By Brady Henderson
The Seahawks didn't want to wait until the final game of the regular season to win the NFC West and secure the conference's top playoff seed.
But as much as Pete Carroll would have preferred to accomplish those goals weeks ago – when it seemed like a foregone conclusion they would – Seattle's coach believes his team is better off for having not done so.
"I'm glad we didn't in a sense because it just kept us on our game and we kept improving," Carroll said when he joined 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" on Monday, a day after Seattle closed out the regular season with a win over St. Louis. "We might not have otherwise."
The Seahawks are heading into the playoffs as division champions and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which means they have a first-round bye and need to win two home games in order to advance to the Super Bowl.
It's the exact same scenario they could have guaranteed last week with a win over Arizona at CenturyLink Field. That game marked the Seahawks' second loss in December, coming two weeks after they fell to the 49ers in San Francisco and failed to clinch the division in the process.
It all added up to a must-win scenario of sorts on Sunday. The Seahawks had already secured a playoff berth, but with the 49ers winning their regular-season finale, it would have been as a wild-card had Seattle lost to St. Louis. That marked quite the change of fortunes for a team that three weeks earlier was the undisputed class of the league, sitting at 11-1 after a blowout win over New Orleans.
But after beating the Rams on Sunday, the Seahawks are right where they wanted to be all along – even if they didn't get there the way they expected to.
|• Recap | Stats | Photos | Postgame interviews||• O'Neil: What We Learned||• O'Neil: Seahawks' offense a question mark||• O'Neil: Potential divisional-round scenarios||• Henderson: Golden Tate does it again|
Carroll believes it's a good thing that Seattle did it the hard way. Instead of being able to coast through the final month of the regular season, the Seahawks were knocked off their perch then went through the fire and emerged no worse for the wear. They learned a lesson, Carroll said, and they did so before it was too late.
"I think the finish of this season was important to us. It hardened us some, and I think all of our guys – and I'll be able to tell them today – they learned that there were further reaches of involvement and immersing themselves in it so they could get right, and we got better because of that," Carroll said. "The sense of urgency was paramount, and we knew it, and we could feel it. I think guys studied more appropriately because of that.
"So I think for a young team to learn that and still be in the position not [to] have to learn the hard way and wait [another season] to take advantage of that, I think we're very fortunate in that regard."
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.