The last time the Seahawks were on the road for a playoff game — 12 months ago, at Carolina — they trailed at halftime, 31-0. A lot needs to go wrong for a team to put itself in that kind of hole, and a lot did, but the wake-up call, delivered with all the subtlety of 4:30 a.m. fire alarm, wasn’t an aberration.
During the Pete Carroll Era, Seattle has been the visitor in five playoff games. The Seahawks have yet to score first.
Quarterback Russell Wilson has engineered an NFL-best 21 fourth-quarter comeback victories since 2012. But if the Hawks spot Atlanta a 20-point halftime lead on Saturday, as they did four years ago, don’t expect miracles.
Although Wilson put Seattle in position for a gallant victory that day, it must be noted the team that prevailed, 31-28, was the team that jumped to a 20-point lead.
Nothing is more important to Carroll than a fight-to-the-finish tenacity insisting any deficit can be overcome. But he’s a football coach. He gets it: Falling 20 points behind, on the road, seriously increases the probability of a quiet return flight to Seattle.
“Coach Carroll addressed that earlier in the week,” Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright said Wednesday. “He told us we need to get off to a better start, because you don’t want to get behind those guys. It can get ugly.”
“Ugly” pretty much summarizes the Seahawks’ first-half performance during their 2012 playoff game at Atlanta. A week removed from an inspired comeback victory over the Redskins in the wild card round, the Hawks began to think of the many-splendored scenarios awaiting them.
“We were caught up in the moment,” said wide receiver Doug Baldwin. “We were caught up in the situation of being in Atlanta.”
Baldwin recalled how he and his teammates considered the wild card assignment against the ’Skins “as just another game.”
The stakes were intensified against the Falcons.
“Now there’s implications: If we can win this we could go on to the NFC Championship and possibly go to the Super Bowl,” continued Baldwin. “There’s so many thoughts that go into it. I’m not saying that’s right, but it’s human nature. In that moment, we kind of got hit in the face with all these thoughts we shouldn’t have had, instead of just playing football, the game we love.
“Once we recovered from that, we were able to play football.”
Realizing the prohibitive odds of making up a 20-0 halftime deficit seemed to liberate the Seahawks, who had nothing to live for in the playoffs until they had something to die for in the playoffs.
Positive momentum shifts, over the course of a season, are fascinating. Positive momentum shifts in the second half of a game, with five months of work on the line, take the fascination to a place that’s magical.
But the Seahawks don’t want to go there.
They don’t want Atlanta to score a touchdown on its third offensive play, as the 2010 Bears did in their 35-24 divisional round victory over the Seahawks in Chicago. Down 28-0, the visitors put together some garbage-time scoring drives that suggested the blowout contained intrigue.
There was no intrigue, just as there will be no intrigue if the Seahawks allow the Falcons a 20-point cushion on Saturday. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan finished the regular season with the kinds of numbers — 4,944 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, seven interceptions — that provide any definition of NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
If the visitors show up in the lethargic mode they brought to their two 2015 playoff games, it will get ugly and stay ugly.
“Just start faster,” Russell Wilson said of the Hawks’ immediate priority. “That’s really the only thing, just execute.
“We enjoy going on the road. I think we do a great job at it, in the sense of how we do it, how we feel on the road. We don’t feel like, ‘Aw, man, this is going to be a drag,’ or anything like that. We get excited to play on the road.”
May the Hawks be excited early, like on the first snap. It might mean as much as the last snap, and it won’t require any prayers to be answered.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath