GLENDALE, Ariz.—The Seahawks were playoff bound regardless of what happened in their regular season finale at Arizona, but after the way things went in a loss to St. Louis last week, it was important for the Seahawks that they got back on track before they begin postseason play at Minnesota next weekend.
The Seahawks won five straight games to earn a playoff berth, but they followed that stretch with an uncharacteristically sloppy performance in last week's lost to the Rams. Against the Cardinals, who have been one of the best teams in the NFL all season, the Seahawks were dominant in all three phases of the game on their way to a 36-6 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"We put together a really good day to finish the season up," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said "I was really proud that we were able to end on this note heading into the playoffs. It's just great to have the feeling, particularly because we played such a good football team today in their place. It's a big accomplishment.
"We wanted to get right, so today was a good day for doing that."
Sunday's win not only helped the Seahawks feel better about how they're playing, it was also a day full of team and individual landmarks. At 10-6, the Seahawks have finished with a double digit win total for four straight seasons. Prior to 2012, the Seahawks had just five seasons with 10-plus wins in their history, and none of those came in back-to-back seasons. By holding what was the league's No. 1 scoring offense coming into the game to just six points, Seattle's defense led the league in scoring defense for the fourth straight season, something that has never been done in the Super Bowl era. Russell Wilson set franchise records for both touchdowns (34) and passing yards (4,024), and finishes the season with the best passer rating in the NFL (110.1), and Tyler Lockett set a franchise record with 139 punt return yards, all in the first half, while also setting a team record for all-purpose yards by a rookie.
"When you've got all three (phases) clicking together, it's going to be tough to beat us, that's for sure," Wilson said.
Seattle's ability to "get right" and play well in nearly every facet of the game leads our five takeaways from Sunday's victory.
1. This win "solidifies the finish" for Seattle.
When talking about last week's loss a day after the game, Carroll made the point that he believed his team was a lot closer to the one he had seen during a five-game winning streak than it was to being the team that lost at home to the Rams while turning the ball over three times.
On Sunday, the Seahawks backed up that statement, looking a lot like the team that had been so good in recent wins, if not better.
"It solidifies the second half (of the season), Carroll said. "It solidifies the finish we wanted to create. We had a lot of problems early in the year, we made it through all of that. We regained our stride … Then last week was a mess. To finish like this, six out of seven, demonstrates to all of us that we're on our game and we're ready to go."
Added linebacker K.J. Wright: "You don't want to go into the playoffs losing two games in a row; that would have been real ugly."
And even with last week's loss to St. Louis as the recent blemish, the Seahawks have still put together a remarkable closing stretch to a season many thought was doomed when they were 2-4 or when they fell to 4-5 with a home loss to Arizona.
"That's the heart of a champion," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "You have your peaks and you have your valleys, and a champion overcomes those valleys, they don't let them destroy them. We started off 2-4, everybody said 'All is lost, it's the Super Bowl hangover' or whatever. But guys just continued to stay the course. That's what happened, guys just continued to battle."
2. The offense was great, even without some key contributors.
The Seahawks played Sunday without two starting offensive linemen, their top two tight ends and their top two running backs, yet they still scored 30 points in the first half, finished with 354 yards of offense, 145 rushing yards, a 53-percent conversion rate on third down, and another big day from Wilson, who threw three more touchdowns to establish a franchise record with 34 this season.
"Guys were making plays all over the field," Wilson said. "Bryce Brown scored that touchdown, Christine Michael rush for 102 or whatever he rushed for, so that was exciting to see that. The offensive line, Glowinski stepped up, Bailey stepped up, those guys did a great job against a very tough defensive line…Will Tukuafu scoring that touchdown, on his birthday too, that's exciting. And Chase Coffman joined the group. He has connected with everybody right away, and he did a great job. Especially losing guys like Jimmy Graham and Marshawn (Lynch) and Thomas Rawls, to have guys step in their place, guys are really stepping up and making a lot of plays, and it's a testament to our work ethic and our coaches and how we're preparing."
Preaching a next-man-up mentality is nothing new in sports, but to put up those kind of numbers against one of the league's best defenses with rookie Mark Glowinski making his first start at guard and Alvin Bailey again filling in at left tackle, and with Cooper Helfet and Chase Coffman at tight end, and with Christine Michael and Bryce Brown carrying the load at right back, showed that the Seahawks are indeed capable of playing at a very high level regardless of who is asked to fill in.
"Today we played without half our starting O-line, a Pro Bowl safety, Marshawn Lynch has been out a few weeks, and you see the result," Sherman said. "Guys just keep fighting, keep pushing. Christine Michael came back rejuvenated, different kind of mindset, and he had a 100 yard game today. It's a testament to who he is."
And speaking of the next man up…
3. Some unlikely playmakers stepped up.
When Wilson threw his 33rd touchdown pass to break Dave Krieg's franchise record, it was to Coffman, who hadn't played since Week 2 and was making his Seahawks debut. It was only the second touchdown catch of his career, which is one more touchdown reception than Will Tukuafu had in his career before being on the receiving end of Wilson's 32nd touchdown pass.
Those two touchdowns followed Bryce Brown's first as a Seahawks and first since for him since 2013.
Coffman, who had been inactive in his previous three games with Seattle, finished with four catches for 29 yards, while Helfet had four for 42 yards.
"He's a really good catcher," Carroll said of Coffman. "I keep going back to his catch radius because he is so long. Russell immediately took to him when he saw him on the practice field. So it was just a matter of him getting the opportunity. The opportunity was there, and he took full advantage of it and looked great."
Tukuafu, who happened to get a touchdown on his 32nd birthday, had just one catch in his career before Sunday's touchdown grab.
"It's all about preparation," he said. "You never know who's going to get the call, so you've got to prepare like it's going to come to you… I'm just excited we got that win, and the touchdown's a bonus on top of that. I'm grateful to be a part of a wonderful team, and we'll try to keep this thing going in the playoffs."
4. Tyler Lockett "had a fantastic day."
It took Tyler Lockett only one half to set a franchise record with 139 punt return yards, a number that could have been even higher if not for a penalty on Sherman—one that Sherman vehemently disagreed with, for what it's worth—that negated another big return.
"What a great job by the punt return team and by Tyler," Carroll said. "He had a fantastic day. He just looked unstoppable. But that's a bunch of guys working together to get that done, Tyler would be the first to tell you that. It was a tremendous effort by our guys. It really kind of led the fire of the game. We kept getting field position and taking advantage of it."
Those punt returns, plus 36 receiving yards and seven receiving yards, gave Lockett 1,915 all-purpose yards this season, a Seahawks rookie record.
"I think he's rookie of the year," Wilson said.
5. The Seahawks are primed for a postseason away from home.
For the past two seasons, the Seahawks have had the luxury of playing all of their postseason games at CenturyLink Field. That won't happen this year, but the way the Seahawks have played on the road, winning five straight, where Seattle plays might not matter.
"The thing we're most proud of right now as we go into the challenge of playoff season, if you look at our last few road games, we've just been on it," Carroll said. "We have really played well knowing we have to do this to get into the playoffs and move our way through it. I'm really fired up about that, because these guys are really confident that we can go wherever we've got to go… That's a really good asset for us right now. Hopefully we can build on that."
While the Seahawks would never turn down a chance to play in front of their fans at home, they have, for whatever reason, looked better on the road at times this year, and especially down the stretch.
"Honestly I think we've been playing better on the road than at home this year," linebacker Bruce Irvin said. "That's a good sign since we're going to be on the road. Hopefully we can just continue to build off this momentum."
Carroll said cornerback Jeremy Lane has "somewhat of an oblique strain or ribs or something like that," and noted that Lane's injury was the only new one to come out of the game.
As for Kam Chancellor, who missed a third straight game with a pelvis injury, Carroll said Chancellor was close to being able to play, and added he is "very optimistic" that Chancellor as well as left tackle Russell Okung, who was out with a toe injury, will be back for next week's game. Carroll said he also expects they'll have tight end Luke Willson and right guard J.R. Sweezy back from concussion.
Carroll also reiterated what he said Friday about running back Marshawn Lynch, which is that the Seahawks hope to get him back with the team this week: "The indications are, unless something is setback here over the weekend, that he has a chance to get back to us. We'll see what happens. That would be really fun to have him come back, we'll see if that happens."
In their final game of the regular season the Seahawks dominated the NFC West Champs on the road with a 36-6 victory in Glendale, Ariz.