NFC West: Marshawn Lynch


RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks needed Marshawn Lynch to reach the pinnacle of the NFL. The Seahawks do not need Lynch to stay there.

Lynch has been the heart and soul of the Seahawks' success for four seasons. Other than Mount Rainier, the two best-known words in the Pacific Northwest are Beast Mode.

It’s an iconic term used to describe Lynch’s relentless running style, a symbol of the physical presence he brings to a team that takes pride in its aggressive style of play.

But as good as he is and as much as Lynch has meant to this organization, the Seahawks do not need him for the team to continue to play at a championship level.

Want a little statistical proof?
  • The Seahawks won the 2014 Super Bowl by 35 points over Denver on a night when Lynch rushed for 39 yards on 13 carries.
  • The Seahawks played seven games last season when Lynch rushed for fewer than 70 yards. They were 7-0 in those games.

That’s not to downplay his contribution. Lynch has led Seattle to many important victories. He is a unique player and one of the best running backs in the NFL. But because of this team's depth and talent, they can keep winning without him.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsSeattle running back Marshawn Lynch has rushed for more than 4,000 yards over the past three seasons.
That’s why Lynch made a mistake in holding out to try to force changes to his contract. And it’s one reason his holdout could end soon, possibly Tuesday. The likelihood is this distraction will end and Lynch will be the team’s starting running back again.

The Seahawks, however, have talented running backs waiting in the wings -- second-year player Christine Michael and third-year back Robert Turbin are more than capable of carrying the load for a team that emphasizes a run-first philosophy.

“Both of those guys are going to be tremendous backs for us,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Obviously, we want Marshawn to come back. We love the guy to death and all the things that he does. We have tons of respect for how Marshawn plays. But at the same time, Robert and Christine will be ready to go, that’s for sure.”

Exactly how good Michael and Turbin can be is a bit of an unknown, but neither of them can be what Lynch has been. Lynch is a throwback to a bygone era, a relentless power runner who sacrifices his body to do whatever it takes to move forward. Former Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell might be the best comparison to Lynch.

That style of running also takes a huge toll on a player’s body. Lynch has rushed for 4,051 yards over the past three seasons while carrying the ball 901 times. No man can take that many hits and continue to play at a high level over the long haul.

That has been proved and is one reason the Seattle hierarchy is not inclined to give Lynch more money. General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll made it clear last week that they expect Lynch to honor his four-year, $30 million deal, which has two years to go.

Neither side is all right or all wrong in NFL contract issues. For example, it’s easy to say Lynch should honor his deal, but the team could release him after the 2014 season (a good possibility for salary-cap reasons) and owe him nothing on the final year of his contract.

So it’s not unreasonable for Lynch to want more money or some type of guarantee on his 2015 salary. But his leverage isn’t nearly as strong as he thinks. The Seahawks would move on without him if they had to without much concern.

“I feel good about it,” cornerback Richard Sherman said Sunday. “I think [Lynch] will be fine. I think whichever decision he makes, I will be fine with. I’m sure he is in shape and can take his 300 carries and be our workhorse. But if it’s his time [to quit], then other guys will step up.”

Sherman was speaking about the idea that Lynch might retire, which isn't likely because it would cost him $6.5 million in salary and bonuses this season.

Wilson has spoken to Lynch on the phone and texted with him the past few days.

“He wants to play,” Wilson said. “He loves playing. I hope that he comes back. He’s a great football player, and he can do so many great things for us. We love him in the locker room. We love him on game day. So we definitely want him back.”

Of course they do. But this team has a quarterback who is starting his third NFL season and is well on his way to becoming one the league’s top players. It has a receiving corps with a healthy Percy Harvin, one of the NFL’s most explosive players. And it has young running backs capable of becoming 1,000-yard rushers.

Everyone on the team wants Lynch to carry the load again this season, but the Seahawks don’t need him to carry it.
RENTON, Wash. – Seahawks center Max Unger jokingly said he would be happy to do all he could to convince running back Marshawn Lynch to show up for the mandatory minicamp next week.

Unger
Lynch
“I need to give him a call,” Unger said Thursday after practice. “He’s never listened to me before, but I can always give it a try and give him a hard time about it.”

Lynch may skip the minicamp because he would like to restructure his contract, sources said Wednesday.

“He has his own things going on,’’ Unger said of Lynch. “We’d love to have him, but by no means would it change my view of him. Not at all. The guy has more than proven himself and shown he’s capable of coming to training camp in shape. As long as he does his thing on Sunday I’ve got no problems with him at all.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll did not speak to the media Thursday, so the team had no official comment of Lynch’s situation. But it was reported by a couple of outlets that Lynch has not spoken to the Seahawks.

Lynch has yet to comment on whether he will attend the minicamp. He sent out a couple of tweets Thursday, but nothing about his plans for minicamp.

The Seahawks are unlikely to give Lynch a contract extension. He is starting the third-year of a four-year deal worth $30 million. Lynch has a base salary of $5 million in 2014 and $5.5 million in 2015.

It’s possible something could get worked out to restructure some of the money in the form of an additional bonus to give Lynch more overall in 2014, but not more in the contract overall.

Seattle parade fans go Beast Mode

February, 5, 2014
2/05/14
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Seattle Seahawks fans AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonSeattle police estimated that more than 700,000 people attended the Seahawks' victory parade.
SEATTLE -- Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch sat on the hood of an iconic Seattle duck bus, an amphibious landing vehicle that was carrying all the Sea Gals cheerleaders.

Lynch was throwing Skittles, his favorite candy, to the parade crowd. Unless he had at least 700,000 of them, Seattle’s beastly big guy came up a little short on Celebration Wednesday in downtown Seattle.

The official city-limits population of Seattle is 634,535. The Seattle Police Department conservatively estimated the Super Bowl victory parade at 700,000 fans.

The whole city went Beast Mode.

Seahawks team owner Paul Allen later said more than a million people were on hand. With a new net worth at more than $15 billion, the man certainly is good at counting money, so maybe he knows.

Whatever the number, it was something to see, a victory parade that has to rank among the most impressive ever for any team.

“What an incredible day,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Words can’t describe it. The intensity of that crowd was amazing. I can’t imagine [a victory parade] better than that.”

Seattle officials on Tuesday predicted the crowd would reach 300,000. Obviously, they underestimated the passion and love 12th-man fans have for this team, the same way many NFL experts underestimated the Seahawks this season.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonMarshawn Lynch douses Russell Wilson with champagne as the Seahawks celebrated their Super Bowl victory with a parade in Seattle.
There was no snow in the Super Bowl when the Seahawks blew out Denver 43-8, and there was no rain in Seattle Wednesday. Heck, there was barely even a cloud, a breathtakingly beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest.

The temperature, however, was 29 when the parade began, not that anyone cared, including one guy who wasn’t wearing a shirt.

“It was freezing, but that was a lot of fun,” said receiver Golden Tate, who waved a giant 12th-man flag on the parade route. “This has been a wonderful day for all of us and the city. It was special to be a part of it, something I will value forever.”

Lynch, the man of few words, was the star of the show. The players were separated by position, riding in the back of military trucks. But Lynch, in ski mask and hoodie, elected to ride up front with the cheerleaders.

He was wearing a dark blue warm-up suit with BEAST MODE written on the chest and down the pants leg, an outfit that is destined to become the hottest-selling clothing item in Seattle.

As the procession reached CenturyLink Field, Lynch stood on the hood, beating a drum that someone handed him. So much for being shy.

Fans braved massive traffic jams and public transportation overload to get to the parade Wednesday morning.

Interstate 5, the main north-south artery that goes through downtown Seattle, was backed up four miles in either direction three hours before the parade was scheduled to begin.

The Sound Transit trains were more crowded than a Tokyo subway. All the trains coming to the city were over capacity, with some people waiting an hour just to buy a ticket.

The Washington ferry system, a major transportation mode in Seattle, was packed. People learned there was a two-boat wait just to walk on a ferry from Bremerton and Bainbridge Island.

But they just kept coming by the thousands. The crowd was 40 to 50 people deep in most spots along the parade route. Some people climbed trees to get a better view of things.

“It’s almost like Christmas morning waking up for presents, but 10 times better!” receiver Jermaine Kearse tweeted.

Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith had this tweet: “Wow there are a GAZILLION @Seahawks fans here!! You guys are undoubtedly the best fans in the @nfl (or any sport for that matter)”

This area has waited 35 years to celebrate another major men’s championship. The only other one was the SuperSonics, the 1979 NBA champs. Sadly, that team no longer is here.

That parade crowd was estimated at 300,000, which may explain why city officials used the same number as an early estimate for this turnout. Three and a half decades of waiting, along with the enormous popularity of this city’s NFL team, more than doubled it.

The mass of people was so huge that the city of Seattle requested people downtown not use cell phones because it could compromise 911 calls.

The afternoon ended with a rally in CenturyLink Field. Fans filled almost every available seat, but one side of the stands wasn’t open. A recreational vehicle show is starting in the stadium this week, so the west concourse was filled with RVs.

Fans who couldn’t get in the Clink sat in Safeco Field next door and watched the rally on the big screen.

For the start of things, the players were placed on the trucks by position. The trucks listed the position on a banner on the sides, except for the defensive backs. That truck, of course, had Legion of Boom as its banner.

And in this community, which has such a large and proud military presence with the Bremerton Naval Base and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, including the armed forces in the parade was the right thing to do.

Looking at the crowd, it was easy to assume many school classrooms were almost empty all across the Pacific Northwest. Jose Banda, the superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, was roundly criticized for not closing the schools Wednesday.

“It will be treated as an unexcused absence,” Banda stated in a release. “While we support the team, academics must come first and it’s important not to lose a day in the classroom.”

We’re all in favor of education, but one day in fourth grade can’t compare to the memories of a lifetime and the lesson of civic pride that came from attending this event.

Banda later backed down, saying each school principal could decide what was right for his or her school. Many teachers elected to bring TVs into the classroom and allow the students who were there to watch the parade live.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared 12:12 p.m. PT as a moment of loudness across the state. As the parade began people spilled into the street, making it difficult for the vehicles to get through.

When the team arrived at the stadium, the players were fitted for their Super Bowl rings. The big screen showed the Lombardi trophy and the scoreboard listed the 43-8 score of the Super Bowl victory over the Broncos.

The players were introduced one at a time, starting with the highest number (No. 99 Tony McDaniel) and going down. That, of course, made quarterback Russell Wilson (No. 3) last.

Wilson walked in carrying the Lombardi trophy, but Lynch again stole the show. He had walked in carrying a bottle of champagne. When Wilson got to the middle of the field, Lynch let Wilson have it, spraying him with champagne to wild cheers from the crowd

Lynch didn’t speak at the podium, no surprise there, but his love for the fans was clear. Wilson spoke briefly on behalf of the offense and cornerback Richard Sherman spoke for the defense.

“You guys are the best fans in the world,” Sherman said. “We appreciate all of you. We love ya 12th man. Go Hawks.”

Carroll had a message about the future.

“This is an extraordinary group of young man that have come together to do something special,” Carroll said. “And it isn’t just one year. We’re just getting warmed up. We’ll be back again.”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch may not have played a pivotal role in Seattle’s 43-8 victory against the Denver Broncos -- that was reserved for the defense -- but there is no denying the role he played in the Seahawks’ success this season.

Lynch had 15 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown, and again was a man of few words when it was over.

Lynch did not want to celebrate on the field, but once he got into the locker room, he cut loose. He changed from his uniform into a red jumpsuit with the words “Beast Mode” on the front, a black mask covering his nose and mouth and gold headphones on his head. He walked to the stereo in the room, turned up the music and started dancing as reporters surrounded him to capture any expression of emotion in lieu of more formal comments.

Lynch, who had 301 carries for 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, spent most of media day trying to avoid an NFL fine for not fulfilling his speaking obligations.

In one of the few formal interviews he did Sunday, he was asked if this was the best day of his life.

“Next to being born,” he said.

Lynch may have been a man of few words in the locker room but in a corridor outside, he talked to a group of friends, and told stories so loud that the punch line echoed down the hall.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It has been at least 13 years and probably more since a team dominated a Super Bowl the way the Seattle Seahawks did Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, winning 43-8 over the Denver Broncos. They scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams -- all after recording a safety on the first snap of the game. And they didn't give up any points until the end of the third quarter after building a 36-0 lead. The result is a report card that would be the envy of an Ivy League college applicant.

PASSING OFFENSE


It was as good as it had to be. Russell Wilson's passer rating was 123.1, eight different players caught his passes and he wasn't sacked or intercepted. Seattle raced out to a huge first-half lead, so Wilson didn't need to put up gaudy stats to win. But he was 4-of-5 for 64 yards on third-down plays in the first quarter, when the game was still in doubt, and he was still flinging it around in the fourth quarter as the Seahawks padded their lead.


RUSHING OFFENSE


Marshawn Lynch struggled to find room against Terrance Knighton and a Broncos defensive front focused on stopping the run. But Seattle's yards-per-carry average got a boost from Percy Harvin's 15-yard and 30-yard runs on jet sweep plays, and Lynch was able to muscle into the end zone on second down from the 1-yard line after a pass interference penalty in the end zone set up the game's first touchdown.


PASSING DEFENSE


Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning won his fifth MVP award for a season in which he threw a record 55 touchdown passes. But he was a mess all night against Seattle's pass rush, throwing two interceptions. Led by Cliff Avril, Seattle's line moved Manning off his spot all night and batted down some key passes while the big, physical defensive backs made life miserable for Broncos receivers before and after the catch. The "Legion of Boom" lived up to its name, outmuscling the top-scoring offense in NFL history.


RUSHING DEFENSE


Total domination. And yeah, the Broncos had to get away from the run because they were down 15-0 before they had a chance to run their offense. But Seattle's front bottled up Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, holding Denver to 27 yards rushing on 14 carries, forcing a fumble (that Denver recovered) and stripping the Broncos of any chance to maintain any level of balance on offense.


SPECIAL TEAMS


Harvin barely played all season. Finally healthy, he was a difference-maker in the biggest game of his career. Seattle's 22-0 halftime lead looked tough to overcome, but the 29-0 lead they had 12 seconds into the half after Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown looked impossible. Seattle's kick coverage team held electric Denver return man Trindon Holliday in check.


COACHING


Give Pete Carroll the grade for the full year, as every move he made seemed to pay off. He had enough faith in his defense to let Manning start the game with the ball after he won the coin toss and to kick a first-quarter field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-short inside the Denver 10. He also stayed aggressive even as his team was rolling early, calling timeout on a Denver fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 19 with 1:06 left in the first half. Seattle didn't even try to move the ball in the final minute after stopping the Broncos and taking possession, but it showed a coach in control of the game. You also have to hand Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn the victory over Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase in the matchup of hot head-coaching candidates.

NEW YORK -- The talk is over, and the day finally is here: Super Bowl Sunday.

Here are five things the Seattle Seahawks must do well to defeat the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium:

1. Pressure Peyton Manning: It’s a mammoth task against a quarterback who gets rid of the football so quickly, but it isn’t so much about getting sacks as it is putting enough pressure on Manning to take him out of his comfort zone.

Everyone knows Manning is a classic pocket passer. He likes to step up in the pocket to make his throws. That will make it difficult for a talented edge-rusher like Cliff Avril to get to Manning.

Bryant
So the Seahawks have to get pressure up the middle with their defensive tackles -- Brandon Mebane, Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel. Big Red Bryant will also get a push in the middle sometimes, and they might use some stunts with end Michael Bennett rushing up the middle when he lines up outside. Also, look for middle linebacker Bobby Wagner to blitz a couple of times.

"There’s no certain way to get to Manning," Bennett said. "It comes down to doing what we do and beating your man."

2. Let the quiet Beast loudly rumble: It’s been a strange and somewhat stressful week for Marshawn Lynch, having to do media sessions on three consecutive days. Not his cup of tea, and a distraction the Seahawks could have lived without, but that is all behind them now.

Lynch
Lynch was successful on runs up the middle in the first two playoff games this season, but the Seahawks should try more off-tackle runs and toss sweeps against Denver. The Broncos have Terrance Knighton at nose tackle, a mountain of a man at 340 pounds. He’s a run-stuffer.

When asked what his biggest concern was regarding the Denver defense, Lynch didn’t hesitate. "Pot Roast," he said, which is Knighton’s nickname. "He’s a big boy."

The Seahawks might use a third tackle with Alvin Bailey, as they did against the 49ers, to line up with tight end Zach Miller and use a muscle push to run Lynch off the edge of the line and hope he goes Beast Mode.

3. Keep the Broncos guessing with Harvin: The Seahawks need to make the most of their X factor in receiver Percy Harvin. The Denver defense can’t know exactly how to account for a guy who played only six quarters this season, but they know he’s faster than a cheetah with its tail on fire.

Harvin
So make them worry about Harvin on almost every play by putting him in motion and lining him up in different spots. Get the ball to him early so Denver will know he’s part of the plan. Someone for Denver will have to spy him, meaning someone else on the Seattle offense -- receivers Golden Tate or Doug Baldwin -- will get free.

"We’re excited to have Percy back, because he brings more to the table," Tate said. "He's going to open it up for other guys more."

4. Punish the Broncos on crossing routes: The Seattle defense can’t allow Manning and his receivers to nickel-and-dime them to death with short passes over the middle and quick slants.

Chancellor
And if receiver Wes Welker wants to try a pick-play block, have strong safety Kam Chancellor waiting to greet him. Linebackers Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright also have to get physical on these plays and let the Broncos know there is a price to pay every time they catch a pass in the middle of the field.

"We are a physical bunch," Chancellor said. "We like to be physical. We like to be hands-on. We like to make you feel our presence. That’s how we operate."

5. Play with poise: This is the most important point. Seattle is the more talented team overall, but the Seahawks must play smart and not get over-amped in the biggest game of their lives. Careless personal fouls and false starts can be the difference in the game, and too much emotion can cause a player to make a mistake he wouldn’t normally make.

Sherman
The Seahawks did a great job of controlling their emotions in the NFC Championship Game against the hated 49ers. Well, until the end when cornerback Richard Sherman went on testosterone overload after the game-saving play. But the game was decided at that point, so have at it.

The same is true in the Super Bowl. Play your game and don’t give the Broncos a freebie. Do what you did to get here.

"Respect the journey," said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. "But at the same time, enjoy the moment. Take it all in. It is real. Just be poised and respect the process. I’m going to play with a smile on my face and just go for it."

Good advice. If the Seahawks follow it, that should be enough.

There was a time, when John Elway wore a helmet at work instead of a tie, when the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were division rivals.

From 1977 to 2001, the two teams did their football business together in the AFC West and now these former division rivals, who have gone their separate ways since -- through good times and bad -- now arrive to Super Bowl XLVIII as the matchup many wanted to see.

The Broncos' league-leading scoring offense -- which produced an NFL record 606 points with Peyton Manning at quarterback -- against Seattle's league-leading defense (14.4 points per game), a physical, brash group that led the league in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense and interceptions.

It is the first time the league's No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense have met in the Super Bowl since 1990, when the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants authored a classic, a 20-19 Giants win decided when Scott Norwood's kick drifted wide right.

ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game:

Legwold: Terry, in your mind, what are some of the major decisions John Schneider and Pete Carroll have made to put the Seahawks in this position?

Blount: Jeff, first and foremost, the one decision that almost everyone will point to is selecting Russell Wilson with a third-round draft choice two years ago when so many experts felt Wilson was too short to be an effective starter in today's NFL. That led to another big decision when Carroll named Wilson the starter after the team had signed Matt Flynn to a big-money deal -- a brave move, to say the least. But pointing to one move doesn't begin to tell the story of a team that Schneider and Carroll completely revamped over the past four seasons. Only four players remain from the team they inherited in 2010. Schneider and Carroll's strengths are their trust in each other and their ability to make stars, or at least quality starters, out of players that other teams overlooked such as cornerback Richard Sherman (a fifth-round pick), slot receiver Doug Baldwin (undrafted) and guard J.R. Sweezy (a seventh-round pick). They also made one of the best trades in team history, acquiring Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo in 2010. It's an example of how Schneider and Carroll are willing to take chances on players who might have had off-the-field issues.

Let me ask you a similar question, Jeff. Elway gets huge props for convincing Manning that Denver was the place for him to end his career, but obviously, it took more than one move to get the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Aside from Manning, what has made Elway's tenure so successful?

Legwold: Elway's mission, for owner Pat Bowlen, when he took the job, wasn't just to make the team competitive as quickly as possible after the 4-12 finish in 2010, but to fix the cracks in the foundation. This meant addressing the personnel and salary-cap issues that needed to be dealt with if the team was going to succeed over the long term. Elway always says people talk to him about a "win-now philosophy," but he wants the team to win from now on.

Elway and the Broncos' front office cleaned up the cap a bit, and though Elway is a former quarterback, he thinks big picture. They've drafted plenty of defensive players -- 11 of 23 picks under Elway -- and they've made finding the guy they want more important than simply making big-ticket splashes in free agency, other than Manning of course. Signing players to one-year deals with little or no signing bonuses, such as Shaun Phillips (10 sacks), Paris Lenon and Quentin Jammer (two starters and a situational player in the defense), have made it go. Starting center Manny Ramirez was released by the Lions at one point. John Fox, hand-picked by Elway, and his staff also have gotten more from players who were holdovers such as Knowshon Moreno and Demaryius Thomas. Toss in some big-time draft hits -- Von Miller and Julius Thomas -- and you have back-to-back 13-3 finishes.

For their part, the Seahawks have played quality defense all season long. Terry, how do you think they will attack Manning?

Blount: They will line up and say, 'This is who were are and what we do. Beat us if you can.' I honestly don't think they'll change a thing. Whether it's a rookie calling the signals or one of the all-time greats such as Manning, the Seahawks don't believe anyone can outperform their defense. They are as talented a group as I've seen. Two things set them apart: incredible overall speed, especially at the linebacker spots, and a physical approach that borders on all-out violence and intimidation. Calling for crossing patterns over the middle against this bunch is asking for punishment. The one thing defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said they will do is change the wording and signals on their calls. And what they must do in this game is get a push up the middle on the defensive front and force Manning to move in the pocket. Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald have to outmuscle Denver interior linemen in this game.

Seattle's Legion of Boom secondary is an extraordinarily talented group that includes three players who were voted into the Pro Bowl. They play a lot of press coverage and almost dare a quarterback to try to beat them.

Jeff, does man-to-man coverage help or hurt Manning and his receivers?

Legwold: Man coverage almost never hurts Manning, unless those defensive backs consistently knock the Broncos' receivers off their routes, or Mother Nature brings a windy night. And not just a breeze, but something on the order of the 40-mph gusts the team faced on a frigid night at New England this season. But even then Manning was sharp and aggressive on a late drive to tie the game at 31-31. Where some defenses have had some success this season -- Indianapolis, New England and to a certain extent Jacksonville -- was when they essentially tossed aside the idea of adding pressure to try to get Manning, because he gets the ball out too quickly, and play as physically as possible against the Broncos' receivers to disrupt their routes and disrupt the offense's timing. That said, Manning still threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts to go with 295 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars. And while the Patriots held him to a season-low 150 yards on Nov. 24, Manning still looked sharp late, throwing the ball in a game in which the Broncos rushed for 280 yards because New England often left six-man fronts after dropping so many players into coverage. In the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, who used much the same philosophy as in November, Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. The mix for some kind of defensive success is usually to get the Broncos receivers out of sorts and find a way to pressure Manning in the middle of the field so he can't step into the throws.

Staying at quarterback, Terry, how do you think Wilson, certainly well-known for his poise and maturity, will handle his first Super Bowl behind center?

Blount: I realize it's a lot to ask of any second-year quarterback to enter this setting and not have it effect his performance, but Wilson is an extraordinary young man. I've said all season that he has the unusual quality of being at his best when things appear to be at their worst. He thrives on the big stage. I've never seen him rattled, and when he does make a mistake (such as fumbling on the first play in the NFC Championship Game), he acts like it never happened. And I've never seen any athlete who prepares with the time and detail that Wilson prepares. You can't fool him. People often compare him to Fran Tarkenton because of his scrambling ability, which is true. But in some ways, I see him more of a Bart Starr-type quarterback, a man who had the ultimate respect of his teammates, understood the skills of the men around him and made them better. Wilson said his goal every game is to be the calm in the storm and stay in the moment. Well, there's no moment like this one. It's cliché to say, but I think he truly believes he was born for this moment.

Jeff, there has been a lot of talk about how extreme weather conditions could benefit the Seahawks and hinder Manning's ability to throw the football the way he normally would. Do you think that's overblown?

Legwold: There may be no more overblown idea circulating around than Manning's ability to play in the cold. The cold-weather stats are always tossed around, but there are at least two of those games in some of the totals people are using when Manning played only one series because the Colts had their playoff position wrapped up. One of those was in Denver to close out the 2004 regular season (32 degrees at kickoff; Manning threw two passes in the game). The wind has been a far-bigger deal for Manning. Post-surgery, he has had to make some adjustments to his game because of some grip issues in his right hand. He wears a glove on his throwing hand in a variety of temperatures now. This season, he wore it in New England (22 degrees, wind chill of 6 degrees), against Tennessee (18 degrees), as well as in Houston (kickoff temperature was 58 degrees) and at Oakland in the regular-season finale, when the kickoff temperature was 70. And with the glove on his throwing hand in 10 games this season, including both of the Broncos' playoff wins, Manning has thrown 33 touchdown passes to go with five interceptions. He's had four 400-yard games and six games when he attempted at least 40 passes. People have scrutinized every wobble of every pass this season, but somehow he threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. And wobbles or not, Manning has not been sacked and the Broncos have punted only once in this postseason.

In the Seahawks' defense, Terry, how big of an impact did signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency have on that group?

Blount: It's this simple: The Seahawks would not be playing in the Super Bowl without them. Seattle's big weakness last year was the lack of a consistent pass rush and a lack of depth on the defensive line. Not anymore. Along with those two, Seattle also signed veteran defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, a mountain of a guy who has been a disruptive force inside. Bennett may be the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL. He has been everything the Seahawks hoped for as a hybrid down linemen who can play end or tackle effectively. He is a relentless, high-motor guy who never takes a play off. Avril is a gifted speed-rusher whose claim to fame is his uncanny ability to knock the ball out of a quarterback's hands and force a fumble, something he has done five times this season and 13 times over the past three years.

Jeff, everyone talks about the matchup between the Seahawks' No. 1 defense against the Broncos' No. 1 offense, but how do you think Denver's defense matches up against Seattle's offense and its power-running game with Lynch?

Legwold: Since Champ Bailey's full return from a left foot injury he originally suffered against the Seahawks in the preseason -- Bailey played in just five games in the regular season and was shut down for several weeks after a failed return in early December -- the team has played far better. It's surrendered 17 or fewer points in each of the past four games, including both playoff wins. And while Denver's numbers, as well as its play at times for that matter, haven't always been pretty, the Broncos do play better out of their base defense.

They will be in their base defense against the Seahawks if Seattle chooses to pound Lynch out of a two-tight-end or two-back set. They inserted a veteran, Lenon, into the middle linebacker spot down the stretch in the base to add some bulk. With Lenon, Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan at linebacker, they have speed to the ball if their defensive end can consistently set the edge. Against some of the power teams they have faced this season, including those with some read-option things in the offense such as Washington and Oakland, the Broncos showed a little more of a 3-4 look on early downs. It will be intriguing if the Seahawks -- seeing the Broncos have done far better in the heavier looks -- try to run against the nickel and dime packages and how the Broncos respond.

Terry, if the Seahawks win, what players beyond Wilson will have had the biggest roles to make it happen?

Blount: Probably the defensive linemen we mentioned earlier: Bennent, Avril and the defensive tackles getting pressure on Manning. If they do, the Legion of Boom will shine and come up with an interception or two that could change the outcome. No matter how well this rugged defense performs, it won't matter unless Wilson can throw effectively. Having receiver Percy Harvin on the field could help, but it really comes down to the same story all season. If Lynch has a punishing day running the ball, someone will be open for a big play in the passing game.

Jeff, if you had to pick one thing that Denver must do to win this game what would it be?

Legwold: Overall, they have to manage the moment. Teams don't win the Super Bowl as they go through all the build-up, but plenty have lost it when they got distracted by the bright lights and attention only to forget why they were in the Super Bowl city in the first place. As Phillips put it: "If guys want to party in New York, New York will still be there next week." But on the field, they have to keep Manning clean, give him some space to work in the pocket and with that their receivers have to play with an edge, fight for both their real estate and the ball.

Lynch making mockery of interviews

January, 29, 2014
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JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Who would have thought that Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch would be more in demand from the media in the middle of Super Bowl week than cornerback Richard Sherman?

And that Lynch would become a far bigger distraction for everyone involved?

Strange, but true.

Before Wednesday morning’s media session at the Seahawks' team hotel, Sherman had a spot in the corner with about 20 people around him.

But most of the media gathered around a table in a hallway outside the main room, waiting for Lynch to take his designated seat, and once again, say almost nothing for a few minutes.

Lynch “talked” Tuesday for 6 minutes, 20 seconds on the official media day. He managed to increase his time in front of reporters by 27 seconds Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch was visibly uncomfortable during his exchange with reporters Wednesday, a day after abruptly ending his Super Bowl media day session.
"I appreciate it," Lynch said of the media's presence and desire to speak with him.

The rest of his opening statement was more telling by Lynch, who did not wear sunglasses Wednesday, as he had done on media day.

“I just don't get it,” he said. “I'm just here so I don't get fined.”

During most of the interview, a visibly uncomfortable Lynch sat in silence, with teammate Michael Robinson at his side. A series of questions were directed toward Robinson about Lynch, who was sporting gold-toned headphones.

Lynch did not speak to reporters during the regular season, but the NFL was going to fine him $50,000 if he didn’t start talking in the playoffs. He has complied, sort of, usually answering questions with brief two- or three-word meaningless responses.

And that was OK, until now. This is the Super Bowl, and the Pro Football Writers of America, as an organization, is not pleased.

The PFWA released a statement Wednesday morning, stating it was “extremely disappointed in the lack of meaningful access” to Lynch.

“Several of our long-standing and high-profile members were appalled by Mr. Lynch’s conduct [on media day] and refusal to answer any questions,” the PFWA said in the statement. "We find the statement by the league that ‘players are required to participate and he participated’ to be an affront to our membership.”

So now, the football writers have taken a strong stand against Lynch, and in the process will infuriate thousands of Seahawks fans who love him. That isn't really germane to the problem at hand.

I've never had an issue with Lynch not talking. And I don’t think anyone among the reporters who cover the team cared, either, but he was breaking league rules.

Now Lynch has made a joke out of the entire process at the Super Bowl. He has outsmarted the NFL, making a mockery of its request that he speaks to reporters during access periods.

So his non-compliance compliance is the biggest controversy of Super Bowl week -- the last thing the Seahawks needed.

Maybe it won’t matter come Sunday. Maybe Lynch will rush for 100 yards and score a couple of touchdowns to lead Seattle to victory over the Denver Broncos.

That could lead to another problem: What if he is voted MVP of the game? Then what would he do with hundreds of reporters wanting to talk to him? What would the NFL make him do?

The Seahawks could live with that scenario if they win the game, but this entire talk/not-talk sideshow has become a major distraction most teams try to avoid at the Super Bowl.
Phillip Hajszan and K.J. WrightTimothy Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesFor K.J. Wright and the Seahawks, interviews at Super Bowl media day were less than conventional.

NEWARK, N.J. -- Seattle Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette was interviewed by Thomas Jefferson.

A caped crusader in a black mask was doing live shots in front of Russell Wilson's podium.

An attractive woman in a tight-fitting crocheted mini-dress, who apparently didn't think there was a need for undergarments, was walking around in thigh-high boots with seemingly no desire to interview anyone. However, plenty of men wanted to interview her.

Welcome to Super Bowl media day, which has about as much to do with football as baking a cake does to nuclear fusion.

It was all new to the Seahawks, except for Lockette, who saw this circus sideshow last season with the San Francisco 49ers.

"This is the crazy part," said Lockette in what might have been the understatement of the day.

Most of the Seahawks seemed to enjoy the moment, one hour of zaniness with more than a thousand "reporters" there to hype what is the most-hyped event in the world.

If you're looking for answers to a lot of serious football questions, you came to the wrong place. Wilson was asked what he plans to eat before the Super Bowl. "Just normal stuff," he said.

Defensive lineman Michael Bennett had a more elegant response when asked his favorite food: "European truffles."

Really? OK, Chef Bennett. That question came right after he was asked to do his impression of President Obama, which wasn't half bad.

Receiver Golden Tate wore a tiny video camera on his cap so he could record all the people recording him.

Media day usually takes place in the stadium in which the Super Bowl will be played, but NFL honchos were concerned about possible snow and extreme cold this time. They elected to stage media day in the Prudential Center, an impressive hockey arena, but a cattle-call setting with so many people on the event floor.

Fans could sit in the arena and watch a giant video screen, on which four players were shown as they were being interviewed. As it turned out, the sun was shining Tuesday in New Jersey, but it was 23 degrees, so maybe being indoors was the right idea.

The Denver Broncos were up first in the morning session, followed by an intermission during which a band played Bruce Springsteen songs, but no Bruce Springsteen. Isn't that sacrilege in Jersey?

When the Seahawks arrived, I bet you can guess the most popular man of the hour: none other than Richard Sherman, the self-professed best cornerback in football. There were more than 100 people around him for the entire hour, hoping he might go off on a rant like his postgame comments nine days ago.

Didn't happen. Sherman is way too smart for that. He was on his best behavior, savoring every moment. The real Sherman showed up, the one who is cordial, happy and cooperative.

A couple of times he got up from his podium seat and walked over to answer questions from people behind him. He probably would have stayed another hour had the team allowed it.

When asked about how some reporters portray him only as arrogant and brash, Sherman said. "Sometimes, I make it easy on them. Sometimes, I do it on purpose. But I like to see which journalists will do a little research."

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
AP Photo/Matt SlocumMedia-reserved Marshawn Lynch spoke for 6 minutes and 21 seconds -- twice his normal length.
He heard plenty of offbeat questions as well, like how many women have approached him this week.

"The only women I've seen are ones who work in the media," he said, wisely avoiding the question.

On what he wants to do this week that he hasn't done yet: "Well, I want to ride the subway."

Sherman also declared that free safety Earl Thomas is a "fashion icon" as the team's best dresser.

Running back Marshawn Lynch won't win any awards from GQ, and he's the only player or coach who clearly didn't want any part of the media frenzy. Lynch was not at a podium, sitting off in a corner wearing his hoodie and sunglasses as reporters crowded around him.

"I appreciate this," Lynch said. "This is straight-up amazing right here."

Lynch didn't speak to reporters all season until the NFL was going to fine him $50,000 if he didn't talk in the playoffs. Tuesday was a record for Lynch: a 6 minute, 21 second interview before he shut down the session. That's about twice the length of his usual interviews.

"It don't make me uncomfortable," Lynch said of talking to reporters. "I'm just about action. All this unnecessary talk don't do nothing for me. I just go to work and do my thing. My fans love me regardless. They don't care what I got to say. They just want me to perform."

But at least he showed up. That was up for debate Monday night.

"I knew he would show up," said Seattle fullback Michael Robinson, Lynch's closest friend on the team. "They were going to fine him if he didn't. He likes money too much."

And so does the NFL, which is why media day is a show in itself. It's fun, entertaining and quite comical at times, a true theater of the absurd. But it's isn't much about football.

And I think Thomas Jefferson left with the young lady in the crocheted mini-dress.

Does the preseason matchup matter?

January, 24, 2014
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RENTON, Wash. -- For those who might have forgotten, the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos have faced each other this season.

It didn’t count because it was a preseason game at CenturyLink Field on Aug. 17, but it’s interesting to look back on it now. Seattle won that night 40-10.

It meant nothing, of course, but Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and safety Kam Chancellor see value in that matchup five months ago.

"Anytime you play a team, there’s definitely value in it, just to see their players against our guys," Wilson said. "Even though it was a preseason game, it was a great battle."

That might seem like an odd statement considering the Seahawks won by 30 points, but the score is a bit misleading.

Peyton Manning was done for the night midway through the second quarter, but not before he completed 11 of 16 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown. The Broncos had 209 yards of offense in the first half.

Chancellor has taken time to study that film this week.

"I look at all the things that affected us in that game," he said. "The plays they made out there and some of the looks that Peyton saw from us. I want to see some of the things we left open during the game so we can correct them if they run those plays in this game."

The Seahawks forced three Denver fumbles in the game, including one that became a 106-yard touchdown for cornerback Brandon Browner, who also had a forced fumble. Browner is now serving a one-year suspension for a substance-abuse violation.

Seattle was leading 17-7 when Denver was about to score, but Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman fumbled as he tried to dive into the end zone. Browner recovered in the end zone and ran it back all the way to make it 24-7 when it could have been 17-14.

The Seahawks also had a 107-yard kickoff return for a TD by Jermaine Kearse. Seattle led 33-7 at half before backups played in the second half.

Wilson completed eight of 12 passes that night for 127 yards and two touchdowns while playing the first two quarters. Running back Marshawn Lynch had only two carries for 1 yard in the game.

Denver tight end Julius Thomas had four receptions for 70 yards, but he also fumbled on a 20-yard catch in the first quarter.

Ten players caught at least one pass for Seattle that night, including Doug Baldwin, who had one reception for 16 yards.

"It’s nice to look at on tape to have a baseline," Baldwin said. "But so much goes on in the 17 weeks during the season that it’s kind of hard to look at that film and digest it. The games I’ll be looking at the most are their more recent games, because those will mean more than the preseason."
RENTON, Wash. -- With Percy Harvin declaring his ready to go, it appears the Seahawks will be close to full strength for the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.

Receiver Doug Baldwin and running back Marshawn Lynch didn't practice Thursday, but both should be fine for the game on Feb. 2.

Baldwin has a hip pointer, but said Thursday that he's fine. Lynch is listed as having a knee injury, but his non-participation in practice is more about getting rest.

Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who has a sore ankle, returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday. He also should be full speed for the Super Bowl.

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

January, 19, 2014
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SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at Century Link Field:

What it means: The Seahawks (15-3) reach the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history and the first time since the 2005 season. Seattle will play the Denver Broncos in a matchup that many people expected before the season began.

Stock watch: The championship game was everything it was hyped up to be, big plays on both sides. Huge momentum swings, vicious hitting and close all the way to the end. The Seahawks came back from a 10-0 deficit in the first half.

Sherman/Smith save the day: The 49ers were driving for what could have been the winning touchdown in the final seconds when Richard Sherman batted away a pass in the end zone intended for Michael Crabtree that linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted to seal the victory. Sherman ran to shake Crabtree’s hand after the play and was whistled for taunting, not that it mattered.

Fourth-down glory: The Seahawks went for it on fourth-and-7 at the 49ers' 35 in the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson made a perfect deep throw and Jermaine Kearse made a spectacular catch in the end zone to give Seattle a 20-17 lead.

Baldwin comes up big: Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin had one of his best games of the season with six receptions for 106 yards. He also had a 69-yard kickoff return.

Lynch gets beastly: After a slow start, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch got it going in the second half, including a 40-yard TD run in the third quarter. He rushed for 109 yards on 22 carries.

What's next: The Seahawks will practice in Seattle this week before heading to New Jersey/New York next weekend to begin the week of festivities leading up to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium.

SEATTLE -- Two bitter rivals in one division, two teams with vitriol among players, coaches and fans. It comes down to a rubber-match showdown to decide which NFC West team will reach the Super Bowl.

It doesn't get any better in the NFC Championship Game: the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson take a detailed look at some of the key issues entering a game in which emotions are bound to be sky-high.

Blount: Bill, clearly there is no love lost between these two teams, although I do think they respect each other. How much of a factor do you think players' emotions will play in the outcome, if any?

Williamson: The 49ers are coming off a highly emotional game against the Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco handled it way better than the Carolina players did. The Panthers were called for several silly penalties spurred by their emotion. Some 49ers players said they thought their playoff experience was a factor and the Panthers might have been too emotional. The Seahawks have playoff experience, so it will be interesting. I think the key will be Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman and San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin. Both of these guys can get chippy and can get on the nerves of opponents. So I'd start there.

Terry, do you think Sherman can control himself this week? We all know how he can get and how facing Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers amps him up.

Blount: We'll see, Bill, but I think Sherman understands the significance of this game. He can be brash, obviously, but he's also an extremely intelligent guy who knows when and where to pick his fights and his comments. Now, if the game ends in a Seattle victory, you'll want to have a microphone in his face because he's likely to let it fly.

Bill, how much of a difference has Michael Crabtree made in the 49ers offense since his return?

Williamson: It's been incredible. We knew Crabtree would give this offense life when he returned Dec. 1 from a torn Achilles he suffered in May, but I don't think we knew the effect would be this dramatic. It is simply a different offense with Crabtree.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is much more confident because he has more weapons. It has also made Boldin much more dangerous. Before, he was being double- and triple-teamed. That is no longer the case with Crabtree on the field. Now, it seems every game Crabtree, Boldin or tight end Vernon Davis makes a huge impact.

Terry, we all know the Seahawks' secondary is elite, but do you think it can account for all three weapons?

Blount: This is the best secondary I've ever seen, but no secondary can completely shut down the trio of Davis, Boldin and Crabtree. I've been amazed at some of the catches Crabtree has made in the playoffs the past two weeks. It's clearly pick your poison with these three. Sherman did a phenomenal job on Boldin in the game here in September, but Crabtree didn't play. That's a big difference. What it could come down to is whether the Seattle defensive backs can come up with a key interception or if they take too many chances and one of these guys beats them for a big play. Actually, both things could happen, but the point when they happen could decide the outcome.

Bill, after losing back-to-back games in November, the 49ers have won eight in a row. Besides Crabtree, what are some of the things that contributed to their impressive run?

Williamson: Well, it's related to Crabtree, but Kaepernick has been outstanding. He has thrown one interception in his last 146 passes. The team has one turnover in the past five games. Defensively, the 49ers have been dominant. This is just a clutch, timely, well-coached team that is playing at a high level.

Terry, do you think the Seahawks might have peaked earlier this season?

Blount: That's the prevailing logic nationally -- especially with the issues Seattle has had throwing the football in recent weeks -- but I'm not buying it. The Seahawks lost by two points on a late field goal at San Francisco and lost by a touchdown to an Arizona Cardinals team that is much better than people realized earlier in the season. They have faced four top-10 defenses over that five-week span, and the Seattle defense has continued to play lights out. All season long, this has been a team that finds a way to win without putting up big offensive stats. It's who they are. Now, we'll find out if that's good enough in a game of this magnitude against a tough opponent.

Bill, the 49ers seemed to start a trend in the game at Candlestick Park last month by stopping Russell Wilson on runs around the end. He had only one rushing attempt for two yards. Since that game, other teams have copied that formula to keep Wilson in the pocket. How were they able to make it work, and can they do it again?

Williamson: The 49ers defense is supremely athletic. The four linebackers are tone-setters, and they can keep up with Wilson athletically. I think the 49ers will certainly keep the same game plan. They know their best chance to win this game is with big plays on defense.

Terry, is the Seattle offense ready for what the 49ers bring defensively?

Blount: I think Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle running game showed last week against the New Orleans Saints they can get the job done against a quality defensive front that loaded the box to stop them. And Lynch has played well against the 49ers over the past three seasons. The passing game, however, is another story. The Seahawks need to step it up and hit a few big plays through the air if they hope to win this game. Tight end Zach Miller could be a key guy here. If Lynch is running well, they should use play-action to find Miller over the middle or in the flat.

Bill, the 49ers haven't played well in their past two games at CenturyLink Field, losing by a combined score of 71-16. The noise level Sunday may be at an all-time high. Can the San Francisco offense perform effectively in that environment against the best defense in the league?

Williamson: That is the story of this game. I keep going back to Week 2 and remembering the trouble the 49ers had on offense. They had no chance. Now, Kaepernick is a much more seasoned player than he was then. That was just his 12th NFL start. He's more poised. But you bring up a great point: This place is going to be extra noisy. The 49ers simply can't afford to make any mistakes because of it, and I don't know if that is possible.

Terry, don't you sense the entire state of Washington is counting the minutes until the 49ers offense steps onto the field?

Blount: I've never seen anything quite like it, Bill. The entire Pacific Northwest is in a Seahawks frenzy that's amped up even more because of the fans' deep-seeded hatred for everything 49ers. CenturyLink will go seismic again, and that could be the difference in the game.

Can the Seahawks' offense do enough?

January, 14, 2014
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RENTON, Wash. -- It’s no secret that the Seattle Seahawks' offense has sputtered at times down the stretch. Can the Seahawks do enough now to win against the rugged San Francisco 49ers defense with a Super Bowl trip on the line?

The formula for success hasn’t changed all season. The Seahawks have played stone-cold defense, steamrolled opponents on the ground with powerful running back Marshawn Lynch and done just enough through the air to win 14 times in 17 outings.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesEntering Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks aren't overly concerned about the team's lack of passing yards recently.
That last part, the just enough passing, has been a little off down the stretch. Seattle has averaged only 145 yards passing in its last five games. That would have ranked last in the NFL in the regular season.

Quarterback Russell Wilson is coming off a career-worst 103 yards passing. He passed for fewer than 110 yards in two of the last three games.

The Seahawks scored 100 points total in the last five games. A 20-point average would rank 25th in the regular season. But the Seahawks also didn’t have a turnover in the past two games.

“If we keep taking care of the football, it will give us our chance to get the wins,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We would like to make it easier and see the yards there, but as long as we’re playing within the formula, then we’re OK.”

Carroll thinks people are making too much out of the team’s lack of explosiveness on offense. And he has no problems with Wilson’s performance.

“He’s doing what we need to do in these games,” Carroll said. “We can always do better, but he’s very concerned about leading us in the way that keeps our philosophy intact, which is take care of the football. He’s done a great job of that, and he’s done that all year long.”

In four career games against the 49ers, Wilson has completed 53 percent of his passes (47 of 88) with six touchdowns and four interceptions while averaging 158.5 passing yards per game.

Wilson, however, has played well in the two home games against San Francisco, completing 23 of 40 throws for five TDs and only two interceptions. The Seahawks outscored the 49ers 71-16 in those two games.

But the fact remains that the Seahawks' offense hasn’t produced an efficient passing game over the past month.

“We’re trying to make things happen,” Carroll said. “But I’ve attributed some of that to the teams we’ve played that were really loaded up on the other side of the ball.”

Seattle faced four of the top 10 defenses in yards allowed over its past five games -- San Francisco, the New York Giants, Arizona and New Orleans.

“We’ve played some really good defenses, and they’ve made some big plays,” Wilson said. “But there are tons of throws I can make and I know I will make. I have no worries about that.”

There was also the factor of gale-force winds in the Saints game that changed how the Seahawks approached play calling.

“We didn’t throw as well as we like to, but there were reasons why,” Carroll said on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show. “We did have to play differently with the weather and the wind. Throwing and catching the ball was an issue.

“We played it the way we imagined playing it in those conditions, with the focus going to the running game. It was what we planned to do, but there always are things you’d like to do better.”

Wilson threw only 18 passes against New Orleans, completing nine.

“When the wind is severe, you have to be smart," Wilson said. “There were circumstances where I have to be conservative throwing the football, making sure I’m not taking shots down the field.”

Former Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, now a radio analyst at Seattle’s KJR (950 AM) radio, believes the Seahawks defense this season is so good that it can cause the offense to play too conservatively.

“There’s a danger,” Holmgren said. “It can affect your offense. You don’t have to be reckless. You know you can play conservative and you’ll be fine.”

Wilson believes there's a difference between being cautious and playing scared.

“I’ve never played scared," he said. “I never have, and I never will. I always try to make the smart decisions and keep the play alive. But I’ve learned over the years that there are certain situations in a game where you can lose by not playing it safe.”

Seattle turned to its workhorse in Lynch, who rushed for 140 yards on 28 carries while scoring two touchdowns against New Orleans.

“We needed to run it, and we did," Carroll said. “Marshawn gave us the game we needed. He was cranked up out there. He was in command and wanted the ball again and again.”

Lynch also was the mainstay of the Seahawks' offense in both games against the 49ers this year, rushing for a combined 170 yards on 48 carries.

“We’re winning a lot of football games, and that’s the most important thing," Wilson said. “I can always do better. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I’m expecting to play a great game Sunday."

If receiver Percy Harvin returns from his concussion, he can make a difference as well. He had three receptions in the first half and was targeted five times before leaving the game.

“We’re always looking for more, and [Wilson] is too,” Carroll said. “But as long as our team is playing well, playing within the formula, playing good defense, running the football and taking care of the ball, we’re going to have a really good chance to win. It’s not about the stats.”

Wilson doesn’t think passing yards should define the success of Seattle's offense.

“There are a lot of factors that go into winning a football game,” he said. “We just need to execute one play at a time. That’s what it really comes down to.”

Seahawks find a way, as they always do

January, 11, 2014
1/11/14
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Marshawn Lynch, Keenan LewisJoe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsSeattle relied on Marshawn Lynch and found a way to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

SEATTLE -- The wind was howling and the rain was pouring. The game was close. And explosive receiver Percy Harvin was out after the first half.

So the Seattle Seahawks got back to basics. They did what they do best and let Marshawn Lynch run over people. They let the defense come up with some big stops when it mattered most. And made a big play at the end to seal it.

It was classic Seahawks football, the way they've won in most games this season. Not always pretty, but good enough.

Seattle advanced to the NFC Championship Game with a hard-earned 23-15 victory over the New Orleans Saints on a nasty Saturday at CenturyLink Field where Dorothy could have clicked her heels and ridden the wind all the way back to Kansas.

The Seahawks will host either NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers for the title. Next Sunday it's Super Bowl or bust.

And as the Seahawks have done so many times in their 14 victories this season, they did just enough to escape with a win. Even as Russell Wilson had a career-low 103 yards passing in the gale-force winds.

"We knew it would be a tough battle with the wind and rain, going against a great team," Wilson said. "It was really hard to throw the ball. And we knew it would come down to a few big plays at the end. We knew we had to run the football."

And run it, they did. Apparently, all those exhaustive interviews the past two weeks (two for a total of about four minutes) didn't wear out Lynch. He was back in a beastly mode, rushing for 140 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns. His 31-yard run around the left end late in the fourth quarter, stiff-arming his way into the end zone, proved to be the difference.

Lynch spoke again after the game, briefly. When asked about his final touchdown run, Lynch said: "I don't run to get tackled."

It was pure Lynch, a man of few words, but the workhorse of a hard-nosed team.

"He embodies everything we are all about," fullback Michael Robinson said. "He's tough and gritty and a grinder. He finds a way and so do we."

The Seahawks had to get it done without Harvin in the second half. He had another impressive return, catching three passes in the first half, including a leaping 16-yard grab on third down.

But he left the field twice for concussion evaluations. He was not allowed to come back the second time.

"That poor kid," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of Harvin. "He finally gets to play and he bangs his head on the turf really hard. He was OK the first time, but the second one really rocked him. He was just sick about it."

The Seahawks won without him, as they've done all season. Someone makes a play that makes a difference.

Lynch's touchdown run in the fourth quarter wouldn't have happened without another miraculous sideline catch by Doug Baldwin, his specialty.

Seattle led 16-8 and faced a third-and-3 at its own 45. The Saints loaded the box to stop Lynch and went to their Cover 0 scheme, with no one deep. Baldwin got a step on cornerback Corey White, made a lunging grab and managed to stay in bounds for a 24-yard reception.

Baldwin, who says he always plays with a chip on his shoulder, had a new chip this week after losing some of his practice time to Harvin.

"I didn't get as many reps at my position, so my head was spinning," Baldwin said. "But I'm blessed to be able to have the opportunity to make a play when it counted."

New Orleans would score again, then get an onside kick and have one last chance to force overtime. It made the end dramatic, but the Seahawks held on and moved on.

This is what they do. The Seahawks end up with a victory when it looks like they just might end up with a loss.

All that matters is the win, no matter how you get it. At halftime, leading 16-0, it looked like this one might be as easy as the first matchup with the Saints six weeks ago, when Seattle won 34-7 on a Monday night.

That was uncharacteristic of how the Saints typically play, and it wasn't representative of how the Seahawks usually win.

This game was more their M.O. The defense was rock-solid in the first half. Saints quarterback Drew Brees did not complete a pass past the line of scrimmage in the first two quarters.

But you had to know it wasn't going to be that easy. Brees threw for 275 yards in the second half and led the Saints on two long scoring drives.

"Brees is an elite player in this league," Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. "He's going to fight until the clock hits zero. "

So will the Seahawks, week after week, overcoming injuries and mistakes and suspensions and bad weather. They find a way. It's the theme of this team.

"I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing," Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril said. "But I feel like we're a good team that keeps trying to get better. And we've made it this far. We'll be all right."

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