'Rewarded with an opportunity': Seahawks sneak into playoffs

SEATTLE -- Geno Smith, Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks are headed back to the playoffs.

An outcome that few thought was possible after the Russell Wilson trade became a reality Sunday night when the Detroit Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers, 20-16, at Lambeau Field. The Seahawks kept their playoff hopes alive earlier in the day by beating the Los Angeles Rams, 19-16, in overtime, which left them needing a Lions win or tie to send Seattle to the playoffs as the NFC's seventh seed.

"We've been through a lot and we have taken some shots and we've had to bounce back. The resolve has always been there. The juice that it takes to stay up and stay at your best has always been there, and it's really been a fun year," Carroll said Sunday night in his appearance on KING-TV in Washington. "That's why I'm so happy that we get rewarded with an opportunity to do something here."

The Seahawks (9-8) will head to Santa Clara to play the No. 2-seeded San Francisco 49ers (13-4) in the wild-card round Saturday. Seattle has lost twice this season to its divisional rival -- 27-7 in Week 2 and 21-13 in Week 15. The 49ers, winners of 10 straight, have opened as 10-point favorites, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

"They're pretty good. They've won 10 or 11 in a row or something like that and they're going to just be as high and flying as you can go," Carroll said. "If you're going to do something here special at the end, you've got to beat really good teams. So let's start off with these guys and go get this thing going."

The Seahawks traded Wilson and cut linebacker Bobby Wagner in March, moving on from two of the most important players in franchise history and ushering in what was widely expected to be a rebuilding season. They were projected to win 5.5 games and finish last in the NFC West.

But Smith -- who spent most of the past seven seasons as a backup -- delivered a Pro Bowl season after beating out Drew Lock in an offseason battle to replace Wilson, and the Seahawks got significant contributions from a stellar rookie class to exceed expectations. They got off to a 6-3 start that put them in first place in the NFC West, then dropped five of their next six to fall out of the NFC playoff standings before winning their final two games.

"Early in the year, people were ... really praising us for doing better than they thought, and we weren't satisfied," Carroll said. "It's been hard, it's been a challenge, we haven't gotten it done the way we wanted to. But yet here we are now, and we're ready to go. We're going to be tough to play against right now. Our guys are going to be ready to go."

Smith threw a pair of interceptions Sunday and was nearly picked off a third time, but he threw a touchdown pass and led Seattle on a game-winning drive in overtime. Smith actually positioned the Seahawks for what would have been the game-winning kick at the end of regulation, but Jason Myers missed from 46, sending the game to overtime.

With the Seahawks making the playoffs, Smith earned another $1 million in incentives. He maxed out the $3.5 million he had available in incentives on his one-year contract, which carries a base value of $3.5 million. Smith also broke three single-season franchise records on Sunday, all of which were previously set by Wilson over 16-game seasons: completions (399), passing yards (4,282) and completion rate (69.8%).

This is the Seahawks' 10th playoff appearance in 13 seasons under Carroll and general manager John Schneider.