Warning - I am an Israeli Hawks fan. My English reflects it. Remember that when you read.
Playoff games are by definition "must win" games. You lose and it's all over.
Of all the stats hashed and rehashed this week the most telling about this whole season is how the Seahawks respond to must win games.
A week before the season started I posted something about the highway to the SB. It outlined what the Seahawks will need to do this season to make it to the SB from the no. 1 seed in the NFC.
The goals for the regular season were clear – Win the NFC west, secure the 1st place in the NFC and play the playoffs at home. All you need to do is win more than 12 games and you are there.
Another way to look at it is – 13 must win games in a 16 game season or as Pete likes to call it – every week is championship week.
I also broke it down to –
Win all home games. (7-1 in the end)
Win 2 out of 3 division away games. (Winning at SF felt like it can't be a must win)
Win 3 out of 5 east coast away games at 10:00 am. (4-1 – wooowww)
Being a coach myself I am a great believer in the mental aspects of teams. I can see trends and momentum during a season or a single game and learn from them more than from other stats. This season was a perfect example of how a team handles the mental aspects and reacts to them.
This how the season happened mentally:
Game 1 – At Carolina. At the time Carolina was one of 2 east coast teams that ended 2012 with less than 10 wins. If we were to meet our goals it was the first must win game of the season. Result – a big W to start on track.
Game 2 – SF at home. If the plan was to be perfect at home and win the NFC west we could not lose this one. So - a must win game against our worst enemy. Result – A huge W and we are already a step ahead.
Game 3 – JAX at home. Since the master plan called for 8-0 at home this was a must win. Result – W and 3-0.
Now we got to play 2 games away at 10am against 2 teams with a winning record (at the time) and both made the playoffs last year. Considering we still had to play the mighty Atlanta on the road later this season we had to win at least one of those 2 games.
Game 4 – At Houston. This was the defining point of the season. A must win game that we lost by all known factors except the scoreboard. This W for a young team was huge. We win when we must. No matter what happens or how bad it looks – WE WIN.
Game 5 – At IND. After winning at HOU this was no longer a must win game. Result – we lost.
Games 6,7,8,9 – Each of those games was a mini must win game. You can't win more the 12 games a year and lose any of those. Result – win, win, win, win.
Game 10 – Away at ATL. Before the season started this was marked as one we can't label a must win. By week 10 ATL had a losing record, NO and SF were 8-2 and everybody remembered last year. This made it a must win game. Result – W.
Game 11 – MIN at home. Another mini must win. Result – W.
Game 12 – NO at home. The battle for 1st place on the NFC. The 2nd defining moment of the season. It can't get any bigger than that. MUST WIN. Result – WIN!!! (After the HOU game I posted that every great team will have 2 of those. The first teaches the team that they can, the second teaches everybody else that they can)
Game 13 – at SF. This was never a must win game. Leading SF by 3 games and NO by 2 games made it even less a must win then before. Result – we lost.
Game 14 – At GIANTS. After winning at ATL and securing 3 wins away at 10am this was not supposed to be a must. After losing to SF this became a must win game. Losing 2 in a row could derail this whole season. Result – W.
Game 15 – ARZ at home. With 2 last home games and needing to win just one of them to secure 1st place in the NFC this home game was suddenly not a must win anymore. We lost.
Game 16 – STL at home. After losing to ARZ this became a big must win. The win that will crown us as NFC west champions and 1st in the NFC. If we must – we must. WIN.
Look at this whole season game after game. This team did not lose any must win game the whole year. Sometimes a team can lose one or two and make up for it by winning other games. Teams can lose and still make the SB from the wild card spots. Still, a team that has won every must win game it faced this season will be my favorite on its next must win game.
Yes, I have been fully advised that NO has won an away game against PHI. Somehow, winning by a last second field goal makes everybody think they may be favorites this Saturday. Forget the yards on offense or defense. Forget rushing or passing. The team that lost 2 must win games this season (At SEA and at CAR) and went from possibly 1st in the NFC to a wildcard team will not win against the team that won every must win game this year. It's a must win game and the Seahawks do not lose those this year.
This is how the (NFC) west was won – one must win game after another. I can't wait for Sunday to watch who will visit Clink for the NFC championship game.