We’ve been conditioned to dismiss the outcome of NFL preseason games. The scores are irrelevant and secondary to the processes of fine-tuning schemes, evaluating personnel and keeping your stud horses from coming up lame.
But for Pete Carroll’s Seahawks, it’s also the extension of an important philosophy.
It’s becoming clear that stepping on the field as a member of this team is a privilege that carries the responsibility of unrelenting effort. This is not a partial commitment, and if you’re not going to bring it with heat, somebody else will. Preseason games included.
And so, after Saturday night’s 40-10 win over the visiting Denver Broncos, Carroll was delighted to be able to say: “It felt just like a regular big-time football game.”
It absolutely did, with rare intensity and excitement for a game on Aug. 17 — even during the first half, when starters and veterans for both teams were on the field.
The best example was the number of post-whistle scraps that took place. In most cases, veterans don’t bother with such energy-wasting squabbles in the preseason. Valuable testosterone expenditures are generally saved until after Labor Day.
It was Seattle’s seventh consecutive preseason win, dating to the final game of the 2011 exhibition season. In those seven games, the Seahawks have won by an average margin of three touchdowns. Again, a meaningless statistic, except that seven straight games eliminates the possibility that it’s all coincidence.
Usually the best preseason intensity — if sometimes raw and unpolished — is late in these games when the third-stringers are fighting to earn roster spots.
But Saturday night, safety Kam Chancellor, a Pro Bowl player in 2011, made 11 tackles — in just the first half. And Seahawks starters contributing on special teams units included All-Pros Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman.
The combined 21 penalties made it painful to watch at times, but the popping of the pads on the field was almost as loud as the crowd of 67,635 at CenturyLink Field.
A couple of factors worth keeping in mind. This is still one of the youngest teams in the league, with only one starter on the base units on both sides of the ball having reached 30 years of age (guard Paul McQuistan).
So, most of these guys can still benefit from the experience of high-speed reps against a hostile foe.
Red-line intensity might seem to invite injury. But after a similar approach in the 2012 preseason, the Seahawks were conditioned (or perhaps just really lucky) to make it through the long regular season with relatively few injury issues.
Saturday, once again, they came away from a game with another huge boost in competitive confidence.
For example, receiver Jermaine Kearse had never returned a kickoff at the University of Washington, but got his chance against Denver. He fielded one 7 yards deep in the end zone late in the first quarter.
Caution would have suggested taking a knee.
But “the ball was kind of hanging up there, so when I took my first step, I just said, ‘Whatever,’ and went out,” Kearse said.
One good cut and a lot of speed later, he was in the end zone.
Perhaps inspired, veteran cornerback Brandon Browner matched that in the second quarter after linebacker Heath Farwell forced a Denver fumble at the Seattle goal line.
Browner dived on the loose ball, and by the time he rolled to his feet, he was nearly against the back line of the end zone. But when he looked up, he said he saw nothing but green grass and a lot of burly Broncos linemen he was certain he could outrun. Touchdown.
Neither of the decisions made by Kearse or Browner were necessarily by-the-book, and they might not be the wisest come the regular season. But they were aggressive and they worked.
Always compete, Carroll preaches. That obviously includes every play during the preseason.
Carroll also likes to tell them that games can’t be won in the early quarters, only the fourth. We can extrapolate that into a similar theory that championships can’t be won in the preseason.
But a team can learn how to win, how to play with intensity, and to develop the belief that you can make just about anything happen.
Maybe these games don’t count. But the lessons do.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org @DaveBoling