Seattle had own Super Bowl hangover to overcome

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Where others saw discord and dissention, and another Super Bowl champion headed down the path of an early end to their season, Pete Carroll saw a challenge.

A challenge not much different from what Seattle went through on its way to the title a season ago. Call it the Seahawks' version of the Super Bowl hangover.

''There's an obvious effect because you're unique in what you've done, and we addressed it from the first meeting we got back here and ... we figured it out; it just took us a long time,'' Carroll said. ''It just took us longer than we would like, but the thing that happened this year just happened in different order than it did last year.''

After starting the season 3-3, the Seahawks closed with a six-game win streak to finish 12-4 and earn home-field advantage through the playoffs. The Seahawks will host either Detroit, Arizona or Carolina in the divisional round next Saturday.

It was a stunning turnaround, considering Seattle's pedestrian start to the season and the surprise October trade of Percy Harvin to the New York Jets.

''I hate to keep going back to last year, but we did win the Super Bowl last year. And through that process at the end of the season when you go through the parade and get the ceremony and get the ring, it makes you forget how hard it was to get to that point, to reach the mountaintop,'' Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. ''I think a lot of that pressure we had at the beginning of the season when we were 3-3 - from the media, from ourselves - we kind of let that feed into the negativity and forgetting that it wasn't easy last year.''

Seattle has already bucked the recent trend as the first Super Bowl champion to reach the postseason since Green Bay won the NFC North in 2011. That was the first layer of history the Seahawks had to overcome. Now is the chance to be the first team since New England in 2004 to repeat.

''When I went into this year with the thought that this is a very unique chance at showing that you can handle all of that,'' Carroll said. ''It's been difficult for people, and the history of it shows you that it's hard to come back and get yourself back into this kind of position again.''

But being a Super Bowl winner has not equated to postseason success recently for those that have gotten back to the playoffs.

The last defending champion to win a postseason game was New England in 2005. The Patriots beat Jacksonville in the wild-card round before being ousted by Denver in the divisional round. Since the Patriots' win in 2005, four other defending champions have reached the playoffs. Three were division champions - Indianapolis in 2007; the Giants in 2008; Green Bay in 2011 - who were knocked off at home in the divisional round. New Orleans was a wild-card team in 2010 and lost at Seattle.

That's the next piece of history for the Seahawks to try to overcome.

Many have pointed to the trade of Harvin as the turning point for Seattle's season. The deal went down on a Friday as the team was leaving for St. Louis, and the Seahawks struggled in the first half of their 28-26 loss to the Rams. In-season trades in the NFL are scarce enough. Even rarer is an elite team giving away a key player rather than acquiring a need.

Only four trades were made in-season in 2014, including Harvin being sent to the Jets. New England made a pair of deals, getting linebackers Jonathan Casillas from Tampa Bay and Akeem Ayers from Tennessee. St. Louis acquired safety Mark Barron from Tampa Bay.

The only other team in the last three seasons to trade away a starter in-season and make the playoffs the same year was Philadelphia. It sent defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga to New England in late October 2013.

It would be far too simplistic to say Seattle's turnaround was tied solely to the Harvin trade, but it did refocus the team offensively. Through the first five games with Harvin on the roster, Seattle averaged 28.2 carries and 149.8 yards rushing per game. In the 11 games after the trade, with the Seahawks relying more on the running of Marshawn Lynch, they averaged 34.9 carries and 183 yards rushing.

Not surprisingly, the Seahawks went 9-2.

''I think we returned to the strength of knowing our guys, how to use them, and how to implement their strengths,'' Carroll said. ''We always talk about unique qualities that players have, and we may have lost connection with some of that.''

---

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.