Seahawks down to one final chance to clinch NFC West

Posted Dec 22, 2013

Sunday’s 17-10 loss to the Cardinals at CenturyLink Field denied the Seahawks the chance to wrap up the NFC West title for the second time in their past three games. But they can still do it with a win over the Rams in the regular season finale.

The Seahawks still have all the same things to play for. It’s just that they’re down to one final opportunity to get it done.

Sunday’s disappointing 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field prevented the Seahawks from wrapping up the NFC West title, a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But they still can accomplish all of that by beating the St. Louis Rams next week at CenturyLink.

At 12-3, they still lead the division over the 10-4 San Francisco 49ers, who host the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night; still have the best record in the NFC, with the Carolina Panthers the closest at 11-4 after beating the New Orleans Saints on Sunday; and still have that same look-only-ahead-not-back mentality that has served them so well this season.

“It’s a championship game next week,” second-year quarterback Russell Wilson said after one of his least effective performances (11 of 27 for 108 yards, with one TD pass and one interception, for a season low 49.6 passer rating) and his first home loss after 14 consecutive victories.

“Does it get any better? The last game of the season, the last regular-season game, a championship opportunity against a very good football team that has a great defense in St. Louis. So that’s what we’re looking forward to. Obviously, you want to win this game and it would have meant a lot. But at the same time, it still means the same thing next week. So that’s the good thing about it.”

And that was the mantra after the game, just as it was after the Seahawks whiffed on a championship opportunity against the 49ers in San Francisco two weeks ago. From coach Pete Carroll; to cornerback Richard Sherman, who intercepted two passes to give him a league-leading eight; to free safety Earl Thomas, who had nine tackles; to wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who had a 37-yard kickoff return on a day when he caught only one pass for 8 yards.

Beaten, but not defeated. Denied and disappointed, but not despondent.

“It’s always 1-0 the next week,” Sherman said. “Win, lose or draw, we want to go 1-0 next week and that’s how we’re going to treat it.”

On this day, before a revved up crowd of 68,266 that came to see what the Seahawks could not deliver for the second time in three games, it was both the uncharacteristic and the perpetual that proved to be the Seahawks’ undoing.

They were penalized nine times for 102 wrong-way yards. The offense scored its only touchdown – on Wilson’s 11-yard pass to tight end Zach Miller – to give the Seahawks a 10-9 lead with 7½ minutes to play; only to have a defense that intercepted four Carson Palmer passes allow the Cardinals to drive 80 yards in 10 plays to the game winner – Palmer’s 31-yard TD pass that Michael Floyd controlled while falling into the end zone after the ball had been tipped by cornerback Byron Maxwell.

But there also was Wilson passing for a season-low 108 yards and completing 41 percent of his passes, another season low. Then there was the offense converting two of 13 third-down situations, yet another season low. And the 10 points were the fewest the Seahawks have scored since putting up six against the 49ers in Week 7 last season. The 192 offensive yards? Only the 135 they generated against the Rams in St. Louis was lower. And then there was sure-footed kicker Steven Hauschka slapping a 24-yard field goal attempt off the left upright for only his second miss of the season, with the other being a blocked kick.

“It was very uncharacteristic to not be able to make plays and take advantage of opportunities when they’re given to us,” Baldwin said. “I’ve never had that difficult of a time trying to figure out what their coverages were on the back end. They did a helluva job of disguising things. We’d think they were in man-to-man and they’d flip it to zone. And they’d blitz somebody from somewhere we didn’t expect them to blitz.

“It just didn’t go the way we had planned for it to go.”

The game even included a couple of very questionable calls by the officials that we upheld by the replay official – like Wilson’s last pass to Baldwin that was ruled an interception when replays showed the ball hit the turf as well as Baldwin’s arm; and the fumble by that wasn’t by Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall when the replays showed the ball coming out of his grasp before his knee was down.

“We would have loved to have gotten that call. And I believe that the ball did hit the ground – and I don’t think anybody in the stadium had a better view of it than me,” Baldwin said. “But at the same time, that’s not the play that determined the game. It was the fact that we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that we had in front of us as an offense.

“I think that dictated the game, and the penalties as well.”

But Carroll and his players opted for the option that none of it mattered.

“It was a slugfest today, and they won out,” Carroll said after the Cardinals had won for the seventh time in their last eight games to remain in the hunt for a wild-card playoff spot. “What this does is turn all our focus to next week. And, like I’ve told these guys, I was going to tell them they had to win that game no matter, anyway. So here we go. We have to get this last one to try to see if we can secure our division.”

And he’s right. As much as this loss stung and could be blamed on this, that or the other, it’s what this team does next week against a Rams that always plays the Seahawks tough that will determine the fate of this season. Win, and the Seahawks achieve all their regular season goals. Lose, and they could find themselves a wild-card playoff team.

“We can’t harp on it,” Thomas said. “We have another great opportunity in front of us. It won’t be difficult at all (to put this game behind us). Because everything you want is still right in front of your face. Why waste your energy on this game when it’s over, it’s behind you? Even if we had won, you’ve got to let it go.”