By Danny O'Neil
Coach Pete Carroll came to Seattle with a road map to a championship, and while he has not yet guided the Seahawks to their ultimate destination, it's possible to look back at the five landmark victories of his three-year tenure, ranked in order of significance:
5. Seattle 42, San Francisco 13 | Dec. 23, 2012 | Year 3 A.P. (After Pete), Game 15
The storyline: Not only was Seattle riding a three-game win streak, but the Seahawks had just become the first team in 62 years to score 50 points in consecutive games. But those games were against Arizona and Buffalo, and this was San Francisco, the reigning division champ and a team that had won four consecutive regular-season games against the Seahawks.
The summary: The Seahawks' first two possessions netted 14 points; the 49ers' first two possessions produced a total of one first down. The turning point came on San Francisco's third possession when quarterback Colin Kaepernick lobbed a ball to tight end Vernon Davis inside the Seahawks' 15. Safety Kam Chancellor hit Davis as he leaped to catch the ball. The ball came loose, Davis left the game with a concussion, and while the 49ers got a first down by virtue of a penalty against Chancellor, Seattle's defense not only held to force a field-goal attempt, but it blocked that attempt and Richard Sherman returned it 90 yards for a touchdown to put the Seahawks ahead 21-0.
The significance: The win didn't end up leading Seattle to a division title, but it did make a statement with an echo that can still be heard. If the Seahawks are able to vault the 49ers in the divisional pecking order this season, this game will be remembered as the pivot point.
4. Seattle 24, New England 23 | Oct. 14, 2012 | Year 3 A.P., Game 6
The storyline: The Seahawks were in the midst of the gauntlet of their schedule, this game against the Patriots the only home game in a five-week stretch. The Seahawks were 3-2 and there was still a great deal of discussion locally about whether Seattle might be better off with a veteran at quarterback like Matt Flynn, who had thrown for 251 yards and three touchdowns against New England in 2010.
The summary: Seattle trailed 20-10 entering the fourth quarter, but Russell Wilson threw two touchdowns in the final 8 minutes of the game. His 46-yard scoring pass to Sidney Rice with 1:18 left gave Seattle the lead, and the Seahawks defense sealed it by holding the Patriots without a first down on the ensuing possession.
The significance: Technically, it was Wilson's second game-winning throw of the season, but unlike the conclusion of the Green Bay game, there was no doubt about this one: Rice caught it with both hands behind the Patriots defense.
3. Seattle 23, Chicago 17 (OT) | Dec. 2, 2012 | Year 3 A.P., Game 12
The storyline: Seattle's season may have hung in the balance, the Seahawks standing at 6-5 after blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Miami the week before. The fact cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner were both facing potential four-game suspensions only added to the stakes as Seattle went on the road.
The summary: Seattle's first eight possessions of the game produced 267 yards of total offense and 10 points. Their last two possessions: 192 yards and 13 points. Even that doesn't tell the story about how impressive the conclusion was as Wilson essentially won the game twice. First, he piloted a 97-yard drive in which he completed six of nine passes for 80 yards, including a touchdown. Then – after the defense inexplicably allowed a 56-yard completion from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall that allowed the Bears to kick a tying field goal – Wilson clinched the game in overtime. He completed all three passes he attempted on the only overtime possession and also rushed four times for 34 yards before throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Rice.
The significance: Fullback Michael Robinson said it all afterward: "Our quarterback's a baaaaaaad man." If there was any doubt about Wilson entering this game, there wasn't afterward.
2. Seattle 41, New Orleans 36 | Jan. 28, 2011 | Year 1 A.P., Wildcard Round
The storyline: That beeping sound you heard over the final four weeks of Carroll's first season as Seattle's coach was the sound of the Seahawks backing into a playoff spot despite losing three of those final four games. When the Seahawks defeated the Rams in the final game of the regular season, they earned the distinction of becoming the first NFL team to win its division with a losing record. Against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints, Seattle was the first home team ever to be a double-digit underdog in the playoffs.
The summary: Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted on his third pass attempt of the game and the Saints twice held a 10-point lead in the first 17 minutes of the game. Seattle then scored on five of its next six possessions, putting the defending champs on the ropes before Marshawn Lynch delivered the knockout punch with an unforgettable 67-yard touchdown run.
The significance: The staying power of Carroll's approach was clear after one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history, video cameras from NFL Films capturing the scene from inside Seattle's locker room after the game as Lawyer Milloy shouted, "We all we got," and his teammates responded, "We're all we need." It's a moment that still echoes inside this franchise.
1. Seattle 22, Baltimore 17 | Nov. 13, 2011 | Year 2 A.P., Game 9
The storyline: This game didn't advance the Seahawks in the playoffs. It didn't even put them into the playoffs. It was simply the ninth game of the only season in which Carroll didn't lead the Seahawks into the postseason. But there was no more significant statement in the triumph of Seattle's emphasis upon the run as the 2-6 Seahawks beat the Ravens in a game that amounted to a turning point in the program.
The summary: It certainly wasn't a thing of beauty. The Seahawks settled for five field goals, scoring only one touchdown and totaling zero points in the final 27 minutes. But Seattle held the ball for the final 5:52, running out the clock on a victory that was epitomized when Lynch eluded the esteemed Ray Lewis in the open field on a third-down reception that produced 8 yards, and more importantly, a first down.
The significance: The significance is apparent only in retrospect. Seattle was 10-16 under Carroll entering this game, including the playoffs. Lynch had rushed for 100 yards in only two of those games and the Seahawks had a total of 19 rushing touchdowns. The Seahawks are 17-9 in all games since, Lynch has rushed for more than 100 yards in 16 games and the Seahawks have 29 rushing touchdowns. Seattle may not have taken off until Wilson was put under center, but the sign of the turnaround can be traced to the midway point of Carroll's second season.