SEATTLE — Pete Carroll gathered his team in the locker room and finally offered some congratulations.
For the first time all season, Carroll felt he could acknowledge the Seattle Seahawks earning something tangible when they routed New Orleans 34-7 on Monday night to become the first team in the NFL to clinch a playoff spot.
And as Carroll described on his weekly radio show Tuesday morning, the accomplishment was met with a collective “golf clap.”
Even at 11-1, with the best record in the NFL and a 14-game home winning streak, the Seahawks remain unsatisfied, at least until they have clinched what’s most important to them: home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
The blowout of the Saints — behind 310 yards passing and three touchdowns from Russell Wilson and a defense that flustered Drew Brees into one of his worst games with New Orleans — gave Seattle a two-game lead in the home-field race with tiebreakers in hand.
“We accomplished something; we’re a playoff team, which is great to know that,” Carroll said. “But that’s not our goal, and we don’t talk that way. You never hear these guys say, oh boy, we want to get into the playoffs. That’s not the goal we set. We want to win this division, and that division gets us a chance to play at home, and that’s what we’re after. And then we’ll talk about what comes next.”
Seattle has almost assured itself home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. A win over San Francisco on Sunday will clinch the NFC West and a first-round bye. The Seahawks just need to go 2-2 over their last four games to wrap up home-field and help from others could make the task easier.
Will home-field advantage equate to a Super Bowl trip? Not necessarily.
The NFC playoffs have been rife with upsets in recent seasons. Only twice since the Seahawks’ lone Super Bowl trip in 2005 has the No. 1 seed in the NFC reached the Super Bowl — the 2009 Saints and 2006 Bears.
History may not be on Seattle’s side, but then few teams have the kind of home-field advantage the Seahawks enjoy.
They’ve learned how to thrive in the cacophony created by fans at CenturyLink Field, which set yet another record for loudest outdoor sports stadium on Monday night.
And while there wasn’t another “Beast Quake,” officials with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Center said Seahawks fans rocked the stadium so hard against the Saints that seismic instruments registered small tremors at various points in the game.
A magnitude 1 or 2 quake was recorded during Michael Bennett’s 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter. The game registered on seismic instruments several other times.
“It’s great. They bring the noise every week. You can’t ask any more of our fan base. They’re great,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. “We love what they bring to the table because it definitely helps us.”
The Seahawks aren’t just winning at home, they are dominating opponents during their franchise-record win streak. Over the past two seasons, the Seahawks have a plus-260 point differential at home, an average of more than 18 points per game.
Since beating New England 24-23 in Week 6 last season, Seattle has won by less than seven points at home only once — its 27-24 overtime comeback against Tampa Bay in early November.
In a league known for its parity, Seattle’s home dominance the past two seasons includes eight wins of 20 or more points, the most in the league.
Denver is the next closest with seven and New England (five) and New Orleans (four) are next. Five teams in the league have no 20-point home wins the last two seasons and another 14 have done it only once.
The Seahawks’ home seems even more imposing when you throw in Seattle’s typically cold and damp Januarys. Then then there’s the fact that most of the other contenders in the NFC right now come from warmer climates (San Francisco, Carolina, Dallas) or play indoors (New Orleans and Detroit).
What Seattle is accomplishing is not lost on its players.
After Monday’s win, defensive end Red Bryant recalled his first two seasons in the league, when the Seahawks won a combined nine games.
“Everybody that is on this team understands that we are in a great position to do something that will last longer than our playing days and we’re trying to take advantage of that every opportunity that we have,” Bryant said.