RENTON — According to Pete Carroll, every game is a “championship” game. But the challenge in front of the Seahawks now might be better described as a championship fortnight.
How well they handle consecutive road games against Houston and Indianapolis, each 2-1 thus far, could define this season.
As Carroll also likes to say, every challenge is an opportunity. (And I fear that nearly four years of Carroll press conferences have caused some of his favorite phrases to practically type themselves into columns on the Seahawks).
The opportunity at hand is obvious, a sweep or even a split of these two could slingshot them into the conference driver’s seat.
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That would leave them with six home games, where they rarely lose, and five road games against teams with a combined 4-11 record at this point.
A pair of losses, however, could bring them back to the pack after their 3-0 start.
Thanks to curious scheduling, the Seahawks could sweep the AFC South (with consecutive games against Jacksonville, Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee) before they meet their second NFC West Division foe.
The games at Houston and Indy are both 10 a.m. (Pacific) kickoffs, which have been historically vexing for the Seahawks.
But Carroll’s Seahawks have won four of their past five road games (including playoffs), with three on the East Coast, and the one loss at Atlanta in the divisional playoff round came after they rallied for 21 fourth-
quarter points to hold a 28-27 lead until the final minute.
Is it possible, then, that Carroll and Seahawks have solved the traditional Seattle road woes?
“I don’t know if we’ve solved it, but we know what we’re doing and how we want to get it done and we feel comfortable with the formula and how we go and the days when we go and all that,” Carroll said Wednesday. “But each time you go, you have to crank it all up again and make sure everybody’s focused and tuned in and we travel with the right mindset to get this done.”
Carroll said the 12-7 season-opening win at Carolina was more a matter of getting through it with a win than really “owning it.”
They will have to be more convincing the next two weeks because Houston has the No. 2 defense in the NFL (trailing only the Seahawks), but is coming off a 30-9 loss at Baltimore. With the Seahawks’ offensive line banged up, defenders such as J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing will be problematic.
Indy’s only loss came to the 3-0 Miami Dolphins, and last week the Colts routed San Francisco, 27-7.
“We’ve got two in a row on the road against really good opponents, so it’s definitely a test for us and all we can do is focus on the first week and take care of that one first,” tight end Zach Miller said. “I feel like we’ve been good at it because we’ve got a lot of good leaders on this team, leaders by example, and that makes it easier for the younger guys to fall in line.”
The demands of travel upset the weekly routine and demand extra focus, Miller said, “so we need to make sure there’s no distractions.”
Safety Earl Thomas is providing an example. A Texas native, Thomas expected outrageous ticket requests in Houston, so he put someone else in charge of dealing with it.
“I told everyone, don’t call my phone this week, I don’t need the distractions,” he said.
The back-to-back trips add another dimension to the challenge. Since Carroll got here, the Seahawks have had five back-to-back stretches; they’ve split three times and were swept twice. They never won both.
But a big breakthrough came last December when they came back from a loss in Miami to capture a thrilling overtime win over the Bears in Chicago.
Since then, they’re only a last-minute loss at Atlanta away from being perfect on the road as well as at home.
Miller nodded when reminded of those numbers, but wouldn’t bite when it was suggested that they’ve decoded the mystery to mastering road games.
“I think what happens in the next two weeks will tell whether we’ve solved it or not,” he said.