Fifteen games later, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is wondering how he arrived at this point in the season so fast.
“Hard to imagine that we find ourselves in the last week of the regular season,” Carroll said.
It is, and a modicum of pressure has joined the Seahawks in Week 17.
The Seahawks have lost two of their past three games, giving up a small but late lead in each.
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Sunday, Seattle closes its regular season against a buzzing St. Louis Rams defense that restricted the Seahawks’ offense to seven first downs in a narrow win for Seattle in St. Louis in Week 8.
Negotiating the Rams — notably the ferocity of defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long — is part of the equation.
Another issue is what happens around the league.
Depending on their result and a handful of others, the Seahawks could be relaxing in their locker room next week or be on a flight to Chicago, Dallas or Green Bay.
Hence, a bit of a squeeze around the environment for Seattle’s regular-season finale.
The odds are that the Seahawks finish as the NFC’s top seed despite their recent stumbling. A win over St. Louis would clinch the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A loss or tie in Arizona by the San Francisco 49ers also would make the Seahawks the division winners and top seed, even if Seattle lost.
If the Seahawks end up tied with the Carolina Panthers at 12-4, Seattle would still be the No. 1 seed because of its opening-week 12-7 win over the Panthers.
In order to be jettisoned to the road, Seattle would have to lose and the 49ers would have to win.
That would boot the Seahawks down to the No. 5 seed, making them a wild card team that would have to travel to play an NFC division winner.
Because of how the NFL playoff system is set up, it’s likely two NFC teams with at least 11 wins will have to open on the road during wild-card weekend.
“You don’t worry about the crazy circumstances; you just go out there and play,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said.
The first game against the Rams was a mess.
The Seahawks found their peak of offensive ineptness. They had one rushing first down. Marshawn Lynch carried a season-low eight times for a season-low 23 yards.
Russell Wilson was sacked seven times — six of those by Quinn and Long.
St. Louis rookie running back Zac Stacy ran for a career-high 134 yards, despite having an injured ankle that left him waiting outside of the X-ray room after the game.
That confluence of ineffectiveness left the Seahawks’ defense standing in their end zone awaiting a final play to decide the game.
The Rams had moved from their 3-yard line with 5:42 remaining to the Seahawks’ 6 for first-and-goal with 46 seconds remaining.
An incomplete pass followed. Earl Thomas nailed backup running back Daryl Richardson, who was in for Stacy. Quarterback Kellen Clemens was again incomplete on third-and-2, but Chris Clemons was offside, providing another down.
Special teams captain Heath Farwell, who is part of the Seahawks’ goal-line personnel, was sent in when the Rams put their goal-line package on the field. Farwell stuffed Richardson to bring up fourth down.
With four seconds remaining, the Rams snapped the ball. Clemens was again incomplete and the Seahawks ran onto the field to celebrate.
“I liked (defensive coordinator) Dan Quinn’s confidence in calling the call he made during that situation,” Sherman said. “An all-out blitz, zero coverage. It takes some (confidence) to make a call like that.”
Coverage calls are less of a concern lately. More at issue is Seattle’s offense. Wilson had his poorest outing of the season last week. The Seahawks have also been incapable of third-down conversions, going 5-for-26, the past two weeks.
With typical Wilson-speak, Seattle’s quarterback heaped the issue on himself.
“I’ll take the blame for it and I’m excited about that,” Wilson said.
Already in the playoffs, the Seahawks need this final win to achieve the regular-season pursuits stated in the preseason. A chance to win the division and claim home-field advantage is available for the final time.
No matter how fast the last week seems to have arrived, time’s up. Sunday decides what is next.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-8) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (12-3)
1:25 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM, 1240-AM, 96.9-FM.
The series: Seattle and the St. Louis Rams have met 30 times in the regular season, and the Seahawks lead the all-time series 19-11. The last time the teams met in the regular season, the Seahawks won, 14-9, in St. Louis on Oct. 28.
What to watch: If Seattle’s offense can put anything together. The Seahawks scored a season-low 10 points last week in a 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. In the first game against St. Louis, Seattle was bailed out when Golden Tate made a magnificent reception for an 80-yard touchdown. Tate also had a 2-yard touchdown catch that was set up by a Richard Sherman interception. The Seahawks started that drive at the Rams’ 26-yard line and were able to score. Marshawn Lynch had eight carries in the first game. The Seahawks would like to get him to that number by the end of the first quarter Sunday.
The pick: Seahawks 27, Rams 13
No. Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Year
30 Zac Stacy, RB, 5-8, 224, first
- Short, stout runner hammered Seahawks the first time.
76 Rodger Saffold, LT, 6-5, 332, fourth
- Guard will start in place of injured left tackle Jake Long.
91 Chris Long, DE, 6-3, 268, sixth
- No. 2 overall pick in 2008 is bookend to Quinn with 71/2 sacks.
94 Robert Quinn, DE, 6-4, 264, third
- Pro Bowl selection this season leads league in sacks (18).
No. Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Year
25 Richard Sherman, CB, 6-3, 195, third
- Though it’s the holidays, says he’s in the “taking season.”
28 Walter Thurmond, CB, 5-11, 190, fourth
- Looking to get back in rhythm following return from suspension.
81 Golden Tate, WR, 5-10, 202, fourth
- Interactions between him and Rams secondary will be interesting.
83 Ricardo Lockette, WR, 6-2, 211, first
- May see more time with Jermaine Kearse (ankle) hobbled.