You — and they — asked for it. And here it is.
The six-game gauntlet the Seattle Seahawks have been eying as the key to the defense of their Super Bowl title since the schedule came out in April begins now.
It starts with Sunday’s mammoth road test versus the rugged Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) at raucous Arrowhead Stadium. Then home-and-away games with first-place Arizona (8-1) and fellow NFC West rival San Francisco (5-4) plus a trip across the country to play Philadelphia (7-2). It’s the most difficult remaining stretch in the league.
Seattle (6-3) has won three in a row over Carolina, Oakland and the Giants, teams that haven’t won a game in the past month. The Seahawks trail Arizona by two games with seven games remaining in the regular season — including the finale against St. Louis, which has already beaten Seattle.
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“The fact that we have all the division games coming up in the scheduling is really exciting,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It leaves everything out there for you.”
Then, in the next breath, Carroll added, “Kansas City is attracting our focus right now.”
And more than just its team.
The Seahawks are heading into one of the loudest venues in the NFL, to play a Chiefs team that has won four consecutive games following a playoff season in 2013. Uncharacteristically, Kansas City is just 8-5 at home over the past two seasons. That includes a head-scratching loss to Tennessee to begin this season.
Russell Wilson is used to taking his receivers with him to Hermosa Beach in the offseason to run patterns and catch passes in bare feet in the Southern California sand. He’s used to throwing to them on football’s biggest stages, including in the biggest game of all, on turf in standard game spikes.
He’s not used to throwing and running on ice.
Yes, it’s cold in Kansas City — 18 degrees Saturday night into early Sunday. Arrowhead Stadium’s field has been covered all week, but the temperature in Kansas City hasn’t been more than one degree above freezing since Tuesday afternoon.
In practices this past week, Wilson tried out some in shoes without spikes in case Arrowhead’s grass field is indeed frozen.
“We know it’s going to be loud. We know their fans are going to be intense. Those are championship moments that you live for,” Wilson said. “Those are all the times when you’re a little kid you work for. Those are all the times when you’re in the weight room during the offseason and throwing with the guys and traveling around and trying to throw with the guys as much as you can in different locations and find a way.
“That’s what develops championship teams is finding a way to win … finding a way to continue to believe.”
Believe this: Sunday’s high temperature is expected to be 30 degrees. But Wilson could wear crampons and still do what is the Seahawks’ must do against the Chiefs: hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch to feature the league’s top-ranked rushing offense.
Even Justin Houston, the NFL’s sack leader with 12 — near the pace of Michael Strahan’s league record of 22½ sacks from 2001 — knows the key for his Chiefs isn’t stopping Seattle’s struggling passing game.
“Oh, stop No. 24. Easily. He’s a monster,” Kansas City’s outside linebacker said of Lynch, who had 140 of Seattle’s team-record 350 yards rushing with a career-high four touchdowns in last week’s win over the New York Giants. “If we can stop him and slow down Wilson from running the ball, we’ll give our offense a great chance to put some points on the board, and our chances of winning will go up.
“Because,” Houston added, “they can run the ball at will.”
It took a while — half the season, after a focus on getting the ball outside instead to Percy Harvin, the stunning trade of Harvin in early October and then adjusting for two games to life without him — but the Seahawks have regained their power-running identity by relying on Lynch.
The best way to beat the Chiefs is to stay with that, Carroll said. Seattle’s offensive line, finally back to semi-full health, has proven to be far better opening running lanes for Lynch than it’s been protecting Wilson when he’s dropped back trying to throw. Plus, Kansas City has the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, fueled by Houston.
“I think we’re more like we’ve been. And we like it,” Carroll said. “So we’re going to keep going.”
That means more of 285-pound fullback Will Tukuafu, who played his second game for Seattle last week after San Francisco waived him last month. Tukuafu steamrolled Giants between the tackles while playing 17 snaps. Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell loved what they saw, so they are likely to have No. 46 in front of No. 24 often in Kansas City.
On defense, the Seahawks must slow the running of All-Pro back Jamaal Charles and teammate Knile Davis, then Alex Smith’s short passing game to Charles, Dwayne Bowe and tight end Travis Kelce. Seattle is without key run-stuffing defensive tackle Brandon Mebane for the rest of the season; he tore his hamstring in last weekend’s win over New York. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (turf toe) is out for one more week. Kevin Williams, the 34-year-old, five-time Pro Bowl defense tackle who has averaged only 26 snaps per game this season, takes over for Mebane at nose tackle. K.J. Wright moves from outside linebacker to the middle for the third time this season.
How Williams and Wright play up the middle may determine how the Seahawks fare Sunday.
“I believe this offense is the best we’ve faced this year with the way they run the ball with Jamaal Charles and Davis,” Wright said. “They have really big tight ends and big receivers like Bowe, so they do a really good job of running the ball and taking care of the ball, too. We’ve got our hands full.”
What else is new in this treacherous season?