Usually the Seahawks’ holiday-season games are, well, holidays.
Sure, they seek to win. But for the last five years their regular-season finales mostly have been about trying to improve seeding and staying healthy for the upcoming playoffs.
Not Sunday. The Seahawks (9-6) must beat Arizona (7-8) and fill-in quarterback Drew Stanton—AND must get Carolina (11-4 and already in the playoffs) to win at Atlanta (9-6 and needing a victory to advance) at the same time.
"Of course, we know what the case is. We know that we need a little help," outside linebacker K.J. Wright said. "And that’s very unfortunate."
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Yes, it’s a very new year. Very weird for these Seahawks.
"It is," said seventh-year veteran Doug Baldwin, Seattle’s longest-tenured offensive player.
"But for some reason I enjoy it. So I’m looking forward to whatever happens on Sunday."
Enjoy having to rely on another team that may end up not having anything to play for to get you to extend your season?
"Because your backs are against the wall," Baldwin said of a state he’s often said the Seahawks are best. "There’s really no other option. You have to lay it out on the line. There’s a lot that you can control but there’s a lot that you don’t control.
"So to me it’s just a beautiful example of life, of adversity that life throws at you. And again it introduces you to who you really are.
"So I’m looking forward to that."
The Seahawks are also looking forward to doing something rarely talked about and admitted to in the NFL. Not just scoreboard watching. Smart-phone checking.
Baldwin acknowledged he and his teammates will be in the locker room with their heads down and thumbs scrolling like teenagers. Regardless of what coach Pete Carroll has said they absolutely will be checking on that Panthers-Falcons game, which starts at the same 1:25 p.m. time as Seattle’s.
"Obviously, I think at halftime, guys will be interested to see what’s going on, what’s happening. That’s a natural part of it," Baldwin said.
"But I’m pretty confident in the guys in the locker room, the coaching staff and everybody else will be focused on this game."
Problem for the Seahawks is the Panthers and Falcons isn’t the only game where Seattle needs help.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has said all week he will start recently hot quarterback and Atlanta native Cam Newton and play to win regardless. But Carolina seems destined for the fifth seed and first wild card in the NFC—unless New Orleans loses at Tampa Bay at the same time the Panthers are playing and the Seahawks are going at it in Seattle. A Saints loss plus a Panthers win at Atlanta would give Carolina the NFC South title and possibly a second-overall seed in the conference with a first-round bye, if Chicago upset Minnesota earlier Sunday.
But if the Panthers see during their game at Atlanta the Saints (11-4) are handling the 4-10 Buccaneers, it is logical they would let off trying to beat the Falcons at any possible risk or cost.
And that’s how Seattle’s season could end at 10-6—the same number of victories in each of their previous two years—yet out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
"Somehow, it is going to get to us. The word will spread," Wright said of the Panthers-Falcons score Sunday. "It’s going to spread around. That’s just natural and is going to be the case. We’re definitely going to find out.
"And whatever we find out, we just have to go and play ball still. It doesn’t matter."
Wright had a fumble recovery that got Seattle its first point just before halftime then an interception that turned Dallas away at the Seahawks’ 20-yard line in the 21-12 victory over the Cowboys last week. It was his return game from missing the loss to the Rams the previous week with a concussion.
He and All-Pro linebacker partner Bobby Wagner in the middle will be glad to see Stanton quarterback the Cardinals on Sunday.
Arizona coach Bruce Arians made some waves around Puget Sound after he was videotaped in the locker room following his team’s 23-0 win over the New York Giants last weekend telling his players they were going to kick the Seahawks’ "(rear ends)"—and that CenturyLink Field was the Cardinals’ home field.
More accurately, it’s been Carson Palmer’s home field recently. Arizona has won its last two visits to Seattle and three of the last four games at CenturyLink Field—with Palmer starting. The Cardinals’ only loss in that span in Seattle was in 2014, when Palmer was out injured. He’s won his last three starts on the Seahawks’ home field.
Palmer is out again Sunday, with a broken arm.
After not playing for five games while Palmer’s been out, Stanton replaced Blaine Gabbert as Arizona’s fill-in QB last weekend against the Giants. And Arizona smacked New York at home. Stanton completed 20 of 34 passes for 209 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. That was Stanton’s first start since the Cardinals last played the Seahawks. He completed just 24 of 47 throws with a touchdown Nov. 9 against Seattle.
Stanton’s career numbers against the Seahawks are what give Seattle confidence it can win Sunday even if its offense continues to go nowhere. Stanton has played three games in his career against the Seahawks. All have been losses. He has a 50.6-percent rate of completions, one touchdown, three interceptions and a passer rating of just 57.3 against Seattle. The Seahawks have sacked Stanton seven times in those three games.
About that Seahawks’ offense: Since an upset home win over then-10-1 Philadelphia on Dec. 3 that had Seattle thinking home playoff games and Russell Wilson in the talk to become the NFL’s most valuable player, Wilson has gone south in the time of year he usually soars.
Wilson has completed 54.9 percent of his passes for just 506 yards with six touchdowns and three of his 11 interceptions this season over the last three games. That completion percentage is nearly 10 full points below his career average. He had the fourth game of his career throwing three interceptions, in the loss at Jacksonville Dec. 10. He completed 46.7 percent of his passes—the fifth-lowest game of his career—and got sacked a career high-tying seven times in the 42-7 loss to the Rams on Dec. 17.
Last week, he threw for a career-low 93 yards in the win at Dallas that came thanks to the three turnovers his defense gave him that the offense turned into touchdowns. The last two games the Seahawks have netted 131 yards passing—total. That’s Canton Bulldogs, leather-helmet, Jim Thorpe stuff. Especially for a quarterback that set the franchise record with 452 yards passing in October rallying past Houston.
It’s a statement—and not a good one—about Seattle’s offense that Wilson is still producing more than 86 percent of its yards this season. That’s going to be the most by anyone in the NFL for a team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
He’s the Seahawks’ leading rusher--by 342 yards. He’s thrown or rushed for 35 of Seattle’s 36 offensive touchdowns.
Yet, Seahawks offensive coordinator said this past week: "I don’t think he has played as consistent as he has maybe in weeks earlier."
The play caller mentioned timing on routes with receivers, among other things such as meshing with his iffy offensive line.
"I think we can be a little bit better," Wilson said, "and I think I can be a little bit sharper."
He needs to be against a Cardinals defense that’s been one of the league’s stingiest over the latter half of the season. Chandler Jones leads the NFL with 15 sacks. He’s the strongside linebacker in Arizona’s 3-4 defense. Yet expect the Cardinals to get him over Seahawks’ iffy right tackle Germain Ifedi no matter which side is the strength of Seattle’s formation on passing downs.
Behind Jones, ex-University of Washington star Budda Baker from Bellevue High School has become a rookie star. He’s a Pro Bowl special-teams player and now starter at strong safety. He replaced Tyvon Branch, who tore a knee ligament in early November. Baker had just 14 plays on defense in Arizona’s first eight games.
Baker is one of four Cardinals selected to the Pro Bowl, with ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald (101 catches), Jones and standout cornerback Patrick Peterson.
The Seahawks were an NFL-best 18-5 in December since Wilson’s rookie season of 2012 entering this month. This December they are 1-2.
If they go to 1-3 on the final day of the month and year, their season is over. They go 2-2, their season may still be over.
That is, unless they get help from Carolina that they haven’t needed in as long as anyone can remember in Seattle.
"I’ve always said this, but you always want to get to December with a chance. I know there are a lot of teams with no chance right now," Wilson said.
"And I think for us, we have a great chance."