RENTON — Chris Clemons would have had an opportunity to play in front of family and friends when Seattle traveled to Atlanta to face the Falcons in the NFC divisional playoff on Sunday.
Instead, Seattle’s defensive end, a native of Griffin, Ga., a half-hour drive south of Atlanta, will have to watch from the sideline.
Pete Carroll told reporters that Clemons had a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test on Monday, which revealed that he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn meniscus in his left knee that will require surgery.
Seattle is losing its best pass rusher at a bad time, since it is facing the Falcons, one of the top passing offenses in the league, on Sunday.
“It’s a big loss for us in a lot of ways,” Carroll said. “Chris has been a great football player. He’s just been a symbol of consistency for the years we’ve had him. But he’s been a great leader for us, too. And a tough dude.”
Carroll said that rookie first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin will step in and fill Clemons’ spot in the starting lineup. The Seahawks will also look to Greg Scruggs and outside linebackers K.J. Wright and Mike Morgan to help provide some pass rush off the edge.
“This is Bruce’s opportunity,” Carroll said. “It’s what we drafted him to play. And we’ll see how he does. We expect him to do really well as he steps up.”
Irvin is second on the team with nine sacks. The West Virginia product had been playing mostly on passing downs for Seattle, but now will have to show he can be stout against the run along with effectively rushing the passer.
“He’s a smaller guy in stature (compared to Clemons),” Seattle defensive tackle Alan Branch said. “But he can definitely hold his end of the line up, so we’re not worried about him at all.”
Carroll said general manager John Schneider is looking for available free agents who could fill reserve roles behind Irvin.
Clemons, 31, led the Seahawks in sacks for a third straight season with 11.5. His 33.5 sacks since 2010 are tied for sixth most in the NFL. All the players ahead of him on the list have been to at least one Pro Bowl in that span.
Clemons was a first alternate for the Pro Bowl this season.
Clemons has recorded double-digit sack counts in three consecutive seasons, joining Jacob Green (1984-86) and Michael Sinclair (1996-98) as the only Seahawks to accomplish the feat.
“I want to thank everyone for (their) prayers,” Clemons said via Twitter. “I will be ready for next season. We still got a Super Bowl to win!”
Clemons suffered the injury in the second half of Seattle’s 24-14 NFC wild-card win Sunday at Washington.
Carroll was asked if he thought the loose sod at FedEx Field played a role in Clemons’ injury.
“I don’t know that,” Carroll said. “As he planted, there was a push on him by the offensive lineman that kind of hit simultaneous as his foot planted, and he got caught. The field was not a great turf to play on. There was a lot of loose footing out there.”
Carroll said the team talked about filing a complaint with the NFL about the playing surface, but has not yet followed through with any type of formal, written complaint.
BRADLEY, BEVELL ON LISTS
Carroll confirmed that the Philadelphia Eagles asked the Seahawks for permission to interview defensive coordinator Gus Bradley for the team’s vacant head coaching job, and the Chicago Bears have asked for permission to interview offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for that team’s vacant head coaching job.
But Carroll said he does not expect their candidacies to be a distraction this week. If the interviews do take place, neither coach will travel for the interview.
“Both of those guys have been contacted,” Carroll said. “And it’s a real positive for the program when people want to talk to your guys. I’ve always thought that that’s a real cool thing.
“There’s a time and a place. And both of our guys are very aware of what they’re doing, and what we’re in for here. And neither one of them is going to let this distract them or get in the way. There’s very limited opportunity for any of that. They’re not going to travel and go places so, in all due respect for what we’re after right now, it’s low on their list. Both these guys feel exactly the same way about it.”
Carroll said that kicker Steven Hauschka suffered a strained lower calf against Washington. “He feels better today than he did yesterday,” Carroll said. “He really did a great job of kicking through it, and making the plays we needed him to make.” Carroll said he’ll have some kickers come into the facility today, including veterans Neil Rackers and Ryan Longwell, according to an ESPN report, in case Hauschka can’t play on Sunday. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is a finalist for the FedEx Ground Player of the Year, joining Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Washington’s Alfred Morris. The winner will be announced the week of the Super Bowl. Seattle safety Earl Thomas was named to USA Football’s All-Fundamentals team.
SEAHAWKS’ NEXT OPPONENT
Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
10 a.m., Sunday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta
This season: The Falcons, who won their first eight games this season, claimed the NFC South Division with a 13-3 mark and secured the NFC’s top seed and a first-round bye. Atlanta had a 7-1 record at the Georgia Dome, including a 27-21 victory over AFC top seed Denver.
Against the Seahawks: Seattle leads the all-time series, 8-5. The teams have never met in the playoffs. Atlanta won, 30-28, the last time the teams played — Oct. 2, 2011, in Seattle — but almost blew a 27-7 lead when Steven Hauschka’s 61-yard field-goal attempt as time expired fell short and left.
Stats and stuff: Coach Mike Smith has never won fewer than nine games in his five seasons with the Falcons, and has his team in the playoffs for the fourth time. However, he’s also 0-3 in the playoffs, including 0-1 at home. The week off for Atlanta should be beneficial to three defensive starters nursing injuries — end John Abraham (left ankle), cornerback Dunta Robinson (concussion) and strong safety William Moore (hamstring). The defense can use all the help it can get. The Falcons are ranked 23rd in passing yards allowed (242.4 per game) and 21st in rushing yards allowed (123.2 per game) but fifth in points allowed (18.7 per game). The run defense gave up an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Abraham had 10 of the team’s 29 sacks. Linebacker Stephen Nicholas led the team with 97 total tackles while safety Thomas DeCoud led his more recognizable teammates in the secondary — Robinson (one interception) and Asante Samuel (five) — with six interceptions. Offensively, the Falcons like to move the ball my throwing. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been the starter since his rookie season in 2008. Ryan ranked fifth in passer rating (99.1), fifth in yards per game (295), fifth in TD passes (32) and tied with Peyton Manning for first in completion percentage (68.6) this regular season. Still, Ryan hasn’t produced in the playoffs – compiling ratings of 72.8, 69.0 and 71.1 in three losses. Ryan has a trio of dangerous receivers in Roddy White (92 receptions, 1,351 yards, seven TDs), Julio Jones (79, 1,198, 10) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (93, 930, eight). The running game, ranked 29th in the league in yards per game at 87.3, is led by Michael Turner — who had 800 yards and 10 TDs but a career-low 3.6 yards per carry — and the versatile former Oregon State star, Jacquizz Rodgers (362 yards rushing, 402 receiving).
Quotable: “We’ve got a zero in the win column in the postseason and until we get that rectified, they have some right in saying what they’re saying. But I think if we come out and play hard and play sound, I think we’ll get that first playoff win.” — Atlanta safety Thomas DeCoud on the team’s postseason failures since 2008.
Sept. 9Falcons 40, Chiefs 24
Sept. 17Falcons 27, Broncos 21
Sept. 23Falcons 27, Chargers 3
Sept. 30 Falcons 30, Panthers 28
Oct. 7 Falcons 24, Redskins 17
Oct. 14 Falcons 23, Raiders 20
Oct. 21 Bye
Oct. 28 Falcons 30, Eagles 17
Nov. 4Falcons 19, Cowboys 13
Nov. 11Saints 31, Falcons 27
Nov. 18Falcons 23, Cardinals 19
Nov. 25Falcons 24, Buccaneers 23
Nov. 29Falcons 23, Saints 13
Dec. 9Panthers 30, Falcons 20
Dec. 16Falcons 34, Giants 0
Dec. 22Falcons 31, Lions 18
Dec. 30Buccaneers 22, Falcons 17Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams darrin.beene@ thenewstribune.com