On Sept. 8, opening day of the 2013 NFL season, the Seattle Seahawks went on the road to play the Carolina Panthers in a game that no one really talked about. It’s not hard to see why: this was a brutally ugly contest in which the most telling numbers on the stat sheet were the 99 penalty yards picked up by the Seahawks. With Carolina driving for the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Seahawks safety Earl Thomas stripped D’Angelo Williams and Seattle recovered, securing the 12-7 win. It was a chippy, hard-nosed victory that swung the Seahawks way on the aforementioned fumble and Russell Wilson’s spectacular 43-yard touchdown throw to Jermaine Kearse.
By season’s end, it would also decide the playoff seeding between the NFC’s top two teams.
Unlike the Panthers, the expectations for Seattle were high going into the season. With their incredibly deep and youthful roster, the Seahawks lived up them and then some. Franchise records were regularly smashed, from road victories in a season (six), to consecutive home wins (14), to biggest comeback (they rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit to defeat the Buccaneers 27-24).
As evidenced by wins over the St. Louis Rams, the Houston Texans, and the aforementioned Panthers, the defense lead the way. Seattle’s D was the NFL’s best and most well-rounded unit, finishing eighth in sacks, fifth in forced fumbles, and first in interceptions. Their secondary has two legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates in cornerback Richard Sherman (who leads the NFL in interceptions since 2012) and safety Earl Thomas. With the possible exception of Carolina and San Francisco, no other defense was more important to the team’s overall success.
With the suffocating D, Seattle’s offense could play to it’s strengths and dictate the style of game. From there, as Russell Wilson often says, "the separation is in the preparation," and the second-year quarterback executed his role within the offense beautifully. His passer rating was higher than Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, whom he passed for most wins in first two seasons with 25. He threw fewer interceptions than Peyton Manning. And his remarkable ability to evade pressure and throw accurately on the run produced numerous highlights. Wilson unquestionably had the best sophomore season of the much ballyhooed “Gang of Four” QBs that included Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick.
Running back Marshawn Lynch was also instrumental in the Seahawks’ offensive success. His year-in, year-out consistency has, ironically, made him one of the NFL’s most overlooked players, because we all simply expect Lynch to produce about 100 yards and a Beast Mode moment in every game. For the season, Lynch finished with 1,573 total yards, an average of just under 100 per game.
The performance of the wide receiver group was much more surprising. Many NFL fans would struggle to identify more than two of the WRs that Seattle played this year, and that includes Percy Harvin, who missed all but one game while recovering from hip surgery. Yet no-names like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse consistently made the big catches when they mattered, often in sensational fashion. Due to Seattle’s quick-strike/ grind-it-out offense, tight ends Zach Miller and Luke Wilson combined for just 53 receptions but caught six TDs, two more than Antonio Gates.
Special teams also helped contribute to the Seahawks' robust success. Missing only two of 35 field goals all season, kicker Steven Hauschka had the second-highest percentage in the NFL this year. Golden Tate, meanwhile, had the second-most punt return yards in the NFL this year with 585.
On the coaching front, Seattle did an exceptional job game-planning opponents and head coach Pete Carroll once again looked like one of the most beloved coaches by his players. The real credit, however, goes to GM John Schneider, who deserves strong Executive of the Year consideration for his role in building the NFL’s deepest roster, one that allowed the team to successfully weather multiple injuries (and, sadly, multiple suspensions).
With team records falling like timbered trees, the 12th Man certainly had a lot to cheer about, and cheer they did. Seahawks fans twice set the Guinness World Record for loudest stadium, first in September against the 49ers and again against the New Orleans Saints, after briefly ceding it to Kansas City Chiefs fans. For political reasons, all teams must claim they have “the best fans in the NFL,” but when you twice break records for the loudest cheers, Seahawks players can say it with sincerity.
As the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Seattle won’t have to leave home before the Super Bowl. Yet the history of the top seeds making it to the Big Game is tenuous at best (just ask Broncos fans). With a focused team that’s already mastered high regular season expectations, Seattle is in excellent position to follow the 2005 team (also a No. 1 seed) as Seattle’s second Super Bowl squad.
Still, the single-elimination format of the postseason can bring a swift and decisive end to a season all too soon. So before the 12th Man girds for the jaw-clenching tension of Seattle’s first playoff game, take a moment to relish the unprecedented accomplishments of the 2013 regular season. The Broncos may have had a historic offense, but from top to bottom, the Seattle Seahawks were the NFL’s best team.