A makeshift offensive line made for a wretched day of pass protection, but the Seahawks did enough to win and get on to the serious business of the playoffs.
Football coaches and players never admit to easing up. But without question, the Seahawks, absent any substantive playoff incentive Sunday against the ever-annoying Arizona Cardinals, let down their guard.
Actually, that’s plural — guards.
Absent injured starters D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy, the Seahawks descended into sub-averageness a week after the seasonal high point was reached by beating Kansas City in prime time. Fortunately for them, even a loss would not have jeopardized their 5:15 p.m. PT playoff date Saturday in Dallas against the Cowboys.
Still, they didn’t want to enter the dance with flys down, collars up and socks mismatched.
So they cleaned up sufficiently to beat the Cardinals 27-24 (box) and reach a prideful milestone — 10 regular-season wins for the sixth time in seven seasons. Years from now, the double-digit wins will be recalled, and no one will remember that each of their dyspeptic 2018 victories over the Cardinals, the worst team in the NFL, required field goals by Sebastian Janikowski when the game clock read 0:00.
The Cardinals (3-13) are the scroungy neighborhood mutt that never lets go of a pant leg. For the past three seasons, they’ve come to the Clink as big underdogs (minus-14 Sunday) and won. After they blocked a punt and recovered in the end zone for touchdown that tied the game at 21, four in a row loomed.
But the Seahawks overcame five consecutive three-and-out possessions to prevail, thanks as usual to some late heroics by Russell Wilson.
“I know there’s a lot of concerns about the way this thing came off today, about the way we played,” was how coach Pete Carroll began his post-game remarks. “But I really look at it like we stopped the streak.
“It just reminds us how hard it is to win these games, and how much we cherish every one of them.”
Particularly this year. At the end of the regular season, two broad conclusions are apparent about the Seahawks:
That would include the Cowboys. Like the Seahawks, they are 10-6, and won seven of their final eight (the Seahawks won six of their final seven). But the loss was a 23-0 shocker Dec. 16 at Indianapolis (the rough equivalent, on the same day, to the Seahawks’ 26-23 OT loss at San Francisco).
Sunday, the Cowboys seemed as vulnerable as the Seahawks. Up 14-0 just shy of halftime over the woeful New York Giants (5-11), Dallas was down 35-28 with 80 seconds left before scoring a touchdown and the game-winning two-point conversion.
It’s true that the Seahawks have a win over Dallas, 24-13, but that was in Seattle’s home opener way back in the Jurassic period of September.
“That (win) doesn’t mean anything,” said LB Bobby Wagner. “Everything that happened in the regular season is over. If you come and you’re not good that day, you get beat.”
The Seahawks nearly proved his point Sunday. Because of the injuries to Sweezy (foot) and Fluker (hamstring), the Seahawks starting O-line was makeshift. George Fant made his second career start at right tackle, Germain Ifedi made his first pro career start and right guard and Ethan Pocic made his second start of the season at left guard.
The missed assignments and miscommunications were abundant and miserable.
“Poor performance,” said LT Duane Brown.
“A terrible day pass protecting,” said Carroll.
“We worked too hard to give up (six) sacks to a three-win team,” said Ifedi.
The sacks — all on third down — tied a season high set in the second game at Chicago, the 109 net passing yards was a season low, and Wilson’s passer rating of 75.9 was barely better than overwhelmed Arizona rookie Josh Rosen’s (74.3).
But that’s where such numbers were deceiving. When it was needed most, Wilson made the day’s second-biggest offensive play — a rollout throw of 37 yards to WR Tyler Lockett to the Arizona 25-yard line with one minute left. Four plays later, Janikowski was good from 33 yards.
Puckers were unclenched from Anchorage to Medford to Missoula.
Carroll sounded somewhat optimistic that improving health would make the line play a one-week aberration. Sweezy was ordered to stay home and rest, and Carroll admitted he resisted at halftime the temptation to insert Fluker for Ifedi. By the narrowest of margins, the decisions to rest worked.
“You could see the mixing and matching caught us a little bit today,” he said. “We had trouble with the line stunts. We didn’t handle it very well.”
What was done well by Seattle was defense, even though 24 points seems a lot to give up to a bad team. But a curious flop by special teams — two blocked punts and a 45-yard punt return — allowed the Cardinals to hang around despite 198 yards of total offense. The Seahawks’ opening possession ended with an interception of Wilson on a slant pass that resembled the infamous Play That Cannot Be Unseen from the Super Bowl loss to New England.
The Cardinals scored five times on drives of 11, 27, minus-11, 0 (the block recovered in the end zone) and 38 yards. Arizona’s longest rush was 15 yards, as was its longest pass. Much in the way that the Seahawks lost to the 49ers via 148 yards in penalties, the near-defeat Sunday was prompted by sidetracks, not going off the rails.
The defense, despite missing starters FS Tedric Thompson, DE Dion Jordan and for three quarters CB Shaquill Griffin (ankle), bailed out the sputters of the offense.
“We needed (the defense) badly,” Carroll said. “Really good pressure all day long, and good coverage all day long.”
The Seahawks sacked Rosen six times, two each by DE Frank Clark and DT Jarran Reed, the latter adding two QB hits and two tackles for loss.
Despite the odd clanks in the finale, the Seahawks have made the 12-team tournament. They are not a great team, but a good one capable of beating the Cowboys, a modest 2.5-point betting favorite, on the road. And capable of self-implosion.
“Whenever we continue to play good defense and we run the ball really well,” Carroll said, we’ve got a chance to be in every game.”
And since they won’t play the Cardinals until next season, pro football life is good.