Seattle Seahawks looking dangerous again at just the right time

Seattle's victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday felt familiar. The end result, yes, but more so the way it was won.

Close in the final quarter. Russell Wilson, Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin making big plays on third down to move the chains and score touchdowns. The Legion of Boom -- check that -- the defensive backfield coming up with takeaways to thwart drives.

And the edge (swagger is so played out) in attitude after the game felt like the Seahawks we've known.

It didn't feel that way after the two prior two-game winning streaks this season. Players and coaches said those brief bouts of victory were turning points.

They weren't.

Seattle couldn't string together a third consecutive victory. Four of their five losses came to playoff-caliber teams -- teams that they once beat, or at least intimidated, in the recent past.

The edge had been dulled.

Like sword to stone, though, Seattle's players felt after the victory over the worthy Steelers, that they're back.

"It feels good," safety Earl Thomas said. "It feels right. Sometimes, success can kind of make you lose sight of that."

The reality check (again) will come Sunday. Seattle travels to Minnesota to face the NFC North-leading Vikings, a team built much like the Seahawks: physical, sound and disciplined defensively, with an offense that revolves around the running game.

Should the 'Hawks lose, they'll still be in the playoff hunt, because -- outside of Carolina, Arizona and, to a lesser degree, the Vikings -- the NFC isn't quite the gantlet that it's been.

A win, though, and watch out. Seattle might just have found its stride, and that is not good for the rest of the NFL. Though its likeliest path to the playoffs is via the wild card, because the Cardinals have a three-game lead with five games left, so what? The hot team could be the most dangerous team. And a hot Seattle team, wild card or whatever: Who really wants that?

"We definitely feel it's happening," coach Pete Carroll said. "The play is so solid across the board ... It's a collective, and everybody realizes that -- and everybody's contributing. It's really important to sense that so we can really connect and anticipate that happening again."

The fresh emotion after a victory embellishes some of Carroll's assessment. The defense clearly needs to plug some holes. Seattle's been tagged for 69 points total by Arizona and Pittsburgh, two of the last three teams the Seahawks have faced. Granted, those are two of the top four offenses in the league right now. But still, deep passes have found their way into a secondary that once was off limits to even test.

That said, Seattle is allowing a more-than-respectable 20.2 points per game. Against the Steelers, the defense also nabbed four interceptions. Takeaways, more than yards allowed, have been the trademark of the Seahawks' defense. If that trend continues, advantage Seattle.

That's because the Seahawks' offense is starting to roll.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told me that since the second half of the Seahawks' loss to Arizona, things are working as they should on offense. Wilson is getting rid of the ball quicker from the pocket. Receivers are making plays before, during and after they catch the ball. The offensive line is finally playing on a thread. The running game, behind undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls, is the cog supporting the wheel.

Evidence? In the time frame outlined by Bevell -- the past 10 quarters -- the Seahawks have scored 93 points. Rawls has totaled more than 300 rushing yards and Wilson has been sacked just five times after being sacked 32 times in the first eight and a half games.

Baldwin, who had three touchdown catches against the Steelers, believes it was something injured running back Marshawn Lynch said during the team's loss to Arizona two weeks ago -- this from a player that in the past just put the offense on his legs -- that sparked the spark.

"Marshawn came up to us on the sideline ... and pulled us all together -- it was the first time he has done this in public," Baldwin recalled. "He told us that we look real unfamiliar, that he didn't recognize this offense. That he doesn't recognize the players."

Lynch is on the shelf after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia last week. The timetable on his return to the field is unclear at this point. However, his presence looms large in the locker room. He is highly respected and his words hit home, Baldwin said. Players took heed.

Without Lynch, Seattle's running game with Rawls has been just as damaging, if not more. That said, defensive end Cliff Avril told me that not having Lynch is a blow. For a run like the Seahawks hope to make, a veteran like Lynch, who has taken over stretches of games so often in the past, will be missed, Avril said.

But will tight end Jimmy Graham?

Graham was lost for the season when he tore his patellar tendon against the Steelers. There is some thinking that the injury will force Bevell and the Seahawks to return to what they did in previous seasons. We'll see. Baldwin and Kearse definitely made impact plays against the Steelers that they hadn't made for much of the season, but Graham, who hadn't fit in Seattle's scheme for much of the season, was tearing Pittsburgh up, too.

That could be more indicative of Pittsburgh's suspect secondary than it was of players stepping up when Graham went down. A Seahawks coach even said to me that the Steelers' defensive backfield was pretty easy pickings -- particularly the cornerbacks.

The Seahawks know what's in front of them, and it's other teams and playoff opportunities. In previous years, Seattle was The Hunted and The Bully. They are chasers now, and maybe that adds another chip to their shoulders.

Still, it's too early to buy in fully and think Seattle has arrived. The Seahawks look close to doing something special. It feels that way -- 'Hawks players and coaches know that more than anyone.

However, that could unravel as soon as Sunday in Minnesota.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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