Despite figuratively slapping the smug off Jim Harbaugh’s face Sunday night, Pete Carroll could not deny that the 49ers’ coach still had one edge on him that was carefully mentioned post-game.
“We will wake up (Monday),” Harbaugh said, “and we will still have a half-game lead on the division.”
It was said in a way that a villain tells James Bond, who has the momentary advantage, that the battle isn’t over. So Bond has to find another, harder way to save the girl and the world.
In the Seahawks’ case, that means the excitement over clinching the playoffs is tempered by the fact that it is not the same thing as winning the division title, which comes with the benefit of a home game. After next Sunday’s results, the likelihood is that the Seahawks will be a wild-card entrant and must travel to either Washington, D.C. or Dallas, with New York a slim possibility.
In the NFC, the Dallas-Washington winner Sunday night at FedEx Field wins the East and will be the fourth seed in the playoffs, drawing the No. 5 seed, currently held by Seattle. Dallas can make the playoffs only by winning the division. Washington makes the playoffs as a wild card with a loss — if Chicago and Minnesota also lose Sunday.
A Seattle road trip means abandoning the Clink’s audio riot that again startled the TV nation Sunday and was large in their last recent playoff wins: Vs. New Orleans (2010 season), Washington (2007), Dallas (2006) and 2005 (Washington and Carolina). That 5-0 mark compares in the same period with an 0-4 record on the road road at Chicago (2010), Green Bay (2007), Chicago (2006) and, ahem, Detroit (Super Bowl XL).
“My goal has never been the playoffs; I’ve never talked that way,” Carroll said Monday, correcting a reporter’s assumption. “You never heard me say that. It’s to try to win the division, because that puts you in the playoffs at home. That’s what you want. When the second season starts, you want to position yourself in the best spot.
“(Making the playoffs) isn’t good enough. You’ve got to go farther than that. You’ve got to do something with it when you get there. The best way to do that is start out at home.”
The position that vexes Carroll right now is Harbaugh’s half-game advantage in the standings: 10-4-1 compared to Seattle’s 10-5. If Seattle and San Francisco do as expected and win their regular-season finales at home against St. Louis and Arizona, respectively, the 49ers get the division title and the home field, although the Niners have fallen from the No. 2 seed in the NFC to No. 3, which costs them the first-round bye that is accorded the conference’s top two seeds.
And the “frickin'” games Carroll refers to are any one of the five losses, all of which came by seven points or less, to Arizona (20-16), St. Louis (19-13), San Francisco (13-6), Detroit (28-24) and Miami (24-21). Among them, only the Niners have a winning record, although the foe Sunday, the 7-7-1 Rams, look more serious each week.
“So we go another way,” said Carroll, meaning the road. It’s hardly impossible — the Giants won at Atlanta, Green Bay and San Francisco on the way to winning the Super Bowl two years ago — but it is . . . well, let Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson tell it.
“Having the 12th Man,” he said, “does things for us.”
It did a lot Sunday, helping force young San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick into squandering two timeouts, as well as inducing two penalties for delay of game. The Clink uproar clearly was disturbing to the second-year man making his sixth career start. He’ll get over it in subsequent years. But not Sunday.
SEAHAWKS NOT IN HARM’S WAY — A shooting in a Bellevue bar that left one person dead and another injured early Monday morning did not involve Seahawks players, according to Carroll, even though some were present in an adjacent room.
“From what we know, our guys were in a separate area and none of our guys were involved at all in that incident,” Carroll said. “Fortunately, our guys were fine in that awful thing that happened.”
Several shots rang out in Munchbar in Bellevue Square, causing a panicked rush to the doors. The victim, described as a 30-year-old man, has not been identified. No arrests have been made. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said on his Twitter account that he was present in the bar, but no other Seahawks were identified in the celebration following the win over the 49ers at CenturyLink Field.
NO WORD ON SHERMAN — Carroll declined comment on the pending decision by the NFL on cornerback Richard Sherman’s appeal of a potential four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Sherman flew back and forth from St. Louis last week for his appeal Friday. When no word came Monday, the first business day for the NFL to disclose its decision will be Wednesday.
Carroll was effusive in his praise for Sherman’s play.
“He’s had a great season,” he said. “He’s meant a lot to us. He’s meant a lot to us in spirit and leadership and confidence. I was really happy the way he handled yesterday. I thought he was very humble about it, and he was excited about it in his way.
“There can’t be a guy who’s covering better than him. He’s a factor on every ball thrown his way.”
Perhaps in preparation for a four-game suspension for Sherman, who scored a touchdown and had an interception Sunday, the Seahawks activated rookie safety Winston Guy from the exempt list and released wide receiver Deon Butler. Guy was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, plus a fifth while on the reserve-exempt list.
Seattle signed Butler, a former draft choice who was cut at the end of training camp on Dec. 15, after the team placed wide receiver Charly Martin on injured reserve (calf).
CB Brandon Browner will serve the final game of his suspension Sunday and will be available to the the Seahawks for the playoffs.
HILL HURTING — Startling OLB Leroy Hill has a sore hamstring and his backup, Malcolm Smith, has a groin injury, but Carroll didn’t offer the extent of either problem. He did expect CB Marcus Trufant to return to practice Wednesday from his hamstring injury that has kept him out four games. He wasn’t sure about the return of another CB, Walter Thurmond.
NOTES — The Seahawks still have a shot at the the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. But it would require that Seattle beat St. Louis and losses at home by San Francisco to Arizona and Green Bay on the road at Minnesota . . . The Seahawks’ 150 points in their past three games ties for the third-largest total in NFL history behind the Los Angeles Rams (165 in 1950 and also 163 in 1950) . . . Wilson became the fourth rookie since 2008 to pass for four TDs in a game, joining the Lions’ Matthew Stafford (five in 2009), the Colts’ Andrew Luck (four this season) and the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (four twice this season) . . . Sherman’s 90-yard return is the third-longest in league history with a blocked field goal. Bobby Smith of the L.A. Rams had a 94-yarder against the Packers in 1964 and Bracy Walker of the Lions had a 92-yarder against the Bears in 2004 . . . The 49ers have allowed seven 100-yard rushing performances since 2009 and Marshawn Lynch has three – 111 on Sunday night, 103 in the Week 7 games this season and 107 last December. Lynch’s 1,490 yards are fourth in club single-season history behind Shaun Alexander (1,880 in 2005 and 1,696 in 2004) and Chris Warren (1,545 in 1994). . . Bobby Wagner led the Seahawks with nine tackles, pushing his season total to a team-leading 130, second-highest in franchise history for a rookie behind the 136 Terry Beeson had in 1977.