The Seahawks face lesser opponents over the next three weeks, but they seem to have learned as younger players the woe that befalls the big favorite who takes the underdog lightly.
With an emphatic win over Minnesota Sunday, the Seahawks have regained their holiday magic, rising to 7-5 on a three-game winning streak. As they prepare for games against the Ravens, Browns and Rams, teams that are a collective 10-26, the Seahawks this week insisted there will be no trap games. The lesson was learned long before they became pros.
Every athlete remembers a time when he or she wrote off a weaker opponent and paid the price. Mike Tyson found out the hard way with Buster Douglas. The 2010 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints can recall a particular 67-yard run from a 7-9 team that squeaked into the playoffs in a dismal NFC West.
Then there’s Ronda Rousey. The list goes on.
CB Richard Sherman said he learned not to overlook opponents at the Pop Warner level in his hometown of Compton, CA.
“We were 9-0, the other team hadn’t won a game, and we lost,” he said. “We lost by quite a bit. That was their first win of the season. Guys took them for granted. You go to school with most of these kids, you see them around. We’re just way better team than them, more talented. ‘We’ve got all-stars, you guys don’t.’
“Our coach told us the whole week: ‘Don’t take them lightly, don’t take them lightly. Focus just as hard, play as hard as you would against another team that’s 9-0.’ We didn’t. We paid for it.”
Veteran RB Fred Jackson said his lesson came in the first round of the Texas state high school playoffs during his senior year.
“We played a team, Copperas Cove. They hadn’t been to the playoffs in 27 years and we were picked to win it all. We went in, and we were down 21-7 at halftime,” said Jackson. “You’ve got to show up and play. Just because you’re the team that’s supposed to win, that’s not how the other team is looking at it.
“It’s a lesson that you do need to experience at some point in your career. I think when you experience that it makes the game that much more meaningful to you, so you try to take your game to the next level and become the best that you can.”
TE Luke Willson had a reminder recently on the locker-room ping-pong tables.
“The other day I was playing a bum — can’t tell you who it was,” said Willson, who claimed he was the third-best ping-pong player in the squad. “I was like, ‘Hey, this guy is trash,’ and he scored three straight points on me.
“I won 21-7, but I can’t panic when I’m down 0-3.”
Even DE Michael Bennett came up with an anecdote, though his, too, strayed from the gridiron.
“I try not take my wife lightly because she’s the greatest opponent of all time,” said Bennett. “I learned that early, and she’s undefeated.”
Bennett was also good for a reality check about the approach taken in the NFL.
“I don’t think any (team in the NFL) overlooks anybody. There’s always an upset every week in the NFL. A couple plays go the way (the underdog) wanted, and they end up winning.”
Bennett’s is an attitude that drove a team stacked with undrafted talent to back-to-back Super Bowls. Still, when a team is rolling and the talent is performing, human nature’s weakness for a short cut has given many lesser opponents an edge.
The Seahawks, many of whom thrive in the underdog role, know the power of the overlooked.
“I think ever since (that youth football upset), I’ve always understood that you take nobody for granted,” Sherman said. “Especially in this league, everybody’s a pro. No matter who’s in there, no matter who just stepped in. The next guy that stepped in could be a hall of famer. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.”
If the Seahawks can have their reality checks cashed by spouses and ping-pong opponents, there’s a good chance that three weeks of clinical performances will put them at 10-5 upon the regular season’s final game against the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals Jan. 3.
According to Willson, though, all is not lost if a team finds itself having underestimated a foe.
“(In that situation) you just have to go back to who you are as a team,” he said. “Nothing good comes from pressing harder. You’ve got to take a deep breath, go back to basics, and work it out.”
No team wants to dig out of a mid-game hole, nor a mid-season hole. But the Seahawks have come back smartly from a 2-4 hole. There’s reason to believe they can dig themselves out of an early Sunday nap, too.
But the Seahawks seemed in no mood to test the theory in Baltimore Sunday against a wounded, 4-8 Ravens team that would define its season by upsetting the two-time defending NFC champs. Certainly, Michael Bennett does not want to have to explain it to his wife.