Give Carroll credit, Seahawks have bought in

The Seattle Seahawks found out Sunday afternoon that they’ll travel to Chicago this weekend instead of Atlanta, a seemingly favorable outcome considering Seattle has beaten the Bears at Soldier Field once this year already.

But if you think the Seahawks are going to use their earlier win over Chicago as a way to find confidence for Sunday’s game, or if you think they’ll be motivated by the fact that the Bears opened as a 91/2-point favorite despite Seattle’s October win at Soldier Field, well, you haven’t been paying attention to this team or its coach this season.

From the beginning of his tenure in Seattle, Pete Carroll has consistently preached that each game is simply a chance for the team to play its best football. The Seahawks don’t use outside factors to motivate them. They didn’t play the “nobody believed in us” card in Saturday’s 41-36 victory over the New Orleans Saints in an NFC wild-card playoff game, and you can bet they won’t let the fact that they beat the Bears earlier in the season change how they do things this week.

And while it’s hardly revolutionary for a coach to preach the value in treating the next game as the biggest game, that’s a lot easier said than done, and Carroll deserves credit for getting his team to buy into that concept in his first season.

When Carroll insisted that his team wasn’t motivated by people calling the Seahawks the worst team in playoff history and saying they didn’t belong in the postseason, you couldn’t help but wonder how many of his players were really thinking that. It’s one thing for a coach to say it, but players had to be feeding off of their doubters, right?

Apparently not. To a man, the players in the locker room Saturday night were on the same page as their coach. When you expected to hear players say they fed off of their doubters, they instead maintained that they simply ignored them and prepared for another game.

“You play the game on the field,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “You can’t let anybody else dictate the makeup of your team. That’s for everybody else.”

It might seem logical to get players fired up by telling them that nobody thinks they belong in the playoffs, or that they’re big underdogs against a team they’ve beaten this year, but that’s just not how Carroll operates.

“That just doesn’t fit the way we talk,” he said following Saturday’s 41-36 win over the Saints. “If we used that kind of motivational vehicle, then what would we use next week, and what would we use the week after that? Then you talk about this coach or this player or the matchup or the 10-year history. We don’t do any of that. … We don’t want to use outside things to motivate us. We’re motivated to perform really well and play the way we’re capable of playing, that’s a great standard to live by and that is what allows us to deal with all the stuff going on.”

What is going on is an impressive turnaround for a team that looked dead in the water two weeks ago. After losing in Tampa Bay, the Seahawks were 6-9 and had been blown out in seven of their past nine games. Carroll joked Saturday that calling that stretch a slump was being generous. But a coach known for his motivational skills somehow convinced his team that it could still play well and win football games, and the result has been two impressive wins that have the Seahawks alive to play a second playoff game this weekend.

And Carroll’s ability to make his team believe in itself and coax these past two games out of his players might have been Carroll’s biggest accomplishment of his first year in Seattle.

Everyone was rightfully impressed when the Seahawks started 4-2, but once things turned sour, that was when Carroll’s detractors were ready to point out his flaws. The knock on Carroll when he took the job was that he was too much of a players’ coach for the NFL, and that his upbeat, optimistic approach might not work with professionals like it did at USC. On top of that, you couldn’t help wonder how players would accept his methods when times got tough. It’s one thing to get players to buy in when you rarely lose, as was the case when Carroll was at USC, it’s a whole different beast in the NFL when the losses start to pile up.

Yet when the season seemed be at rock bottom, Carroll was able to make his team believe.

“I know guys have bought in,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “Because if you don’t buy in, you’re gone. So I know guys have bought in. I think what makes it easier to buy is that it’s legit. It’s not just some rah-rah thing.”