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Originally published January 4, 2014 at 3:26 PM | Page modified January 4, 2014 at 7:27 PM

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Seahawks report card: Give the defense an A for last 4 games

The Seahawks offense sputtered to a C, special teams finally showed holes, while a grade-A defense saved the day.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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RENTON — The lasting legacy of the 2013 Seahawks remains to be determined.

Since almost the moment last season ended, this has been considered by those both inside and outside the organization as a Super Bowl-or-bust proposition. So in a few weeks, we’ll know if the Seahawks will meet those high expectations.

For now, though, it’s hard to argue that they haven’t.

Seattle’s regular-season goals were to win the NFC West and get home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.

Check and check.

Sunday’s win over the Rams also left Seattle with a 13-3 record that ties the best in the NFL and the best in franchise history.

The Seahawks’ biggest accomplishment may be that they have lived up to the sizable expectations of themselves and others, coach Pete Carroll said last week.

“It was a huge issue,” Carroll said of handling the hype. “And it is for anybody who has expectations of winding up in the Super Bowl before you’ve ever even played a game. That’s huge. That’s as big of expectations as you can have. I think I’m probably as proud of that as anything.

“We’ve handled it the whole time. We’ve dealt with it throughout the season and put it in the right place, and the guys understood what it meant and what it didn’t mean and performed under that kind of scrutiny. ... We dealt with it. So that’s a really good thing. That’s how you make expectations like that normal.”

Seattle did it despite a fourth quarter of the season that was a little tougher than expected. The Seahawks went 2-2 in the final four games, with losses at San Francisco (19-17) and at home to Arizona (17-10).

Here is the final quarterly review of the team, looking at offense, defense and special teams, and handing out a few grades and awards.

Offense

No part of the team was examined more closely during the last quarter of the season than the offense, which took an unquestioned dip in just about every key category. To cite a few: Seattle averaged 19.25 points in the last four games, which would have ranked 27th in the NFL for the season; 108.5 yards rushing, which would have been 22nd; and 154.5 yards passing and 263 yards overall, each of which would have been last.

An optimist would point out that Seattle faced four teams that all finished ranked in the top half of the league in total defense in the last quarter — 49ers (fifth), Cardinals (sixth), Giants (eighth) and Rams (15th).

Yet there will be tough defenses in the playoffs, too. Seattle hopes the offensive dropoff was an aberration that maybe the return to health of left tackle Russell Okung, and the return to the field of receiver Percy Harvin, will help.

Grade: C. The numbers weren’t good, but as noted, the defenses were tough and Seattle did enough to win the games it needed down the stretch.

MVP: Russell Wilson struggled statistically in lockstep with the rest of the offense in the last quarter of the season. Still, he had Seattle in position to win each game, and remains the guiding force of the offense, if not the entire team.

Defense

While the offense had its worst quarter of the season, the defense had its best. The Seahawks allowed just 45 points overall and 241 yards per game overall, with only 85 per game rushing and no rushing touchdowns.

True, Seattle allowed late game-winning drives against both the 49ers and Cardinals. But the bigger picture was of a defense playing as well as it had all season in a year when it finished ranked No. 1 in the NFL in both yards (273.6) and points allowed (14.4) per game.

The standout stat of the fourth quarter for the defense was 12 interceptions — almost half of the season total of 28 that led the NFL. Getting four each were Richard Sherman (who ended up leading the NFL with eight) and Byron Maxwell, who was a revelation after stepping into the starting lineup after the suspension of Walter Thurmond and the suspension and injury of Brandon Browner.

Also stepping up were linebackers Bobby Wagner and Malcolm Smith, the latter returning to the starting lineup after an injury to K.J. Wright against San Francisco. Smith’s interception return for a touchdown against the Rams ended any hangover from the Cardinals game and was as critical a defensive play as Seattle had in the final quarter.

GRADE: A. Other than the two late drives against the 49ers and Arizona, hard to do much better.

MVP: Sherman and Maxwell. We were tempted to pick Wagner, who had 39 tackles in the last four games and whose return to full health is among the biggest reasons the run defense got back on track after a midyear lull. But the dominance of the secondary, and the plays made by Sherman and Maxwell, are hard to ignore.

Special teams

After being nearly flawless through the first 12 games of the season, the special teams were spottier in the final quarter. There was the blocked punt against the 49ers and the missed short field goal and fumbled kickoff against the Cardinals that all proved critical in close defeats. And the punt-coverage team fell short in its attempt to set an NFL record for fewest yards allowed in a season by giving up 57 against the Rams, including a 32-yarder that set up a field goal.

Expect playoff foes to try to figure out what the Rams did well against Seattle on both punting units. Golden Tate had his two worst return games of the year against the Rams (a combined five attempts for 7 yards, including two for minus-2 last Sunday), while St. Louis accounted for 64 of the 82 punt-return yards Seattle allowed this season.

GRADE: C+. Seattle will need more consistent special-teams play to win the Super Bowl than it showed the last four games.

MVP: While Tate was hamstrung against the Rams, he had 169 yards on 13 attempts against the 49ers, Giants and Cardinals, 13 yards per return. He also set up a go-ahead field goal at San Francisco with a 38-yard return and tied a team record with seven returns at New York.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com



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