It’s always “Competition Wednesday” on the Seahawks’ practice field. But Pete Carroll’s pre-practice press conference quickly turned in “Challenge Wednesday.”
The Seahawks’ first-year coach was stressing the challenge that his team is facing: Trying to capture the NFC West title in its final two games, starting with Sunday’s matchup against the Buccaneers in Tampa.
But the Q’s during his midweek Q&A session quickly turned into challenges for Carroll, as reporters repeatedly asked about how the St. Louis Rams’ game against the San Francisco 49ers earlier in the day would impact the way he coaches and the way his team plays against the Bucs.
The scenario has been laid out in large block letters: The Seahawks and Rams are tied for the NFC West lead at 6-8, but the Rams hold the tiebreaker because of their Week 4 win over the Seahawks in St. Louis. The 49ers, however, remain in the hunt at 5-9, and would hold the deciding factor in any ties because of their better record in the division.
So, the Seahawks need the Rams to eliminate the 49ers on Sunday, in their game that kicks off at 10 a.m. (Seattle time). Then, it would make no difference what the Seahawks do against the Bucs in a game that kicks off at 1:15 (Seattle time), because they would win the division – again based on a better record in the division – if they beat the Rams in the Jan. 2 regular-season finale at Qwest Field.
“Do you monitor the Rams-49ers game?” someone asked.
Offered Carroll, “I’ll keep track. I’ll know what’s going on. But we’re not going to have it glaring in the locker room or nothing like that. We’ll just do like we normally do. That (game) won’t change things. We’ll be so far into it by that time; we’ll be ready to step on the field and go play. That won’t have any factor on it at all.
“Of course that has bearing for the next week. But as far as what we’re trying to get done on this Sunday, it doesn’t figure in.”
“But won’t the outcome of the Rams-49ers game matter with the players?” came the next question.
Offered Carroll, “It doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re doing. It really doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. We have never turned those kinds of variables – back-against-the-wall scenario, or whatever you want to call it; underdog or favorite – that’s not the stuff that we deal with. That conversation, to me, and that communication is something we’re learning to be disciplined to not deal with. Because it’s out of our control. We’re going to deal with the stuff we do control.
“It’s classic that everybody would think that’s the issue – ‘Oh boy, now we’re going to be all fired up or we’re not.’ That’s not what’s going to take place.”
That was the closing argument that settled the issue, right? Not exactly.
“But isn’t it human nature to have a letdown?” was the very next question.
Before the query had been completed, Carroll interjected, “That’s why you ask those questions. Yeah, that’s why you asked that, because that’s what everybody thinks. We don’t want to be normal, in that regard. We don’t want to be human nature. We want to be above and beyond that. That’s part of it. That’s how you separate. When you are able to do that – when you’re able to take the variables, the factors, the media, the hype, the buildup, the matchups, all that stuff – and leave that aside and play the game that you’re capable of playing, that’s the challenge.
“That’s one of the great challenges that I’ve come to really covet and teaching and try to stand for. Once you get there, it’s a very special place to be.”
End of topic, if not story? Well …
“But depending on how things play out in St. Louis, would you rest certain players?” came the next question.
Carroll’s give-me-a-break look said even more than the words that followed: “No. No. That’s what I’m saying. That’s not going to be a factor. It’s not going to be in the mindset. We’re going to play the game to win the football game. We can’t afford to do anything but that right now.”
He then cracked a slight smile and chuckled before adding, “I appreciate you thinking that we could even pull off the throttle a little bit, but I don’t see that. We’ve going for it every chance we get.”
That’s the real challenge for Carroll and his staff as they try to coax a win or two from a team that has lost six of its past eight games. If the Seahawks are going to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2007, it would be nice to do it with some momentum.
So concerning themselves with what’s happening in St. Louis while they’re in Tampa, it’s just not in Carroll’s plans. It can’t be. It goes against everything he is trying to teach his players as he molds them into a team.
“If it does, then we’re not where we’re supposed to be yet,” he said. “We have to be over and above that stuff and we have to stay with what’s at hand. That’s really the great challenge, I think, as we continue to learn how to compete on a regular basis and play like we’re capable regardless of the circumstances.
“This is a real discipline, and I welcome that factor. We need to learn how to let stuff like that sit where it sits and do what we need to do. It’s one of our focuses. It’s one of the great challenges of becoming a champions and staying a champion. You have to learn how to do that.”