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Seahawks shifted back to culture Pete Carroll wants after Richard Sherman left

Pete Carroll has said it multiple times in the last year. Said it again just this week.

With the Seahawks preparing for Monday’s NFC West showdown at unbeaten San Francisco and seeking Seattle’s fourth-ever 8-2 start, Carroll mentioned his players’ strong internal unity and shared commitment.

“I’ve talked the whole year about the attitude of this team. It’s a really, really strong mentality that they have about the hanging together, talking right, supporting each other, looking after one another and playing for one another,” the coach said in the aftermath of his Seahawks rallying from down 21-7 to Tampa Bay to beat the Buccaneers in overtime last weekend.

“It’s really important. It’s an important message that goes throughout this locker room and in these halls here.”

Carroll’s Seahawks lost that attitude and commitment in 2017. That is the only season in the last seven Seattle did not make the playoffs.

When did they get it back?

“It really felt like it came out of last season,” Carroll said.

Last season, 2018, was their first one after the Seahawks released Richard Sherman.

What’s that have to do with now?

As even folks who live under rocks know, Sherman signed with San Francisco a day after Seattle released him. After a 2018 season he has said he played “on one leg” while still recovering from the Achilles tear, Sherman is back atop the NFL. His 49ers (8-0) are the league’s only remaining undefeated team. The Seahawks have won 10 of the last 12 meetings in this division rivalry.

Sherman is fully healthy again. He is shutting down receivers and passing games again. He is No. 1 in the league in passer rating against, according to Pro Football Focus.

Knowing the ultra-competitive, ultra-outspoken Sherman as well as Carroll does, it’s not a long stretch of his imagination to view this as Richard Sherman Revenge Season.

That makes this week leading up to the 49ers’ biggest home game in years something of a Richard Sherman Revenge Week.

Russell Wilson is coming off a five-touchdown day to rally the Seahawks past the Buccaneers. The NFL named him the NFC offensive player of the week on Wednesday. That reminds us of what Sherman said about Wilson this time last year before he played against the Seahawks for the first time with the 49ers.

A Bay Area reporter began a question to Sherman with, “You’ve seen through the years what Russell Wilson is capable of doing...”

Sherman interrupted.

“Yeah, I’ve also seen him throw five picks in a game (at Green Bay, on Dec. 11, 2016),” Sherman said. “So you’ve seen what he’s capable of on both sides of it. You understand that he can be defended, so you go out there and give your team your best shot.”

No, Sherman was not “all in,” to use one of Carroll’s catchphrases for his Seahawks, when the team waived him in May 2018. That was following his torn Achilles tendon that ended his 2017 season. The Seahawks did not want to have Sherman costing them $11 million against their salary cap last year while coming off a major injury three weeks before his 30th birthday.

“Seven years and I didn’t miss a game until my Achilles finally went,” he wrote in The Players’ Tribune in March 2018. “And this is what I get. At the first sign of adversity...they let me go.”

It’s clear Sherman’s last seasons with Seattle didn’t feature unity. He screamed at the team’s offensive and defensive coordinators and head coach on the sidelines during the 2016 season. He berated Carroll and offensive play caller Darrell Bevell during a game in ‘16 when they called a pass play from the 1-yard line—again, as they infamously did to end Super Bowl 49.

That was two months after Sherman screamed at his defensive coordinator Kris Richard and teammates over a blown coverage for a touchdown by Falcons All-Pro receiver Julio Jones.

Sherman’s cool relationship with Wilson wasn’t exactly unifying, either.

“I don’t really have a relationship with Russell,” Sherman told Bay Area reporters 12 months ago. “We were teammates and played during a very special time for the franchise.”

All that was tolerable while the Seahawks were going to and winning Super Bowls. It was part of the championship package, the Seahawks’ edginess. Carroll even covered for most of Sherman’s outbursts, saying after he ripped into Richard in 2016: “We are stronger for that.”

That Super Bowl-winning era and Sherman’s “Legion of Boom” secondary are long gone.

In their place: a remade team with Wilson and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, the longest-tenured Seahawk, as the unquestioned leaders—and lead messengers. Wilson and Wagner each got contracts that are the richest at their positions in the NFL this past offseason. That tends to put guys “all in” with team unity.

Carroll and general manager John Schneider made Wilson and Wagner the franchise’s pillars. They are the voices and leaders Carroll credits with the huge factor to success he keeps referencing: his players’ unity.

And they are winning. A victory Monday will make them 8-2. The only Seahawks team to start better was the 2013 Super Bowl-champion team at 9-1. A win would also make Seattle 5-0 on the road for the first time in franchise history.

“I don’t have a specific time last year,” Carroll said of when this team’s unity and attitude surfaced. “But I know going into the offseason I had the hopes that it was going to carry over. It already felt like the potential was there and the direction and the intention about this upcoming year and how to go about it was kind of embedded already. ...

“It’s a powerful experience. ...We’re looking for guys that have a tremendous commitment to doing special stuff. They have an inner drive to really push and find a way to make a statement about what they stand for. That’s part of it.

“The leadership on this team, which is part of that process, the guys that stand up in front and talk and help support the messaging, they stand for the right stuff. They have communicated through all of the process, all of the time we have been together. Not in any one meeting or any one session, one speech, or anything like that. Just all the time being together about how important it is to look out for one another and care for one another so that we can play together and play as one.

“It’s really valuable.”

Asked if that unity, consistent messaging and culture is what he had in mind when the team committed $183 million to Wilson and Wagner in their new contracts before this season, Carroll said, “There was no question in both of those two guys.

“Bobby was a leader immediately in that he was calling defenses from the get-go. We always threw it on him. Kenny (Norton Jr. the linebackers coach when Wagner was a rookie in 2012, his defensive coordinator now) wanted to just make him have to do it. He has always been the voice out in front of everybody, even with all the guys that we had back in the day.”

As for Wilson, the coach simply says: “Russell has taken over.

“They’ve just been remarkable factors for us.”

It’s even more remarkable this week, on their way back down to see Sherman and his 49ers.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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