John McGrath: Seahawks played like they could afford to lose

Staff writerDecember 22, 2013 

Everything was in place Sunday for the Seattle Seahawks to beat Arizona. The table was set for them to clinch the NFC West Division.

Despite a sloppy performance that found them picking up almost as many penalties (nine) as first downs (10), despite a kicking game that cost them a routine field goal and set up Arizona for a chip shot of its own, despite not really deserving to own the lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Hawks owned the lead midway through the fourth quarter.

All they needed to win their 13th game of the season was for the defense to make a stop, force a punt, and turn things over to the offense for some clock killing.

But the Seahawks couldn’t make the stop.

On a third down and 3 at the Arizona 27, quarterback Carson Palmer connected with tight end Jake Ballard for a 17-yard gain.

On a third and 5 at midfield, Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith was called for defensive holding. On a third and 6 at the Seahawks 31, Palmer lofted a pass into the end zone that Michael Floyd bobbled but managed to hold on to for a touchdown.

Moments later, Russell Wilson threw an off-target pass that either bounced off the ground or ricocheted off the forearm of Doug Baldwin, and Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby was there to intercept it. 

Ballgame.

“They made the plays to win,” defensive end Red Bryant said in the most quiet the home-team locker room at CenturyLink Field has been since Dec. 24, 2011, when the Seahawks lost to San Francisco. “They played just as hard as we did.”

Between us, Red? It looked like the Cardinals actually played harder. They had to. Their 9-5 record had them on the fringe of playoff contention, staring down at a win-now-or-forget-about-tomorrow challenge.

Before Sunday, coach Pete Carroll and his players said what they thought they should say about an Arizona team they drubbed 58-0 last December. They talked about focusing on the task and taking care of business and not looking beyond a quality opponent.  

But the emotional edge belonged to the Cardinals, who, unlike the Seahawks, couldn’t afford to lose. Aside from failing to secure home-field advantage through the playoffs, the 17-10 defeat had no consequences for a team that this Sunday will have another chance to wrap up home field for the playoffs.

“We must win every week,” Carroll said when it was suggested the visitors were fueled by a desperation not applicable to the Seahawks. “You’re not asking the question I want to address here.

“This goes to next week, and that’s what happens. We’re very, very fortunate that we have that opportunity, and we’re going to make the most of it. These guys in that locker room have to flip the switch, from the frustration of not getting it done today to getting it done next week. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to try to do that … and see if we can finish this thing off and get this division.”

As ugly as the offense looked Sunday – definition of ugly: when the longest play of the day includes 8 yards advanced on a fumble – nothing was lost that can’t be salvaged next week against the St. Louis Rams.

“It’s not the end of the world,” reassured Baldwin. “This is going to give us the ability to refocus and get better. I love adversity, because I think that the great ones don’t just become great through victory. They don’t just constantly win all of the time; that’s not what makes them great. It’s the ability to recover from the defeat, and how they recover is what makes them better.

“We’re going to recover from this in a better way and make sure that we’re ready for next week.”

The opportunity to regroup is a luxury the Cardinals didn’t have. They had to escape CenturyLink Field with a victory, and they must beat the 49ers next week in Arizona, and even if they go two-for-two in Must Win games to finish with an 11-5 record, they’ll still need some help.

“This keeps our playoff hopes alive, and that’s all that really matters to me right now – getting to the playoffs,” Arizona defense end Calais Campbell said. “Just a chance, that’s all we can ask for.”

Meanwhile, the Seahawks, who locked up their playoff bid weeks ago, appear to be a team that has become a bit too comfortable with the NFL’s most decisive home-field edge.

They realized losing to Arizona cost them nothing that can’t be retrieved against St. Louis, and they played like it.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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