The Seahawks’ 2010 season was like none other in the 91-year history of the National Football League, let alone the franchise’s first 35 seasons.
It included enough ebb-and-flow that it would have been difficult to blame first-year coach Pete Carroll for feeling like he was 91. First – not to mention finally – they became the only team to win its division with a sub-.500 record (7-9) by defeating the St. Louis Rams in the regular-season finale at Qwest Field. Then – and in emphatic fashion – they upset the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs, a 41-36 victory at Qwest that gave new meaning to the wild-card round.
“When you win your division, you play a home game in the playoffs right off the bat,” Carroll said. “And look what happened. It came to life for us.”
Nothing pumped more life into the Seahawks’ first season under Carroll than Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that iced the stunner against the Saints – a tackle-breaking, defender-shedding, I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw romp which set off a celebration that created seismic activity around Qwest Field.
“I’m not surprised we won the division, I just was disappointed it took us so long to get there,” Carroll said of finally dispatching the Rams in the regular-season finale. “But somehow we found a way, and from that came this marvelous sense that this was supposed to happen – we planned on this.
“It gave us such a great mentality going into the next week. What a fabulous matchup that was, for mentality and all the things that makeup championship opportunities. … Then something crazy happened – an earthquake, or whatever that was.” Carroll’s first season also will be remembered as one of transition, as he and first-year general manager John Schneider made 284 roster moves.
The team’s leading rusher – Lynch – was acquired in a bye-week trade with the Buffalo Bills. The leading receiver – Mike Williams – was signed in April after passing a minicamp tryout, and being out of the league the previous two seasons. The leader in sacks – defensive end Chris Clemons – was obtained in a March trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. The record-setting kickoff returner – Leon Washington – came in a draft-day trade with the New York Jets. The leader in interceptions – free safety Earl Thomas – was one of the team’s two first-round draft choices. Their best offensive lineman – left tackle Russell Okung – was the other first-round pick. You get the picture – which also helps create a picture of how a team could start 4-2, finish by winning two of its final three games and go 2-7 in between.
“Even though it was such a round-about way to get to a division championship last year – and we even had to do it like it’s never been done before – it still allowed us to do something in a fashion that it stages us for the next step,” Carroll said. “This whole next step is a challenge – and each year is more challenging, more difficult. But we have an opportunity, again, to come back and see if we can keep building this program.”
The constant reconstruction of the roster in 2010 was necessary, as Carroll and Schneider attempted to find their kind of players to play the game the way Carroll insists it be played. Fast. Aggressive. Tough. Smart. And, most important of all, competitively.
The season-long game of roster roulette also was needed because some dubious draft decisions the previous four years had left the Seahawks’ cupboard too bare. Only 10 of the team’s 28 draft choices from 2006-09 were on the 2010 roster. Former first-round pick Lawrence Jackson was traded, as were second-round picks Josh Wilson and Darryl Tapp.
Still, the team assembled by Carroll and Schneider got it right at the right time.
Carroll is hoping the Seahawks can “own” the NFC West, much as his USC teams did by winning seven consecutive Pac-10 titles during his nine-season stay with the Trojans. Hoping? No, he’s planning on it.
“The first year was cool, because we set our sights on owning the NFC West,” he said. “That’s what we talked about. It was a very clear goal.”
Only one other coach in franchise history has won a division title in his first season – Mike Holmgren. The AFC West title the Seahawks captured in 1999 under him also came with a jagged edge, as they started 8-2 only to stumble down the stretch while losing five of their final six games. They “won” the division on the final Sunday of the regular season, despite losing to the Jets in the Meadowlands.
It took three more seasons before Holmgren’s Seahawks made it back to the playoffs, but they then advanced to the postseason for five consecutive years (2003-07) and won four division titles in a row (2004-07).
What fate awaits the Seahawks in their second season under Carroll, and beyond? As he put it, “The excitement now is, OK, where do we go from here?”
Roy Lewis, who was voted special teams captain and also the Steve Largent Award and Man of the Year in 2010, shares that anticipation.
“This was just the beginning,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what we’re able to do for an encore.”