SEATTLE – You must hurry, but you can’t be frantic. Play with a sense of urgency, but don’t get anxious. Embrace the moment, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. If you’re having trouble navigating those apparent contradictions, imagine trying to play through them at the end of an NFL game when the clock is ticking down, the score is thisclose and everyone is waiting to see if the next play will be the decisive one.
“You can’t help but to feel the pressure and the anxiety,” Seahawks receiver Golden Tate said. “This is the last few seconds. If I catch or drop this ball, it’s going to determine the outcome of the game.”
Welcome to crunch time in the NFL. Of the 119 games played this season, 67 have been decided by eight points or fewer, which amounts to one possession. Seattle has been involved in seven of them, tied for most in the NFL.
That’s a product of the way these Seahawks are built – from the emphasis on running the ball, to the fact they are the second-to-last-rated passing offense, to their unyielding defense counted on to keep every game close and often uncomfortable.
Pressure makes diamonds, but it also busts pipes, and the way a player responds in those moments is a defining trait in this league.
“It’s one of my favorite parts of the coaching part of this business,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Teaching guys how to feel confident enough to believe in what they’ve been prepared to do and believe in what they can do.”
Composure. Poise. Clutch. They are buzzwords we use for the ability to come through when the stakes are highest, but the truth is that in football, success in those moments often comes down to something no more mysterious than practice, patience and a resolute determination to treat the final play of a close game the same as the first.
“There’s a peace to it, I think,” said Russell Wilson, Seattle’s rookie quarterback. “You have to bring that peace to the game when everybody else is kind of getting frantic and getting nervous.”
Practicing to be perfect Seattle has rehearsed the situation more than a thousand times. That’s not a figure of speech. It’s an actual estimate for the number of times Seattle has practiced its 2-minute drill. Carroll counted. For a while anyway.
“I lost count after when we got around 700,” he said last month. When 2011 ended, the Seahawks looked back and counted six games they had a chance to win at the end. They went 0-6, so they headed toward this season with a goal to improve that part.
They added quarterbacks, first signing Matt Flynn and then choosing Wilson in the third round. They changed their practice schedule, with an emphasis toward end-of-the-game situations.
“The idea is you prepare and you practice at your highest clip, as much as you possibly can, and then you hold on to that,” Carroll said.
Sounds like an assembly-line formula to manufacture results? Well, that’s the idea.
“I don’t think really a lot changes,” center Max Unger said. “You kind of get a little bit more of a sense of urgency, but what does that mean? You can’t get all freaked out.”
That’s especially true in Seattle, as no NFL team is playing more close games.