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On the road again
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Seahawks are about to play their most important game of the season, because Sunday’s matchup with the Miami Dolphins at nearby Sun Life Stadium is the next one.
If we’ve learned anything from Pete Carroll in his almost 2¾th seasons as coach, it’s that he takes the games – and wants his players to take the games – one at a time.
But, if the Seahawks want to be who they think they are by season’s end, they need this one for more than just the obvious it’s-the-next-game reason.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on this week,” Carroll said Friday after the team’s final full practice of the week. “This is first game of the second half (of the season) that we go on the road and we’d like to improve in that area over what we did the first half of the season.
“So it makes a big difference if we can get off to a good start here. We have put a lot of emphasis here, and we want to make sure we play like we’re capable, and play with a lot of energy and see if we can’t get this thing going in the right direction.”
A win over the Dolphins would:
One. Give the Seahawks their first three-game winning streak of the season, and only second since they won five in a row during the 2007 season – which also is the last time they finished with a winning record (10-6);
Two. Push their record to 7-4, allowing them to hold the final wild-card spot in the NFC playoff picture as the season moves into its final five weeks;
Three. Up their road record this season to 2-4, and give them the rarest of victories – one in a game that kicks off at 10 a.m. Seattle time; a huge hurdle as their remaining two road games are against the Bears in Chicago next week and against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto on Dec. 16, even though that one has a later start.
So this is one three-and-out that would leave the offense, defense and special teams all feeling better about themselves.
But how do the Seahawks accomplish all of this? How does a team that already has lost to the Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions on the road suddenly veer into the win column when it’s playing so far away from home … at such an early hour … in temperatures they haven’t played in since the preseason … against an opponent that is looking to snap a three-game losing streak and right its own wrongs?
“One or two plays. That’s the focus,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “You’ve got to eliminate those plays and just treat every play like it was the last play of the game. Play smart, do a great job with the football, deliver the ball on time to the guys and excel in the red zone and on third down.”
Ah, one or two plays. In the losses to the Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and Lions, the Seahawks were indeed a play or two from winning, rather than losing.
In Arizona, it was Wilson throwing six incomplete passes from inside the Cardinals’ 20-yard line in the final 52 seconds of the four-point loss. In St. Louis, it was the interception Wilson threw at the Rams’ 23-yard line with 60 seconds to play in the six-point loss. In San Francisco, it was the varying degrees of the five passes that Wilson’s receivers dropped in the seven-point loss. In Detroit, it was the defense allowing the Lions to drive 80 yards in 16 plays in the final 5 ½ minutes for the game-winning touchdown after Zach Miller’s remarkable grab of a Wilson TD pass had given the Seahawks the lead. There were three third-down plays in that drive, so a tipped pass, sack or tackle short of the first-down marker on any of them would have altered the four-point outcome.
But it’s not all the rookie quarterback.
“If you just look at Russell, I think you’re making a mistake there,” Carroll said when asked about Wilson’s play at home and on the road. “I think this is all of us. We all have to play better and more efficiently on the road.”
You don’t need to scratch too deep to understand why the Seahawks are 5-0 at home and 1-4 on the road. At home, they are plus-5 in turnover differential, in large part because they’ve turned the ball over only four times. On the road, they are minus-4, in large part because that’s where Wilson has thrown each of his eight interceptions. At home, they are averaging 24.6 points and allowing an average of 13.8 points. On the road, it’s 15.0 and 18.4.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s been going on, and not going on. In fact, as former coach Chuck Knox always used to say, it’s eighth-grade Sewickley.
“Really, it’s the production areas,” Carroll said when asked what needs to improve on the road for the team’s performance to improve on the road. “We need to produce more in getting the football away from our opponents, and we need to take care of the football as well.
“Our offensive numbers aren’t as good as they have been at home, and hopefully we can clean that up. It’s a challenge because we are not that far off, but I really hope that we can be aggressive getting after the football and I think that will turn things in our favor. I think that will make a difference.
“So we’re going to need to crank it up and see if we can do a good job on (special) teams and on defense. If we can do that, it will give us the kinds of opportunities we need to take advantage of on offense that haven’t been showing up.”
A tougher situation to explain is the fortunes of this team in the games just before and just after its bye weeks: 18-6 the week before, including the 28-7 thumping of the New York Jets two weeks ago; 6-17 the week after, although they’re 1-1 under Carroll.
The Dolphins are not as bad as their 4-6 record and that three-game losing streak would indicate. But this week – in this next game – the Seahawks need to make them continue to look bad because so much is riding on the outcome of this particular next game.