If the Saints and Seahawks were to win their their final two regular-season games . . .
Wait. What? You there, the gray-haired gentlemen with his hand up. What is your NFL postseason-speculation question?
“I don’t really care,” said Pete Carroll. ‘I really don’t. We have to win a game, then we’ll see where we are. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”
The Seahawks coach won’t play along with many fans intensely parsing the permutations. At least, that’s what he said Monday morning on his ESPN 710 radio show.
“OK, I’m screwed up,” he said sarcastically. “I’m a mess in this regard. I don’t care about those details.”
But before castigating him as Mr. No-Fun, consider how much enjoyment he’s taking from this season. For a guy who’s now in the playoffs for the eighth time in his 10 seasons in Seattle, he should be a little more casual about it. He’s not.
“This is as much fun as I’ve ever had, just because (this group of players) has been a blast to work with,” he said in the wake of the 30-24 win Sunday over Carolina that advanced the Seahawks to 11-3 and at least momentarily vaulted them into the No. 1 spot in the NFC seedings. “It’s the way they approach it. There’ s so much positive, so much support and camaraderie, that it doesn’t seem like anything can get in between us.
“It’s so much fun to coach these guys. They’ve learned a lot. They’ve overcome a lot. They sustained the season — look where we are, with a chance to have a really big finish. If a group deserves it, they deserve it, because they’ve given themselves to this effort. They’ve bought in and sold out for the team. It’s a beautiful, beautiful makeup of this group. That’s what I like the most about it.”
Freed of the dramas around hugely successful veterans Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor (remember his inexplicable holdout?) and Michael Bennett, Carroll in the off-season spent big money on two productive leaders, Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, whom he could trust to evangelize his mission statement.
Then he surrounded them with the league’s fourth-youngest roster, mostly to save money under the salary cap, and clinched a playoff berth with two weeks left in a regular season that beneficially closes with two home games (Arizona Sunday and San Francisco Dec. 29).
According to Elias Sports, they are the second team in NFL history to win 10 one-score games (eight points or less) in a single season, joining the 1978 Houston Oilers. The meager point differential of 26 for an 11-3 record is driving analytics people to order tanker trucks of Maalox.
Almost every game has demonstrated some large vulnerability, as well as luck that has gone their way. It is almost inexplicable.
As an example, the Seahawks have fumbled the ball away a whopping 13 times, tied for second-most in the NFL with Cincinnati and two behind he New York Giants, two awful teams. Yet Seattle has recovered 16 fumbles, tied with Pittsburgh for the league lead.
There’s nothing more random than the tumble of a loose football, yet the Seahawks somehow have negated a weakness with a strength.
Not that Carroll is advocating always driving on wagon-rutted dirt roads instead of the interstate. Sunday’s game was another episode of unneeded drama. Up 30-10 in the fourth quarter, the injury-crippled defense slid into a soft zone. The Panthers shredded it with two long touchdown drives that gave them a potential late shot at the win. The Seahawks managed to run out the clock, barely.
‘It takes a little bit of juice out of it,” he said. ‘We were stressing when we didn’t have to. Unfortunately, we just gave them some easy stuff. It was frustrating in that regard.
“But the essence of the day was, we played really good. I love how fast we started on the road. That’s been the challenge — come out of the chutes fast and not get knocked around in the first half. That’s happened to us; we’ve been through that. The start was great on both sides of the ball.”
Despite harrowing circumstances, they won. Then they had more fun.
Carroll told a story about the start of the flight home from Charlotte coinciding with the wild finish of the 49ers game, won preposterously by the Falcons 29-22 in the final five seconds. Because the plane had no wi-fi — who knew the Seahawks flew crop-dusters? — everyone was relying on a sketchy hot-spot signal for the laptop of team surgeon Ed Khalfayan.
“A whole bunch of guys were gathered around,” Carroll said. “Everyone was saying (to the flight crew) don’t move, don’t move. It was a blast.”
As the would-be game-winning touchdown was under video review, the signal froze on the replay image of Atlanta WR Julio Jones appearing to break the goal-line plane with the ball.
“We didn’t know what happened,” he said. “Everybody’s screaming.”
A couple of minutes passed before someone else picked up the signal to learn that Jones scored, bumping up the Seahawks into the NFC West lead.
“Everybody went all crazy again,” he said. “It was a great moment.”
Perhaps a data researcher can come up with a metric that can quantify the impact of “fun” on the won-loss record.
Until then, Carroll will let everyone else have fun their way, examining NFC playoff scenarios. He made the point that he considers the next two contests playoff games.
“We’re in the playoffs now,” he said. “‘It’s on.”
There would seem to be little point in contradicting a man in full from having fun his way.