By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
RENTON, Wash. (AP) - Buried within the dizzying numbers the Seattle Seahawks have posted the last three weeks that grabbed the attention of the entire NFL, is a steady rise in efficiency that's at the base of not only their scoring eruption, but the Seahawks' late-season charge to win six of seven.
It may sound as if what coaches and players say all the time, but Seattle's has been dramatically better on third-down conversions and in the red zone as the season has progressed.
Why have the Seahawks become the second-most efficient team at scoring inside the 20 in the NFL and coming off the third-best performance on third down of any team in the last 20 years? Because Seattle has made it a non-stop point of emphasis.
"We've progressed because we've made the choice we want to get better," Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate said. "... We've just been real serious about it and working hard at it."
The Seahawks (10-5) have scored 150 points the last three weeks, the first team to accomplish that feat since 1950. The dynamic play of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the raw numbers Seattle posted has quickly given the Seahawks the tag of the team no one in the NFC wants to face early in the playoffs. Seattle is already bound for the postseason no matter what happens in Sunday's regular-season finale against St. Louis. They will likely end up the No. 5 seed in the NFC, but could finish as high as second or third with help from others.
But some of the underlying reasons why Seattle is suddenly an offensive powerhouse are because of its third-down efficiency and continuing to convert when they do put drives together.
In five of their last six games, the Seahawks third-down conversion rate has exceeded the league average of 38 percent. Seattle went a stunning 11 of 13 on third downs against San Francisco. The only two failed conversions against the 49ers came when Wilson scrambled around the San Francisco defense for 18 seconds before coming up short on a third-down run and when backup quarterback Matt Flynn took a knee on the final play of the game.
The 11 of 13 was the best conversion percentage – 84.6 – in the NFL this season and the third-best in the regular season over the last 20 years, according to STATS, Inc. The only times that number was bettered was New Orleans against Detroit in 2008 (11 of 12) and St. Louis versus Denver in 2000 (6 of 7).
In its first nine games, Seattle topped the league average of 38 percent on third downs only once.
"It's just the familiarity and Russell Wilson has worked so hard to capture the essence of the plays and the concepts, as well as he has worked with these guys over a long period of time," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "He doesn't waste reps. He gains knowledge and feel and confidence as he works through it, and that's why he's such a fast learner and all. He moves through things and he gets better. It's not just him because the receivers had cleaned things up; we've also used guys in their roles more clearly than we did early so the reps have paid off more so as well."
Throughout the season, the Seahawks' red-zone efficiency has been among the best in the league. They've scored on 48 of 51 drives inside the opponents' 20 with their scoring efficiency rate of 94.1 percent No. 2 in the NFL behind only Houston. They are one of two teams in the league that have yet to commit a red-zone turnover.
Seattle is perfect in the red zone – 24 of 24 – in the past six games with 17 of those finished by touchdowns. The last time they failed to score on a drive inside the opponents' 20 was in Week 9 against Minnesota when the Seahawks took a knee and ran out the clock at the Vikings 9.
"The growth can't be understated as a team as a whole," Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "Just the fact we've all come together, the chemistry, the trust, I can't state it enough."
Notes: Seattle CB Walter Thurmond (hamstring) will miss his third straight game Sunday and Carroll said he might not be back for the playoffs next week. LB Leroy Hill (hamstring) is questionable and will be worked out pregame Sunday. All other players on Seahawks injury report are expected to play. .. Seattle cut CB Ron Parker and DT Hebron Fangupo, and re-signed WR Deon Butler and signed LB Allen Bradford from the practice squad Friday.
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