Seahawks still need one victory to win so much

Posted Dec 23, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: Despite Sunday’s frustrating loss to the Cardinals that snapped the Seahawks’ 14-game home winning streak, one more home victory will clinch the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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.

So, here we are. The Seahawks’ play all season has allowed them this third chance to accomplish so much with one more win. But they’ll have to do it against a Rams team that has won four of its past six games and also played the Seahawks tough over the past three seasons – losing 14-9 in St. Louis in Week 8 this season, when cornerback Brandon Browner tipped a fourth-down pass incomplete in the end zone on the final play; losing 20-13 at CenturyLink Field in last season’s finale, after the Seahawks had averaged 50 points in their three previous games; winning 19-13 in St. Louis in Week 4 last season; and losing 24-7 and 16-6 in 2011.

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 Red Bryant said in the locker room after Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals before his voice trailed off. After a short pause, he added, “We wanted to win. I feel like we’ve got a special defense and we put a lot on our shoulders and we came up short.

“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:

What worked

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.

Sunday brought two more interceptions by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, giving him a league-leading eight; four more interceptions by the Seahawks, giving them a league-high 26; and one pass that was tipped in the end zone by cornerback Byron Maxwell and intercepted by strong safety Kam Chancellor. Even on the game-winning TD pass, Maxwell tipped the ball that Michael Floyd somehow managed to catch anyway.

“I think Max (Maxwell) did a great job of making him make a spectacular catch,” All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas said. “And that’s all we talk about. If we’re going to get beat, they’re going to have to be on ESPN about it.”

Next-man-up – Sunday, it was rookie Michael Bowie starting at right guard for a concussed J.R. Sweezy and Malcolm Smith making a second consecutive start at weak-side linebacker K.J. Wright, who’s out indefinitely after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his right foot.

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 Russell Wilson said.

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.

With the 2013 edition of the Seahawks’ offense, you just don’t know what you’re going to get from game to game or even series to series. They’ve had five games with no 80-yard TD drives, including the last two and just two in the past five games. Sunday, they had a season-high seven three-and-outs. The previous high? Six, in their win over the Rams in St. Louis.

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.