The only real concern in this latest domination by the Seattle Seahawks was normally near-automatic kicker Steven Hauschka missing three field goals.
Hauschka’s third miss temporarily kept Arizona in this virtual NFC West title game late in the third quarter Sunday night.
Marshawn Lynch playfully took off his green team beanie and put it atop Hauschka’s head. Then the running back patted his kicker on the back for encouragement. Both Seahawks smiled.
“It means a lot to have my teammates on my side like that,” Hauschka said. “He understands.”
Then Lynch wowed.
Sidelined for the game’s first two drives by nausea and dry heaves, Lynch cut right and cut left with the ball early in the fourth quarter. He bulled through four flailing Cardinals. He deftly, gracefully stayed inbounds. He crossed the goal line to cap his highlight-reel 79-yard run — then twisted for an R-rated, crotch-grabbing, Nestea plunge.
One of Lynch’s most remarkable runs in his unique career — a play so good LeBron James was tweeting about it — was the most memorable of Seattle’s team-record 596 yards of offense.
Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes to tight end Luke Willson, then ran 5 yards with an outstanding TD run of his own. That plus another domination by the Seahawks’ top-ranked defense added up to a 35-6 steamrolling of Arizona that sets Seattle up for the NFC’s top seed in the playoffs.
“Words can’t describe that,” teammate Doug Baldwin (seven catches, 113 yards) said of Lynch’s run zig-zagging, bullish yet graceful run.
“Beast Mode II,” Richard Sherman (one interception) said, referring to the bulldozing plow through New Orleans Saints in the 2010 playoffs at CenturyLink Field that set off seismic monitors around Seattle.
“I don’t know, that may be Beast Mode I,” Sherman said. “He is a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad – continue to say ‘bad’ – man.”
Lynch finished with 113 yards on 10 carries despite line coach Tom Cable — long a confidant of the fun-loving but media-averse running back — saying the notoriously queasy-before-games Lynch was “as sick as I’ve ever seen him. He was dry heaving in the first half.
“Then he comes back and does that? Hell!”
The playoff-bound Seahawks (11-4) won for the fifth consecutive time and eighth time in nine games. A win Sunday at home against St. Louis (6-9) would give Seattle another NFC West title and clinch a first-round bye plus home-field advantage throughout the conference postseason.
Did this team really start this season 3-3?
Asked if he ever thought back in October after the third loss at St. Louis his defending Super Bowl champions would be 11-4 with all its regular-season goals one win from realization, Sherman said, “No.
“I thought we’d be 13-3.”
Wilson finished with 88 yards on six carries, including a 55-yard scramble in the first half that was the longest run of his career. His 80-yard TD pass to Willson that made it 7-3 in the first half tied for the longest throw of his three NFL seasons. Wilson finished 20 for 31 passing for 339 yards — a career regular-season high — and two scores.
Most important, the Seahawks’ maligned offensive line, starting fourth-string center Patrick Lewis and second-year undrafted fill-in left tackle Alvin Bailey, allowed just one sack after allowing Arizona to dump Wilson seven times in the 19-3 win in Seattle on Nov. 23.
“The players were phenomenal tonight,” Cable said, adding that Wilson was exquisite in “replacing the blitzers with the ball” — that is, throwing far more effectively than he had been recently to the area from which the defense blitzed.
Seattle’s defense held the Cardinals (11-4) and their third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley to 183 yards — until a final garbage-time drive.
Lindley, making his first start since Dec. 23, 2012 because starter Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton are injured, finished 18 for 44 passing for 216 yards. The Seahawks sacked him four times, and Sherman intercepted him.
“We made him nervous,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said.
The results were ugly to everyone but the visitors. The total yards were Seattle 596, Arizona 216.
The domination was thorough. And it was throughout. Seattle held a 305-64 advantage in total yards for the first half.
If Hauschka had been on as usual, it would be been 23-3 early in the third quarter.
“Man,” Bennett said after he had a sack and three hits of Lindley, “sometimes we get more competition in practice.”
It was the fifth consecutive game the Seahawks’ defense not only broke the rhythm of the opponent but also broke its will.
Arizona attempted to run early, to try to lessen the burden on Lindley — and the Cardinals had 20 yards on nine carries in the first half. They finished with 29 yards on 15 carries against the NFL’s top-ranked rush defense.
Coach Bruce Arians had promised Monday that Lindley would be just like Palmer and Stanton before him — “slingin’ it.” Arizona has spent most of this season leading the league in rate of throws beyond 20 yards, and Lindley threw five deep passes in the first half. Four were harmlessly incomplete; the fifth drew a pass-interference foul on Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell for a first down.
“That’s about as much fun as you can have playing NFL football in the regular season,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
“This attitude that we are playing with, it gives us a chance to really have high hopes.
“Personally, I couldn’t have had more fun. I had a freakin’ blast tonight.”