By TIM BOOTH
RENTON, Wash. — It’s not hard to get Pete Carroll talking. Getting him to speak about the postseason is another matter.
All the Seattle coach wants to focus on is the importance of beating San Francisco on Sunday night. The byproduct of getting a victory over the 49ers would be the Seahawks getting to 10 wins for the first time since 2007, earning at least a wild-card berth in the NFC playoffs, and keeping alive the slim hopes of winning the NFC West.
There is a lot of good that could come Seattle’s way with a victory. But you won’t find Carroll or his players speaking much about what lies ahead.
“You don’t bring up the playoffs until the playoffs get here,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You’re still in the regular season and we’re playing trying to win the rest of these games and see where the chips fall.”
If Seattle (9-5) can get a victory over the 49ers on Sunday or in the season finale against St. Louis, it would be its second playoff appearance in Carroll’s three seasons. Yet this one would be far more deserved.
When the Seahawks won the NFC West in 2010, they became the first division champion with a losing record at 7-9. It took a victory over St. Louis in the finale that season for the Seahawks to win the division on a tiebreaker, but Seattle at least justified its spot in the playoffs by upsetting then-Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the wild-card round.
But that playoff trips was at the infancy of Seattle’s roster remodel that Carroll and general manager John Schneider have been constructing. It was a mix of new faces and what the duo inherited that won the division in 2010.
This group that’s pushing for a playoff spot has all been molded under the watch of Seattle’s decision-making duo.
“I think we’re playing so much better in so many areas. We’re taking care of the ball the way we want to, and we’re getting after the football well now that we’re in the latter part of the season,” Carroll said. “We’re running the football with consistency and we’re keeping the scores down defensively, and the kicking game is solid. These are all of the elements that make us team with not many holes right now.”
While that 2010 team made the postseason, they were still flawed. The offense still had Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback, but his long-term future with the team was in doubt. The defense still relied on experienced veterans that were not getting any younger.
Seattle had yet to find its unique, long cornerbacks in Sherman and Brandon Browner that make the rest of its defense work. They hadn’t given fifth-round pick Kam Chancellor an opportunity to be a starting safety. Golden Tate was inconsistent at wide receiver and the Seahawks had not found a plan that worked to best use running back Marshawn Lynch.
Those problems are now solved as is the biggest question, the quarterback. Russell Wilson has been the best quarterback by passer rating in the NFL since Seattle’s Week 7 loss at San Francisco. Lynch is second in the NFL in yards rushing behind only Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and the Seahawks have the second-best scoring defense in the league.
“It all begins with the quarterback. Russell is playing an extremely high level right now and it’s just the maturity and growth that we’ve all come to grow with him in this offense as a whole and rally behind the things that he does well,” Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin said. “At the beginning of the season we were kind of searching for that and now that we’re putting it together you’ve been able to see it the past two games with us putting up 50 points.”
Carroll said the way Seattle is now playing is what he hoped would happen when he arrived in the winter of 2010. The growth Seattle has shown over the last two seasons is similar to how he saw USC improve between his first season with the Trojans and the second year that ended with a victory in the Orange Bowl and proved to be the foundation for their major success.
“I think in most of the critical areas we’re just cleaning things up, and you can see that our young guys are growing,” Carroll said. “They’re understanding what’s expected, and I think the most important thing is to see consistency. They get it and they come back and do it again, and do it again. Those are really good indicators that we are going in the right direction.”