The Seahawks had a rare mandatory homework assignment Monday night — watch the Rams-Cardinals game.
As if they would be doing anything else. But Pete Carroll is in no mood to take chances after needing three months to get the Seahawks right.
“Everybody’s got to watch,” Carroll Monday afternoon via videoconference before the MNF game. “This is a really good opportunity for us to see them up close. It will help kick us into being updated with how their season is going. And we hear all of the background stuff that’s distributed during the broadcast, it’s all good stuff for us.”
What they saw was the Rams, the Seahawks’ next opponent Sunday in Los Angeles, beat the team with the NFL’s best record, 30-23, in Glendale, AZ. Dominant at times, the Rams dished payback for a 37-20 home loss to Arizona Oct. 3 and advanced to 9-4, the Cardinals regressed to 10-3.
Entering the game, the Seahawks (5-8) had a semi-plausible path forward to a playoff berth.
It started with a Cardinals win Monday that would have increased the chances for an early clinch of the No. 1 NFC playoff seeding, rendering the regular season finale Jan. 9 at home against Seattle meaningless, allowing for resting of Cardinals veterans.
If Seahawks beat the Rams Sunday, they would be favored to win the next two games — both at home against Detroit (1-11-1) and Chicago (4-9) — then close with the resting Cardinals. Running the table would give the Seahawks a 9-8 finish and a reasonable shot a wild card berth, depending on tiebreakers.
But now, the Cardinals are more likely to have playoff-position stakes Jan. 9. And the Seahawks on Sunday will face their nemesis that is done with a mid-season swoon and flush with a noteworthy triumph despite a big blow. Five hours before the game, two key starters, CB Jalen Ramsey and TE Tyler Higbee, were lost to COVID-19 protocols. Thanks to injuries, the Rams also were down to a single running back, third-stringer Sony Michel.
Yet they persevered, and prevailed.
Carroll hadn’t thought about playoff scenarios when I asked him Monday what outcome would most help the Seahawks’ playoff chances: “Gosh, I don’t know. Can everybody lose? I guess a tie. 0-0, that’d be great.”
Didn’t quite work out.
Even more than usual, Carroll’s mind was preoccupied. He and all NFL coaches are back to living moment to moment, thanks to bad news Monday afternoon: Besides Ramsey and Higbee, 35 other players entered the protocol. None were Seahawks.
But that was Monday.
Carroll’s temporary relief couldn’t overcome his broader resentment regarding the continuing hassle of protocol vigilance that is in part due to unvaccinated players more easily catching and spreading the virus on teams.
“It’s as constant as anything we’ve been around,” he said. “I don’t know after today what’s going to happen, but everybody has to continually be reminded (about vigilance). Stop griping about being healthy, and (start) helping other people be healthy.
“I don’t get that. That’s beyond me. It’s so far away from personal rights. I don’t get it. We’re just trying to stay healthy. Hopefully, we can get through just another day.”
The conversation got back to football, where Carroll was happier. His offense hit 30 points two games in a row, thanks to Russell Wilson’s recovery from injury and the uncovering of a potential run-game savior, RB Rashaad Penny.
“I don’t think we have played better (this season) in terms of the mix,” Carroll said about the 33-13 win Sunday at Houston when the Seahawks had 28 passes, 29 rushes and 459 yards of offense. “Everybody benefited from that. The balance of the attack and the execution on third down made everybody better. Russ played as well as he has all year, and he didn’t have to carry the load and throw it 40 times. He was very effective and very resourceful with his movements, and working with the line in pass protection. He found spaces to make the big plays, which I think is vintage Russell.
“Rashaad had a lot do with it. The guys up front obviously played well, but I think Rashaad’s explosiveness in the offense really added to the whole thing.”
All of that happened against a team now 2-11. The Rams are a different story. In week 5, they beat Seattle 26-17, when an Aaron Donald swat knocked Wilson from the game and sidelined him for a month.
Carroll acknowledged the distinction.
“I can’t tell you that it’s going to carry over into (Sunday in LA) and we are going to ride on the same course,” he said. “But we would like it to be. I think (the win in Houston) was a really clear illustration of how I visualize us to look. We’ve done that a lot over the years. It hasn’t been as obvious this year.”
Since Sean McVay became the Rams coach, the Seahawks are 3-7 against him, including the playoff loss 11 months ago. The Rams began the week as seven-point betting favorites, and their play Monday made the odds seem light.
But after taking three months to get right, the running of the table the Seahawks have imposed on themselves has to reach a crucible somewhere. May as well be the hardest place.