So it’s all come down to this.
After 12 victories in their first 15 games, and big play after big play but also some untimely big plays allowed by the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense, and an offense that has occasionally tripped over its own inconsistencies, and the consistency of their special teams, the Seahawks need to beat the St. Louis Rams in their regular-season finale at CenturyLink Field on Sunday to clinch all the things they’ve already let slip away twice in their past three games:
The NFC West title, regardless of what the two-time defending division champion San Francisco 49ers do Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons or Sunday against the Cardinals in Arizona;
A first-round bye in the playoffs, which is vital for a team that is 14-1 at home the past two seasons and 23-8 in four seasons under coach Pete Carroll;
Home-field advantage throughout the postseason, which also is vital when you consider that the 11-4 and NFC South-leading Carolina Panthers are 4-3 on the road; the 10-5 New Orleans Saints are 3-5 on the road; and the 8-7 and NFC North-leading Chicago Bears are 3-5 on the road. The exceptions in this road-to-ruin routine are the 9-6 and NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles and 10-4 49ers, both 5-2 on the road.
The Seahawks had a chance to accomplish all of this in San Francisco in Week 14, but allowed the 49ers to drive 76 yards to a game-winning field goal in the closing seconds to take a 19-17 victory. The Seahawks had another opportunity get it done Sunday, but allowed the Cardinals to drive 80 yards to a game-winning touchdown pass in Arizona’s 17-10 victory.
Another loss by the Seahawks, coupled with a pair of victories by the 49ers, and the Seahawks will enter the playoffs as a wild-card team and hit the road in the first round – as they did last season, when they won a road playoff games for only the second time in franchise history and the first time since 1983.
So the importance of this week’s game, and preparing properly during Christmas week, cannot be overstated.
“We played hard, but we didn’t play …” defensive end
“Everything is in front of us; everything is still in front of us. That’s what’s so great about adversity. It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond. It’s going to be tough and we’ll move forward, getting ready for St. Louis.
With that said, here’s a look at three things that worked against the Cardinals and three things that need work as the Seahawks prepare for Sunday’s suddenly oh-so-important game against the Rams:
The Legion of Boom – Does the Seahawks’ secondary get too much credit for the defense ranking No. 1 in the league in average yards allowed (281.3) and average passing yards allowed (173.8) and is second in points allowed (222, one more than the Panthers)? Not when you play like they have, regardless of who’s playing.
“I think Max (Maxwell) did a great job of making him make a spectacular catch,” All-Pro free safety
Next-man-up – Sunday, it was rookie
While Smith had eight tackles and the Seahawks’ fourth interception, Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett had only three tackles – and Bowie had a lot to do with that.
The blinders-on attitude – After a loss when the players were frustrated and could have been furious, they were primarily focused. Not on all the things that didn’t go right against the Cardinals, but on getting back to work to prepare for the Rams.
“The next thing we control is this week, this week of preparation,” quarterback
What needs work
Offensive consistency – Through 15 games, the Seahawks have had 12 touchdown drives of 80-plus yards, five rushing and seven passing. They’ve also had 37 three-and-outs. By comparison, the 2005 team that went 13-3 during the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl had 38 three-and-outs through 15 games, but also 20 TD drives of at least 80 yards – 10 rushing and 10 passing – including at least one in 13 games.
Penalties – We’ve been saying all season that the Seahawks’ propensity for penalties would eventually cost them. That happened against the Cardinals, when they had nine for a season-high 102 yards. Some were questionable calls, but penalties for wrong-way yards nonetheless. And six of the Cardinals’ 16 first downs came on Seahawks’ penalties.
They now have 121 penalties for 1,118 yards, both league highs. The club records are 138 penalties (last season) for 1,179 yards (1984).
Finishing – It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Carroll’s mantra has never been timelier. The 4-0 start? The 7-1 first half? The seven-game winning streak between loss No. 1 and loss No. 2? Great stuff. But we’re at the finish, and the Seahawks need to find a way to finish what they started so impressively.
They’ve lost two of their past three games, as well as those opportunities to clinch the division and everything that goes with it. In their three losses – to the Colts, 49ers and Cardinals – the offense took late leads only to have the defense surrender even-later game-winning drives.