The Seahawks have made it to the playoffs twice in Pete Carroll's three seasons now and they are just opening their window to Super Bowl competitiveness, yet the coach thinks his team could have been even better even faster.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over a rudderless team that had sunk from 13-3 Super Bowl contender to four-win team in four years. They managed to create some feel-good vibes in their first year when they won a weak NFC West at 7-9 and then stunned the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in one of the great games in Seattle history.
But, as Carroll told 710 ESPN on Monday, he and Schneider knew they had work to do to build the team they wanted.
"I was happy to be in the playoffs; we came out of left field to get that done," Carroll said of the 2010 season. "But we could tell we needed to really upgrade and it was going to be a long haul. We had to get younger, which was our intention from the start. It just took a couple of drafts to get it going."
In MacGyver fashion, Carroll and Schneider used string, aluminum foil and chewing gum to somehow build a physical, borderline dominant defense in Year 2. And then Tom Cable put together a running game for them, using a few high draft picks and some of that leftover string, foil and gum.
The one thing that was missing in 2011 was the quarterback. They just couldn't pull out any of the close games with Tarvaris Jackson. They finished 7-9 in 2011, but they pretty easily could have won nine or 10.
"We're frustrated it took three years," Carroll said. "I thought we could have made a much better run of it last year. We just stumbled so much early on and had so much trouble getting started. … The lockout, new O-line, the young guys. Just took us a long time to jell."
Carroll admittedly delayed it a bit more himself this year by staging a three-headed QB battle that initially -- most think bogusly -- included Jackson. Russell Wilson surprisingly emerged as the starter ahead of Matt Flynn, and Wilson's early struggles -- though not horrible -- might have cost the Hawks a game or two that Flynn perhaps could have won.
"This year is frustrating. We could have been so good this year. We were so close," Carroll said, lamenting that an 11-5 season was not perhaps a 13-3 season. "It was a little bit of a timing factor. Maybe I could have tweaked it a little bit quicker than I did (at quarterback)."
Carroll was content to lean on his defense and running game until the coaches were comfortable that Wilson had figured it out enough to let him take over the offense. All things considered, the growing pains were not nearly that pronounced or enduring as Wilson sparked the Hawks to an 8-0 record at home and seven wins in the final eight games of the season.
"I think the way that we have responded in the second half of the season, that's exactly how we would like to finish, regardless of what happened in the first half," Carroll told reporters after the beating the Rams on Sunday. "Get all those wins, stack it up and feel good. Be rolling at this part of the season and the playoffs. That’s a real good feeling. We feel fine. Our guys are strong, they’re ready to go. We’re not going to go crazy, we’re going to take care of business and see if we can throw a good football game at (Washington)."
The Hawks are far from finished -- this season or going forward. They have as good a chance to win the Super Bowl as any team still playing. And they have a better chance than most to build on whatever they do this season and be a Super Bowl contender for perhaps the rest of the decade.
"I’m really proud," Carroll said Sunday. " I’m proud of the organization, I’m proud of the fans, I’m proud to be part of the movement that we made in the three years that we’ve been here. 11-5 is a good season; that’s a big season when you’re coaching in the NFL and playing in the NFL. John has done so many things to position us to get this done. To do it with him, I’m proud. It’s really something. We’ll see how far we go."
The Seahawks are good enough to go the distance already. They have a good shot at knocking off Washington, especially with the game being a 1:30 p.m. PT start. That would take the Hawks to either Atlanta or San Francisco. A win in the divisional round would take them to the other city or to Green Bay, unless Minnesota somehow reached the NFC title game -- in which case the Hawks would host.
However it works out, the Seahawks figure to be a hard out for any team this season. And this is just the beginning.
"The thing that all of us know -- the players, administration, everybody knows -- we're going to be good for a while," Carroll said. "This is a young, aggressive, growing team, and we’re just going to keep getting better hopefully. … We have a lot of hope for the future."