RENTON, Wash. (AP) Pete Carroll talks about it constantly, almost to the point of exasperation, about how protecting the ball is the most important thing in the Seattle Seahawks program.
Not having the fiercest defense in the NFL or a dynamic offense based around a strong running game. But simply holding on to the football.
''I've been trying to emphasize this better than anybody in the world for as long as I've been a head coach,'' Carroll said.
Clearly his team is listening.
The Seahawks set a franchise record this season for the fewest turnovers, giving the ball away just 14 times during the regular season. That was three fewer than the previous best mark for the Seahawks when they committed only 17 turnovers during the 2005 season and Seattle made its first Super Bowl appearance.
It continued a trend of Seattle being better at protecting the ball with Carroll in charge. Seattle committed 31 turnovers in Carroll's first season in 2010. The Seahawks had 23 in 2011, 19 in 2012 and 18 last season on their way to the franchise's first Super Bowl title.
This season the Seahawks finished third in the league in fewest turnovers. And not surprisingly, the two teams ahead of Seattle - New England and Green Bay each had 13 turnovers - are also still playing on championship weekend.
''It's a conscious effort for those guys,'' Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. ''It's something that we talk about all the time. It's something that we show them all the time. There are things that happen on the field that we preach about all the time. It's in the front of their mind quite often as ball carriers.''
Seattle's proficiency in holding on to the ball is a mix of emphasis, conscious decision-making and a good deal of luck. Quarterback Russell Wilson has made better decisions with his passing, watching his interception numbers drop to just seven. Surprisingly, six of his seven interceptions were thrown at home.
''I've always prided myself in that. You don't want to give them the ball and just making key decisions, anticipating things, too. Understanding what the defense is and what they're trying to do and also if it's not there, throw it away,'' Wilson said. ''I throw the ball away a good amount if it's not there. That's just trust in my guys and trust in the system.''
There is also the aspect of luck. Seattle fumbled the ball 23 times in the regular season, yet lost only seven. Three of the fumbles were credited to punter Jon Ryan, safety Earl Thomas and center Stephen Schilling.
Wilson put the ball on the ground 11 times in the regular season and didn't lose one.
The reduction in turnovers was critical in a season where the Seahawks defense didn't force as many turnovers. Seattle opponents committed only 24 turnovers this season, compared to 39 last year. Four times in the regular season, Seattle failed to force a turnover, a stark change from 2013 when the Seahawks only went one time without an interception or fumble recovery.
This was just the second time in Carroll's five seasons that the Seahawks failed to force at least 30 turnovers in the regular season.
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