Vehicles filled every available inch, legality be damned.
The only light in an otherwise dark SoDo district rose from CenturyLink Field, as did a roar. Local and national media typed away in the blandly colored, glass-enclosed press box. It was packed.
The Seahawks’ 29-3 stomping of the San Francisco 49ers produced the best primetime NFL regular-season numbers on the West Coast since 1991. In Seattle, the numbers were the best ever for a Sunday Night Football game.
Lightning struck, Richard Sherman danced, a Sea Gal became famous for 15 minutes.
It was just Week 2.
The Seahawks were beginning their push toward matching a franchise-best 13-3 record during a season with unmatched expectations.
Each loss was greeted as a revelation. They can lose? Really?
It’s the weight the Seahawks bore since the middle of the last summer. That’s when Russell Wilson smiled for magazine cover shoots to preview the coming NFL season. Talk-radio hosts blathered about the San Francisco game. All because the Seahawks were expected to push past the longtime middling accomplishments of Pacific Northwest sports.
They were eight years removed from the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance. There was a flat and firm expectation another would come in New Jersey’s frigid air Feb. 2, 2014.
“It was a huge issue,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It is for anybody who has expectations of winding up in the Super Bowl before you’ve ever even played a game. That’s as big of expectations as you can have.”
WILSON ANSWERS QUESTIONS
Wilson began the year lumped in with a trio of other young quarterbacks: Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick.
After successful 2012 seasons for each the debate raged about who was the best. Most stuck with Luck, the former No. 1 overall pick. Even Wilson’s teammate, Doug Baldwin, touted Luck’s potential. “I’m on the record as saying Andrew Luck can be the greatest quarterback who ever played the game of football,” Baldwin said.
Wilson surpassed them all this season. He threw the most touchdowns, despite the Seahawks being a run-first offense. Wilson had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio and the highest quarterback rating. At one point, Wilson was considered an MVP candidate.
He slipped later in the season. In a Week 16 loss to Arizona, Wilson had his worst game of the year. The next day, he showed up at the training facility almost an hour earlier than usual to begin diagnosing and fixing the issues he had against the Cardinals.
That extra hour was significant because Wilson typically arrives at 5:30 a.m.
“Usually after games, win or lose, I don’t really sleep that great just because you’re thinking about the game or you’re restless or your body is a little sore or whatever,” Wilson said. “Just sometimes you just need to get to work. That way you can put it away and move on to the next opportunity. So that’s what that was.”
He reset and returned to his efficient self to close the season’s final week – going 15-for-23 for 172 yards against the St. Louis Rams. He more than doubled his quarterback rating (49.6 to 102.1) from the week before.
Wilson’s public prominence continues to increase. He’s featured in commercials for American Family Insurance, a local car dealership and Alaska Airlines.
As a result, in the team hotel on road trips, he sometimes tucks his chin to his chest walking down halls with a Seahawks hat tugged low. All the better to hide his face.
In less than two years, he has evolved from being the young, little-known quarterback on the couch with the incredibly excited wife during the NFL draft, to the face of the NFC’s top-seeded playoff team.
“I don’t really look at myself as famous,” Wilson said.
Everyone else does.
The secondary was pleased to hear Dan Quinn was returning to take over as defensive coordinator for the departed Gus Bradley. They knew he liked an aggressive style of defense. That’s the kind they liked to play.
“I like his style because it fits with us,” All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas said. “It definitely fits with me.”
It’s a style that dominated the league. The Seahawks defense led the NFL in points allowed per game (14.4), yards allowed per game (273.6), passing yards allowed per game (172), interceptions (28) and turnover margin (plus-20).
To close the season, the Seahawks squashed the Rams’ running attack. After allowing St. Louis to run for 200 yards in their first matchup of the season, Seattle tied a franchise-low by giving up just 13 rushing yards against the Rams in the rematch.
“Even though Danny (Dan Quinn) came in new for this season, he’d been with us before and really allowed us a chance to carry over from where we were,” Carroll said. “It was seamless in the transition. All of that, and then just the maturity of the players. Earl (Thomas) is a better football player than he was a couple of years ago, and Sherm (Richard Sherman) is a better player across the board.
“The guys that have been with us have improved steadily throughout, and the fact that they know each other and know what they can count on is really crucial in adjusting, analyzing, diagnosing, all that stuff that they’re called on to do.”
THE NEXT STEP
Thomas didn’t alter his demeanor after the Seahawks beat the Rams to clinch the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s just as Carroll wants it.
Carroll pushes to create a form of energized monotony. Every week is a championship week, he says. We’re going to get revved up. We’re excited for the opportunity. If he were a doll with a pull-string attached to his back, those would be the repeated phrases.
They sunk into Thomas’ head. As most players were celebrating, Thomas stood in his uniform with only his cleats and helmet off well after the game.
“I’ve psyched myself out to think every week is a championship week,” Thomas said. “So, this feels normal.”
No more convincing is necessary. Every future game is a mere 60 minutes away from ending a season that has flourished from its promising beginning.
The Seahawks are ready to finish the season the way they began it. Seattle streets will swell next Saturday with tailgating revelers whose expectations have only increased for the divisional-round playoff game against New Orleans. Slick-haired men in Las Vegas have made Seattle the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl.
They’ve handled it all, so far.
“We’ve dealt with it throughout the season and put it in the right place and the guys understood what it meant and what it didn’t mean and performed under that kind of scrutiny,” Carroll said. “To get the division taken care of and have the best record and all that under those expectations, we dealt with it. So that’s a really good thing.
“That’s how you make expectations like that normal and we did that.”