed a roster, 1 through 90, that is loaded with talent. From the end of the 2012 season to the end of last season, 23 players who had been released by the Seahawks landed on the active rosters of other NFL teams.
“We like playing; we’re playing to win,” Carroll said. “You don’t play a game that you don’t care about winning. But we’re still going to play everybody and everybody’s going to contribute. We’re going to try to play good football and see what happens. ... We like winning them, though, yeah.”
And after that last loss in Denver in 2011? Well, the Seahawks capitalized in their own way.
Shortly thereafter, the Broncos cut Hauschka, and the Seahawks snapped him up.
He has connected on 93 of 103 regular and postseason field goals since then.