Just like that, the Denver Broncos go from last year’s Super Bowl to a complete transition full of doubt.
Coach John Fox is out, as of Monday. Legendary quarterback Peyton Manning might not be back for an 18th season at the age of 39 with a new coach.
It can happen that quickly.
The Seattle Seahawks (13-4) know to behold this run they are on. Eleven months after beating Manning’s Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII they are one win — Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against Green Bay (13-4) at CenturyLink Field — from another one.
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“Really look forward to this,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday of his second consecutive conference title game in his fifth season since leaving his national title run at USC. “Something that you hope for, that you get into this position, this opportunity. And our guys are really pumped up about it.”
Carroll even seized the first omen of championship game week — for his team’s fans from Puget Sound to Polynesia.
“I think it’s only fitting that they’re starting the game at 12 (noon Sunday). Worked really hard to negotiate that and finally got that done,” Carroll deadpanned. “Hopefully our 12s will celebrate our 12 o’clock start.
“Anyway, we’re really excited about it. Everybody is looking forward to this preparation and getting ready for, obviously, a fantastic football team.
“Here we go.”
Here goes Max Unger, Byron Maxwell and Tony Moeaki, in particular.
Carroll said Unger should be fine to start for the second consecutive time on Sunday after he missed six consecutive games with a high-ankle sprain. The two-time Pro Bowl center got the same ankle turned late in the fourth quarter of Seattle’s 31-17 victory over Carolina in the divisional round Saturday.
“He looks good. I think he’s come out OK,” Carroll said. “Very fortunate on that one.”
Unger is the Seahawks’ glue to the offensive line that for most of two seasons, including this one when Unger has missed 10 games, has struggled in pass protection. His return Saturday resulted in Russell Wilson generally having the time to find Jermaine Kearse, Luke Willson, Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson for 268 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 completions. His 149.2 passer rating in his sixth playoff game was his career postseason high — and just missed a perfect rating of 158.3.
Wilson got that perfect rating when it counted, on third downs: 8 for 8, 199 yards and all three touchdowns.
What a difference an Unger makes.
“He was real solid. Pass protection was really good. Our consistency, just like we had hoped, was there along with the communication,” Carroll said. “So it was a good start back for him. He hadn’t played in a long time so you have to kick the rust off a little bit.
“I’m sure he’ll feel better the next time out after getting a full game of full speed playing.”
Carroll also said Maxwell, his starting cornerback, is better after a cold last week that had him short of breath and not starting against Carolina. Maxwell got just four snaps on special teams while Tharold Simon played for him — and Simon got burned often, including for the Panthers’ only two touchdowns.
Moeaki should be fine to play this weekend after missing the game against Carolina because of a calf injury. That return could open up the outside for the wide receivers; the last four of the catches for Moeaki, a midseason signing when starting tight end Zach Miller went on injured reserve, have gone for first downs.
Carroll already seem to start some of the gamesmanship Monday, too.
Rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee Saturday during the third quarter. Usually when roster spots are open to be filled, as Richardson’s is, Carroll is coy about how he might fill it.
Not Monday. The Seahawks’ coach uncharacteristically went on and on about how the team will fill Richardson’s place — by promoting its practice squad quarterback.
“Yes, we’re going to move up B.J. Daniels,” Carroll said of San Francisco’s seventh-round draft choice in 2013 that Seattle acquired a year later. “We’re really excited to do that. He has been a guy that has been really impressive to us all year long. It’s a classic example of rewarding a guy that has been competing his butt off.”
Then he gave the Packers coaching staff something new to think about this week.
“He’s going to help us in a number of spots. Of course he’s a third-string quarterback but we’ll work to see how he fits in on special teams,” Carroll said. “He’s a backup returner for us. He can play running back and wide receiver as well. He’s been doing that all year. So he’s a very versatile guy for us to bring to life right now.”
Daniels has been practicing on offense the last month. But Carroll talking at length about a practice squad promotee who can run and play multiple positions seemed like a message.
It won’t be the last one this week. Not with a place in the Super Bowl at stake.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for all of us,” Carroll said of his Seahawks and their title defense season so far.
“And I’m happy to be a part of it.”