Of all the behavior-shaping, mind-controlling maxims drilled into the Seahawks’ heads by coach/swami Pete Carroll, perhaps the most relevant these days is the single, two-syllable mantra: Finish.
That would stand as a valid theme for the Hawks in Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field, when a win over the Rams would mean the NFC West title, the NFC’s No. 1 seed, and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
It’s familiar territory, in which the Seahawks are obviously very comfortable.
No team in the NFL has wrapped up seasons better than the Seahawks, who have an 11-2 record in the past three Decembers. That win total has been matched by Denver, Carolina and New England, but none has come close to the degree of dominance, as Seattle has outscored opponents by 241 points.
Their turnover differential in that span is plus-20, which validates another of the swami’s precepts: It’s all about the ball.
Players have offered theories about the strong finishes. Carroll is a cautious steward of their physical resources, as practices down the stretch become more about thought than exertion.
Since everybody on the active roster sees action, the energy level of all 46 remains high, and those backups and young players who saw action early in the season are better prepared to contribute late in the season.
Injured players are not rushed back, allowing them to be in good form when they do return.
The schemes and substitution rotations are refined and adjusted during the season, so by the final few games, the game plan is effectively meshed with the talent and manpower.
But perhaps the best reason for the holiday-season success is that Carroll convinces them it’s possible.
Since 2011, the Hawks have been 9-5 in September games, 8-8 in October, 11-4 in November, and 14-3 in December. In the first half of the seasons, they’re 17-13, and 25-7 in the second halves.
The same mindset applies to prime-time games, in which the Seahawks are 13-1 under Carroll. Well, December is the prime time of the season.
To a man, they protest that they don’t look at the season in anything bigger than single-game increments. And none studies statistics.
Ask quarterback Russell Wilson: “I never really look at the stats — I never really know. I just try to find ways to win games — whatever that takes, whether it’s running it, throwing it, scrambling trying to get a first down on fourth down; whatever it is, whatever it takes to win and that’s always my focus.”
But a win Sunday would give this team 12 wins. Only two Seahawks teams have bettered that total, 2005 and 2013, both advanced to Super Bowls. It would be the third consecutive double-digit win season. The franchise never enjoyed back-to-back 10-plus wins before last season.
The homefield advantage would cause us to remind all of an impressive stat: The Seahawks are 7-0 in home playoff games since 2005.
While Wilson isn’t watching the stats, he leads the league’s quarterbacks in rushing yards with 842. But he also already has a career-high with 268 completions, and needs just 121 passing yards for a career-best single-season total in that category, too.
His 7.5 yard average per rush is far above the franchise record of 5.38 by Justin Forsett in 2009.
It’s helped the team to 2,630 rushing yards, which is already a team record, besting the 2,579 set last season. And the 5,915 total net yards is just 257 short of the 2005 franchise record.
Wilson’s six interceptions would be a team low, three beneath the record he set in 2013.
The Seattle defense leads the league in fewest points allowed, which it has for the past two seasons. And if they hold St. Louis to fewer than 248 rushing yards, they’ll set a team mark in that category, as well.
On the down side, 10 more penalties will match 2011’s team record of 138 accepted infractions.
Cornerback Richard Sherman this week was informed that the 2014 Seahawks are 17 interceptions behind the total achieved by last season’s team. Can they make it up this week?
“We’re going to shoot for it,” Sherman joked. “Seventeen interceptions in one game hasn’t been done before, but, you know what, there’s a first time for everything.”
Swami Carroll would appreciate Sherman’s willingness to accept the challenge.