Published January 28, 2014
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Seattle Seahawks knew they had to get better on the road if they wanted to put themselves in position to challenge for a Super Bowl title.
Yes, Seattle was a playoff team in 2012 and no one would turn their nose at the 11-5 record the club posted that season.
But the problem was a 3-5 mark on the road offset a perfect regular season in Seattle and only netted a wild card berth, forcing the Seahawks to pack their bags for the playoffs. They survived a trip to Washington to advance to the divisional round, where the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons would hand the 'Hawks a 30-28 setback.
Seattle had yielded the fewest points during the regular season, but playing at the Georgia Dome tilted the field in Atlanta's favor.
Something had to change and it would need to be on the offensive side of the ball. So, with a franchise quarterback (Russell Wilson) and workhorse running back (Marshawn Lynch) already in place, the Seahawks swung a deal to acquire talented wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings for draft picks, including a 2013 first-rounder.
Smooth sailing, right?
Not exactly as Harvin underwent hip surgery on Aug. 1, a procedure that put his availability for the upcoming season in doubt.
But the show had to go on and it began with a big test in Carolina. And if Seattle was looking to show it could outgun opponents this season in addition to outhitting them, that Week 1 matchup wasn't a ringing endorsement.
Seattle scored just 12 points, but held the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton to just 253 yards of offense to win its first road opener since 2006.
It may not have been their flashiest or most encouraging victory, but it showed the Seahawks could travel -- all the way to the East Coast nonetheless -- and win a game.
And if that triumph over the Panthers was the first piece of the puzzle, the following week's clash at home with the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers was like successfully putting together a 6,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.
Seattle dominated its division rival 29-3, holding the 49ers to 207 total yards of offense while forcing five turnovers.
"I think this team has grown up a lot. The team is definitely evolving and learning from mistakes. We have made mistakes back in the past, but we move forward and learn from it," safety Kam Chancellor stated this past week.
Ultimately, the Seahawks posted their first 4-0 start in team history, including a Week 4 overtime victory in Houston before suffering a setback in Indianapolis seven days later.
Unlike last season, Seattle wouldn't lose its way on the road. The Seahawks won their next three road games before a setback in San Francisco on Dec. 8 and a 23-0 shutout of the New York Giants -- the first for the club on the road since 2005 -- the following week in their final game away from Seattle this regular season gave them a club-record 6-2 mark on the road.
That was pretty important come playoff time. Every club wants to play at home in the postseason and Seattle's 13-3 regular-season mark was tops in the conference.
That allowed the Seahawks to host both the New Orleans Saints and 49ers in the postseason and the two ensuing victories gave the franchise a 9-2 home record all-time in the playoffs.
The 'Hawks road record is 2-9.
Few teams know better than how hard it was to play in Seattle this season than the Saints and 49ers. Both lost in the regular season at CenturyLink Field and were unsuccessful in return bids during the playoffs.
Seattle, in fact, manhandled the powerful Saints 34-7 back on Dec. 2, outgaining Drew Brees and his offense 429-188. The victory pushed the Seahawks' record to 11-1 and was their club-record 14th in a row at home.
It was a home winning streak that survived a tight affair with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 3, with Seattle coming back from 21 points down to win 27-24 in overtime and complete the largest comeback in franchise history.
"I think it's the competitiveness that this team has and you can see that we've really chosen guys that have a feeling that they got something to prove and I think we're all like that," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
However, the division-rival Arizona Cardinals, themselves fighting to stay in the playoff picture, were too much in a Dec. 22 meeting at CenturyLink Field as they knocked off the 'Hawks 17-10 despite Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer throwing four interceptions.
That gave Seattle a loss in two of three following a seven-game win streak and left the door open for San Francisco to rally past the Seahawks and win the division.
Not only would that have cost Seattle home-field advantage as it had already clinched a playoff berth, but would have destroyed all the momentum created during the season.
But success remained the Seahawks' friend and they closed the regular season with a 27-9 win over the visiting St. Louis Rams to claim the NFC West crown.
It was a solid finish for the league's top-ranked defense, which held the Rams to only 13 yards rushing.
In all, the Seahawks led the NFL in total defense (273.6 YPG), pass defense (172.0) and points allowed per game (14.4) while also topping the league with 28 interceptions, 39 takeaways and a plus-20 turnover differential. Cornerback Richard Sherman tied a career high with eight interceptions, becoming the first Seahawks player to lead the league in picks since Eugene Robinson in 1993, and safety Earl Thomas had a career-high 100 tackles with five INTs.
"That whole back end, it's phenomenal the way that they play together because they do everything together," said wide receiver Doug Baldwin. "They watch film together, they work out together, they hang out together outside of the football field, outside of the practice facility and it shows up on the practice field and in the games because they're communicating without even having to say anything to each other and they see things at the same rate."
Impressive numbers but even more telling of the depth when you remember that reserve cornerback Walter Thurmond was suspended four games late in the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy and former starting cornerback Brandon Browner, a one-time Grey Cup champion and 2011 Pro Bowler, was also suspended indefinitely for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
Browner did not play the final four games of the regular season.
So the defense wasn't a question as the Seahawks headed into the playoffs and they were now set to have Harvin back in the lineup for just the second time this season. The wideout made one catch in his season debut on Nov. 17 versus his former Vikings club, but soreness in his surgically-repaired hip shut him down for the rest of the regular season.
With the threat looming that the Seahawks would place Harvin on injured reserve, the receiver suited up for the divisional round game versus the Saints and made three catches for 21 yards before suffering a concussion that caused him to miss the NFC Championship Game versus the 49ers.
Again without Harvin and a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Seahawks seemed to bring it all together one more time. Wilson helped Seattle overcome deficits of 10-0 and 17-10, hitting Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard score early in the fourth quarter to put his club ahead.
A 47-yard field goal with 3:37 to play put Seattle up 23-17 and Seattle's third forced turnover, an interception by linebacker Malcolm Smith off a tipped ball by cornerback Richard Sherman sealed the Seahawks' first trip to the Super Bowl since the 2005 season, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Detroit's Ford Field.
"We certainly have a whole style that our whole team plays like, and we feel like we're a physical and tough team, not just from a defensive standpoint, but really the collective whole group," noted defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. "That's something that is important to us and we have a real style about how we play and we like that."
The Seahawks hope that their second ever trip to the Super Bowl is more successful and they are also expected to have Harvin in action as well to complete his roller coaster season.
The team's biggest offseason pickup will get one more chance to shine this season, but isn't looking back with regret.
"I wouldn't take anything back that has happened this year. It's made me a stronger person," said the wideout.
At least they know they can handle the trip out east to New Jersey.