For the entire season, the Seahawks were on a tightrope, swaying in the breeze, an almost unprecedented 10-1 in games decided by a single possession. They nearly made it across. Sunday, they fell.
Because there’s a minimum of two games left, it can’t be said they have hit the canyon floor. But it has certainly grown cold and breezy, and the ground is coming up fast.
“We were ready to play, and jacked up,” said coach Pete Carroll, astonished. “It’s just really a surprise.”
Wretched as was their play in the shocking 27-13 loss (box) to 5-9-1 Arizona — a team they beat 27-10 in September — the post-game health news was worse.
RBs Chris Carson (hip) and C.J. Prosise (broken arm) are done for the season, and likely so is LT Duane Brown, who didn’t play Sunday and will have arthroscopic surgery Monday on a knee.
The injuries came after after two players, WR Josh Gordon and DT Al Woods, were lost during the week to NFL drug suspensions, and three defensive starters, DE Jadeveon Clowney (core muscle), CB Shaquill Griffin (hamstring) and FS Quandre Diggs (ankle) were held out because of injuries. During the game, LG Mike Iupati missed time with a neck stinger.
The copious casualties looked like a pile of wasted bad guys in a Jackie Chan movie.
“We have to get to scrambling,” Carroll said of their personnel needs. “Johnny (GM John Schneider) has got to get to work and figure out what we’re doing next.”
Pursuit of a running back(s) is priority 1, because they are already missing backup Rashaad Penny (torn ACL). Priority 1A is not to let the shock of the loss bleed into the practice week.
“It’s important for us to be disciplined about this, so we can turn our focus and not be affected by what just happened,” Carroll said. “We do that really well.”
That salutary history faces its ultimate test in recovering from a season-worst defeat to face Sunday arguably the NFC’s best team, the 12-3 San Francisco 49ers. The start of the much-anticipated game was flexed to 5:20 p.m., so the football nation can savor a clash fraught with rivalry, stakes (the division title) and drama, with both teams already guaranteed a post-season berth.
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As large a task as Carroll faces, the 11-4 Seahawks are still in position to stand at the summit: By beating the 49ers, they have a small chance to finish with the No. 1 NFC playoff seed. But if they lose, they could fall all the way to sixth and last. The only one of the six spots they can’t hold is No. 4, which belongs to the NFC East winner.
As much as the Seahawks need to look forward, they cannot un-see two absurd developments Sunday.
- The Cardinals played all but one series of the second half with their backup quarterback, former Seahawk Brett Hundley, who replaced star rookie Kyler Murray (hamstring), and
- Despite the fact that the Cardinals entered the game statistically with the worst pass defense in the NFL, Seahawks wide receivers caught just three passes.
Of the two, the second was the more egregious, because the pathetic pass protection — compromised by the first career start at left tackle for second-year lineman Jamarco Jones against NFL sack leader Chandler Jones — was a clear and present threat to the health of QB Russell Wilson.
“We had a terrible time today,” Carroll said of the pass pro. “We weren’t able to keep (Chandler Jones) out of of there. He just had a huge day.”
Wilson appeared battle-worn and afterward said he was fine, but did acknowledge that someone stepped on his ankle.
Jones had four of Arizona’s five sacks (for 36 yards in losses), six quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
“I was winning clean early, so I knew I was fixing to have a big game,” he said. “After my second sack, my coach said those sacks aren’t good because you’re not getting the ball. He said, get me the ball.”
So Jones in the second half knocked the ball free twice, from Wilson and WR David Moore, to kill two possessions.
With the first-half departures of Carson and Prosise, the running game devolved into rookie RB Travis Homer. He was valiant, but managed only 16 yards on five carries, and 26 yards on six receptions.
With no rushers, and no pass protection, that’s how a team gets to a season-low 224 yards of offense in 25 minutes of possession, while converting one third down in 12 tries. The Seahawks’ opening drive of 89 yards in nine plays for a touchdown looked near-brilliant, but the rest of the game, they gained 135 yards.
“We weren’t able to get the ball out (to the wideouts),” Carroll said. “Russ couldn’t do anything about it. It was really a hard day, protection-wise.”
On defense, the game turned on Arizona’s second possession, when RB Kenyan Drake, a mid-season trade acquisition, took a first-down handoff and went 80 yards untouched to tie the game at 7.
“We were on a blitz,” LB Bobby Wagner said, “and they caught us.”
On Seattle’s next possession, a brain-fart ruined a chance for a field goal. When the drive stalled at fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 33, Carroll didn’t want to go for it, despite Carson’s success to that point.
Jason Myers came on to attempt a 52-yarder, only he paused before the kick, perhaps bothered by wind velocity. Instead of calling timeout, he allowed the play clock to run out. The five-yard penalty for delay pushed Myers out of field goal range. The Seahawks were forced to punt.
“They got messed up, up front,” Carroll said of the blocking assignments. “Jason felt it would be better to take the delay than to take the timeout, and I couldn’t tell what was going on. We were supposed to kick there, but didn’t.
“We were out of whack with what was going on. I think I will leave it at that.”
Carroll’s description applied to many things Sunday. The Seahawks often are out of whack when Arizona comes to town — the win was the Cardinals’ fifth in their past eight visits here — but Sunday was especially perverse, given the personnel trauma.
Wagner recalled a similar circumstance. In the next-to-last regular-season game of 2013, Arizona showed up and bounced the heavily favored Seahawks, 17-10. The Seahawks responded by beating the Rams 27-9 in the finale, then went on to win the Super Bowl.
But as Seahawks fans know, 2013 was a special group. The 2019 team has been a fortunate group. All of their good fortune seemed to run out in a single week.