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The Seahawks have an opportunity to win the NFC West in Pete Carroll’s first season as coach.
But they might have to do it with backup QB Charlie Whitehurst stepping in for injured starter Matt Hasselbeck in Sunday night’s nationally televised winner-takes-the-title game against the St. Louis Rams at Qwest Field.
While the possibility of that situation is not ideal, it’s not unique, either.
Carroll has been here, done that. With a couple of different, yet similar, twists.
The backup-stepping-up scenario occurred in 1998, Carroll’s second season as coach of the New England Patriots. Starting QB Drew Bledsoe, the Pride of the Palouse, was injured and the San Francisco 49ers were coming to town for a Week 16 game the Patriots needed to get into the postseason.
What’s a coach to do? All that is left; go to the backup – in case, Scott Zolak.
“Sometimes you can really get surprised by how teams can perform under those kinds of situations,” Carroll said on Monday.
Like on that December afternoon at old Foxboro Stadium. The 49ers were 11-3 and featured Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Garrison Hearst, Tim McDonald, Chris Doleman and Ken Norton. The Patriots were 8-6.
Not surprisingly, the 49ers took a 21-14 lead into the fourth quarter.
Then Young threw an interception and Zolak directed an 11-play, 49-yard TD drive – which included him passing for first downs on third-and-17 and fourth-and-2. 49ers 21, Patriots 21.
The Patriots got the ball back with less than two minutes remaining and, with six seconds left in the game, Adam Vinateri kicked a 35-yard field goal. Patriots 24, 49ers 21.
“In those cases, mainly the one with Scott Zolak playing…,” Carroll began and then got sidetracked. “But anyway, that he would pull off a great win for us at the time, it’s a very similar situation in that you just have to believe and keep fighting.
“And that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do this weekend.”
It’s not like Zolak turned into Joe Montana, or even Bledsoe. He completed 14 of 30 passes for 205 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. But Zolak did just enough to give the Patriots a chance to win a game no one gave them a chance to win.
“That was a very similar situation to this one when you think that we didn’t have a chance and they were as high flying as the Niners could have been,” Carroll said. “So yeah, I have been in that situation.”
As for beating an opponent a second time when more was riding on the game, Carroll has been there, too; and done that, as well.
That similar scenario came in 1997, his first season with the Patriots. New England beat the Dolphins in Miami 14-12 in their regular-season finale. They then beat them again, the following week, in the first round of the playoffs – 17-3 in Foxboro.
The first win gave the Patriots the NFC East title; the second sent them to the second round of the playoffs
“We were not playing well – had some issues on the team, had some guys that were hurt – and we played a really nice game in Miami,” Carroll recalled. “So that was a very difficult chance to get in and then we came back and played them in the playoffs in the first round and had the chance to get them again, which was kind of cool.”
Maybe that’s why Carroll refuses to use the litany of reasons laid before him as excuses as the Seahawks begin preparing for Sunday night’s game against the Rams.
The 7-8 Rams hold a one-game lead in the division, and also beat the Seahawks in St. Louis in Week 4. But with a win, the Seahawks would pull even with the Rams at 7-9 and advance to the playoffs because they would have a better division record (4-2 vs. 3-3).
Impossible? Preposterous? Perhaps, but stranger things have happened.
Carroll knows. Because he’s been there -- twice.