Was it the running game re-emerging after years of injuries and decay to be the best in the NFL?
Was it Russell Wilson having his most efficient season throwing off of that?
A new, young core on a defense that had eight new starters?
What was the biggest reason the Seahawks bounced back into the playoffs this past season?
Pete Carroll says Seattle’s 10 wins in 2018 came from an essential locker-room characteristic, one his team largely lacked in 2017.
For the veteran coach and program architect, this Seahawks team had what the previous one with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and others did not.
“We took a big jump this year,” Carroll said after Seattle’s sixth postseason in seven years. “I think we have a real clear understanding of what we’re trying to get done and how we’re going to go about it and the challenges. Everything has been very much upfront, very accountable, very open to the areas we need to get better—from the coaches to the players.
“We did take a really good step in just our mentality in terms of accountability. I think we just got better at it.”
Carroll said there was some introspection, some soul-searching, in 2018, strongly inferring without explicitly saying that it was what the 2017 Seahawks lacked.
That 2017 team still had Carroll’s original Super Bowl core led by Legion of Boomers Sherman and Thomas. That team was far more accomplished, and richer. Those guys had a ring. They’d been paid, lavishly, with extensions worth tens of millions after winning Seattle’s only NFL title in the 2013 season. They were nearing 30 years old.
Frankly, some of the team’s most important players were looking at what they could get next more than what they could do to better the team.
Or did you forget Thomas’ bitter holdout then his middle finger at the Seahawks on his way out of his Seattle career, while on the back of a cart with a broken leg in Arizona in late September?
The 2018 Seahawks looked at themselves in the mirror, coaches and players alike. And they didn’t like what they saw. They changed six assistant coaches, including both the offensive and defensive coordinators. They made 209 roster moves from January through Christmas Day. Then after their 0-2 start to this past season they changed on offense, to the run. They became more aggressive and opportunistic on defense.
Then they won 10 of their final 14 games to get back to the playoffs, before the 24-22 loss at Dallas Jan. 5 in the wild-card round.
“We’re willing to be vulnerable in stating the areas of accountability that we can improve on. We took a step in that understanding and in that communication,” Carroll said. “I think it was a really instrumental part of the whole chemistry of what happened during this season.
“That’s going to carry us forward…it’s obvious. Looking forward to it.”
There was a noticeable sense of freshness in the 2018 Seahawks, and that figures. Carroll and general manager John Schneider had 21 players on the 53-man roster to end the season that were not on it at the end of 2017.
After the Seahawks waived Sherman injured and traded Bennett in March, each star player said Carroll’s message had gotten stale to veterans.
It was fresh to the 2018 Seahawks. It’s not that the message really changed. The recipients did. Carroll’s ways were new to D.J. Fluker, Barkevious Mingo, Jaron Brown, Ed Dickson, Rashaad Penny, Shamar Stephen, Rasheem Green, and so on.
The result: a more tightly bonded Seahawks team, for whom chemistry was as instrumental to winning as points.
“We became more than teammates,” said one of those new Seahawks, rookie cornerback Tre Flowers. “We were friends. And we’re going to keep moving.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson said at the end of this past season: “We really embrace one another.”
Nobody was writing national exposes about the Seahawks’ fractured locker room and quoting that at the end of the 2016 or ‘17 seasons.
Wilson has said these feelings of accountability and brotherhood are two of the reasons this feels to him like the end of his rookie season in Seattle in 2012. That was also the rookie season of Wilson’s fellow current franchise cornerstone, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Like this past season’s, that newly bonded 2012 team lost its opener. Like in 2018, Seattle lost two of its first four games and was 4-4. Then in October 2012 Marshawn Lynch and the running game set up Wilson asserting himself throwing in Seattle’s offense for the first time.
Like the 2018 team, those Seahawks won six of their final seven regular-season games to make the playoffs. Those Seahawks lost in the final seconds at Atlanta in the divisional round, yet entered the offseason and following season believing the foundation and trust they’d found would lead them to Super Bowls.
They did. They won the Super Bowl the following season, then came infamously within 1 yard of winning a second consecutive title, in the 2014 season.
“It really reminds me of 2012, when nobody was really thinking anything and you had young guys who played great and veterans who played great,” Wilson said in late October, after dominating Detroit in a road win.
“There’s nothing that we can’t do.”
Time will tell if that’s true, of course, if these Seahawks indeed do what that 2012 team did: turn its accountability and unity into Super Bowl runs.
For now, awaiting their official offseason working program beginning in mid-April, it’s what has them believing 2019 could be huge.
“That connection that they have to what we’re asking them to do and the willingness to practice on a regular basis and to meet and to bring their attitude, bring their energy all the time, that’s rare. And it’s special,” Carroll said.
“I think that’s what gives me the thought that I can go back a few years. I said the same thing five or six years ago, whenever it was. You can tell that the nucleus and the core of the team that you need to be a championship club is here, these are the guys that we’re going to build it around.
“I couldn’t be more adamant about that right now. That’s where we are.”