Pete Carroll would never let a game defeat, even one in the playoffs that ended the season, throw shade on his yippee-skippee, the man’s most vital organ and the driver of the franchise.
“It was a blast,” he said Monday, two days after the 24-22 loss to the Cowboys in Dallas denied the Seahawks a chance to play the Rams in Los Angeles, a playoff match-up they liked and wanted. “I loved that (Cowboys) game. I know it was ugly and hard. But I loved that we were in it, fighting and clawing and scratching up and down the sidelines, seeing guys find their belief, and again rediscover that belief, and why we should keep believing.
“I agree with (J.R. Sweezy). Sweez said he had more fun than he’s ever had. So did I.”
Coming from two participants in the 2014 Super Bowl triumph, that’s saying something. But the rest of the locker room consistently touched yhis season on the same theme of an enjoyable, productive work environment. Besides new coaches and players, contributing to the uptick were the absence of tension surrounding veteran stars, the fade of the controversy around national social-issues protests, and the steady accumulations of football successes.
To emerge after all of the changes with a 10-6 record and a berth in the tournament was probably Carroll’s premier single-season coaching job in Seattle.
The part that wasn’t exciting for the 12s was Saturday’s outcome.
Particularly odious was the way it went down, persisting with a running game that wasn’t working while neglecting a passing game that had been a season-long source of explosive plays. The play-calling of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer became an object of local and national ridicule.
Carroll pushed back Monday, calling criticism of his first-year assistant “a bunch of garbage” on his weekly ESPN 710 radio show, then was more restrained with reporters.
“To try and blame Schotty with the play-calling or something, I understand that reaction, but it isn’t warranted,” he said. “Hold it against me. I’m the guy that’s in charge of this thing. There’s nowhere to look at an individual guy, it’s a team thing.
“The fact that Schotty was working the game plan — trying to hammer the football is what we did every week — that’s how we figured to win. When it doesn’t work, you have to get moving and find the ways to get the game won, and that’s what we were attempting to do.”
Carroll pointed out that Seattle’s only other TD drive besides the one in the final two minutes was a 44-yarder in the third quarter that put the Seahawks up 14-10. Of its nine plays, eight were runs. Seattle’s final three possessions included just one run.
But there’s no arguing that 73 rushing yards was less than half the seasonal average, and six of the 12 possessions were three-and-out affairs.
Carroll pulled back the veil a bit to admit that part of offense’s ineffectiveness was his decision to play LG Sweezy (foot) and RG D.J. Fluker (hamstring) despite their injury-induced absences from practice for big parts of the past month.
Carroll didn’t say so directly, but neither should have played. Still, this was the playoffs. After the game, I asked Fluker what he thought of his play.
“Considering . . . I did OK,” he said, quietly. Given his standard level of brash, good-natured self-confidence, the moment told much.
“I think that we expected a lot,” said Carroll of both players, who rejoined the line for the first time since Dec. 2. “I made an expectation on Fluke coming back, and Sweez getting back out there, without practice time. Hard to expect those guys to play top-flight football. Dallas guys were coming off the rock, did a nice job up front, and we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. That’s really what it felt like watching the film.
“Our timing was a bit off early. You could see it improve. It was a lot to ask, but we went for it.”
Until Seattle’s 75-yard TD drive in the final two minutes, the Dallas D-line, already among the best in the NFL, helped keep the Seahawks offense, which scored the second-most regular season points in club history, to 224 yards and 14 points.
But there was nothing to be done Monday about losing a winnable game. Besides, the future comes up too fast. As always, big business decisions are upon the Seahawks.
According to spotrac.com, the Seahawks have $60 million in space under the 2019 salary cap, seventh-most in the NFL. That leaves plenty of room to re-sign their top priority, DE Frank Clark, whose four-year rookie deal is up after a season of 13 sacks, tied for seventh in the NFL, plus other instant helpers.
Carroll said on the radio that talks with Clark’s agent have been going on for a while. He also said he’s had a business meeting with an even bigger franchisepriority, Wilson, who has a final year left in his $87.5 million deal that increasingly seems a bargain.
“Russ and I met and we talked about the future,” he said. “We are talking about where we are going and what we want to get done. You know, that’s very much in our plans.”
Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, has always seemed eager to get Wilson, 30, to free agency in his career prime, one of the reasons he insisted on a four-year deal in the previous negotiation instead of five.
But that drama likely will be put off until spring, following free agency and the draft. Besides, for a short while, Carroll, fresh with his own contract extension through 2021, wants to look back past the events of Saturday to a season in which he proved wrong a Legion of Doomsayers.
Short of a game Sunday at the Coliseum against the Rams, it doesn’t get any better.