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Larry Stone: Seahawks’ playoff mission accomplished, it’s on to the next goal – ‘We’re not stopping here’

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 26, 2018

Seattle Seahawks tight end Nick Vannett, left, dives past Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward, right, for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Seattle Seahawks tight end Nick Vannett, left, dives past Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward, right, for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

The Seahawks did the requisite amount of savoring on Sunday night, sprinkled with just a little bit of sass, and why not?

The feat of making the playoffs in a year of vastly diminished expectations warranted some back-patting, and even a little well-earned finger-pointing.

“You hear the noise, you hear the 4 and 12 predictions, the 5 and 11 predictions, that stuff motivates you,” said linebacker K.J. Wright. “It was a smack in the face to say we would be that bad. Because that’s really, really bad to win four games. We kept believing. I appreciate them saying that. I’m always in the business of proving people wrong.”

But after Seattle’s stirring 38-31 victory over Kansas City, the Seahawks made it clear they have a higher calling than just sticking it to the skeptics.

“We’re not stopping here,” said Russell Wilson, expressing the prevailing sentiment.

This is a team, as Pete Carroll said Sunday, that “knows who we are.” It’s a team that believes, with ever-increasing confidence, that getting to the playoffs is not the climax of their story, but perhaps just the beginning.

It’s a team that wants to be more than a heartwarming little “overcoming adversity” tale. This is a team for whom getting to the postseason – the single-minded quest of the past four months, or technically much longer – is no longer enough.

This is a team that believes it’s poised to do damage once it gets there.

“We feel like the sky’s the limit for us,” said offensive lineman Duane Brown. “We’re right where we want to be. We just wanted an opportunity in the postseason and we have that now.

”Our team is built to make a run. We’ve just got to keep guys healthy. We’re a tough, gritty group. We run the ball well. Our quarterback is one of the best in the league. We have a defense that’s playing lights out. That’s one of the most explosive offenses we played against, and they did a great job against them, in my opinion.

“We have all the confidence in the world, all the faith in the world in each other, and that’s what it’s all about.”

In typical Carroll fashion, he waxed lyrical postgame about heroism and valor and warrior-like play. He talked about the run of home wins against the Packers, Vikings and now Chiefs – “good frickin’ teams.” And, most instructively, he talked about how this young, rebuilt, unproven team now embraces the “juice” of prime-time games just like its celebrated predecessors.

“Everybody could feel it,” he said of standing up to, and taking down, the Chiefs on Sunday. “That’s what it felt like in the past.”

That the Seahawks, with so much turnover, could reconstruct that vibe is a testament to the magnificent coaching job Carroll has done this year.

It’s premature to get too giddy over the Seahawks’ playoff chances. As Jarran Reed put it, “We haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t made anything yet. We got to make ‘em feel us. We’ve got to let ‘em know we were here.”

Reed, however, ended his statement like this: “We’re not backing down from nobody.”

Beating the Chiefs, a team long believed to be a prime Super Bowl contender – and rightly so – certainly displays that. Perhaps it was three losses to powerful Los Angeles-based teams, the Rams twice, plus the Chargers (each of them games the Seahawks had a chance to win) that delivered that message most powerfully.

“I think we’ve already had confidence, and every single team we’ve played, we just build off that confidence,” said wide receiver Tyler Lockett. “Playing the Chargers and playing the Rams, that took our confidence to a whole ’nother level. We knew we should have won those games.”

Perhaps most encouragingly, the Seahawks have honed a formula for success that they feel is timeless: Control the ball on the ground, mix in just enough explosive plays, and win the turnover battle. The transformation of their running game – with the offensive line included in this equation – is one of the great stories of this NFL season.

Will that all play in the playoffs? No guarantees, obviously. They will open on the road, immediately losing one great advantage. But Dallas is a team they defeated, and Chicago is a team they played (and lost to by a touchdown) before the Seahawks latched onto their identity.

There’s no doubt that the Seahawks have become a team no one wants to play right now, as momentum, belief and scheme meld into a sum greater than its parts.

This Seahawks’ season looked “bleak” at one point, in Carroll’s words after their “terrible” 0-2 start. They did, indeed lose their way, as Richard Sherman observed, but wide receiver Doug Baldwin said that was actually galvanizing.

“I think that it was hard to hear the ugly truth about some things at times, but sometimes the truth is also beautiful and it forces you to look at yourself,” he said. “I think he was spot on, but we answered the call.”

And so now, one more regular-season game awaits, with seeding on the line against Arizona next Sunday. And then the Seahawks will see how well they can capture the echoes of 2012 that Wilson says he can hear, citing their energy and youth as welcome throwbacks.

“(We learned) that we can go as far as we want,” center said Justin Britt of Sunday’s victory. “Nobody can stop us if we’re doing our stuff right.”

Now they have the forum to see if that’s true.

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