Editor's note: Art Thiel is covering the Seahawks on the road to the NFL Super Bowl. He will provide updates from Atlanta over the weekend.
This is the Seahawks' seventh appearance in the past 10 NFL postseasons. It should feel normal, expected, almost like Gonzaga in the NCAA tourney field. Making the playoffs should be old hat, not nouveau chapeau. But somehow, this time time feels fresh.
It has to do with a culmination. Over the past four seasons, the Seahawks have changed CEOs, GMs, coaches and all but two players, CB Marcus Trufant and LB Leroy Hill. Paul Allen still owns the team, but everything else has been headsnaps, so many and some so odd that the feeling was more bewilderment more than excitement. Was Terrell Owens really here for a week?
Throw in the interruption of the 2011 lockout, and it has been a ride in the back of a pickup on bad road.
Suddenly, it's a hundred miles of fresh blacktop in a Mercedes. Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson and Jim Mora are teensy specs in the rear-view mirror.
The guy in the chauffeur's cap, Morgan Free . . . uh, Pete Carroll, has noticed.
“I feel like it’s much different than the first time around a couple years ago," he said Friday. "It’s an entirely different roster, but it just feels different."
Part of that is due to the freakish nature of 2010, Carroll's first year. The Seahawks became the first team in NFL history to qualify for the playoffs with a losing (7-9) record, yet flipped the NFL onto its neck with a wild 41-36 home playoff win over defending champion New Orleans. RB Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard run is close behind Ken Griffey Jr.'s 1995 run around third base against the Yankees as the Seattle Sports Play Guaranteed to Raise The Most Neck Hairs in the Retelling.
But as folks in the drug-testing trade might call it, the 2010 outcome was a false positive. It set expectations higher than was justified. So another 7-9 season in 2011 seemed more of a setback than it really was. Recall that in the second half of 2011, the Seahawks had won five of six games before losing by two at home to San Francisco and three on the road (in OT) against Arizona.
They were getting good. Then came April and Russell Wilson. As far as the the long-term narrative in team sports, there is nothing quite as fulfilling as discovering and developing something that everyone else missed.
Beyond the statistical measures of his production, Wilson's precociousness and old-man ways in a young man's body has done a rare thing — simultaneously electrified and pacified his team.
Michael Robinson, the fullback/sage, recalled a moment in the huddle from Dec. 2 in Chicago, a game that all agree transformed a 6-5 team that now has created in the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Falcons a case of dry-mouth heading into the 10 a.m. Sunday meeting with the Seahawks at the Georgia Dome.
"He comes into the huddle," said Robinson, recalling the start of a 90-yard touchdown drive for the lead on the road, "and he says, 'All right, everybody just calm down -- including me.' "
Robinson said he glanced around the huddle into the eyes of his teammates with a what-up-with-this-rook? look. Then he laughed.
"His self-awareness was amazing," Robinson said. "He knew everyone was looking at how he was reacting, and instead of being over-hyped, he made a joke. Lots of veteran quarterbacks never get there."
The steely cool from that moment helped the Seahawks ring up the next six opponents by a combined score of 194-57 — 33.2 to 9.5. Roy Scheider had a better chance against the shark in "Jaws."
"We’ve earned a different right to have confidence in our play (with) the background of all these games in the second half of the season and on the road," Carroll said. "We’ve put those together in a sensible way. We have a good confidence level going in. We’ll find out.
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