SOMEWHERE OVER TEXAS Of all the things the Seahawks lost in Jacksonville--more players, three interceptions, Leonard Fournette on the game-clinching run, their minds--the loss of Bobby Wagner is the most problematic to their playoff hopes.
The All-Pro middle linebacker re-injured a hamstring that had been bothering him for weeks and kept him out of midweek practices. The re-injury happened on the first drive following halftime on a chilly night in North Florida. The Jaguars scored on their next three offensive plays and 27 of their 30 points after Wagner got hurt. When it was third and 11 and Seattle needing one more stop late to give the offense a final chance to win the game, Fournette ran for 13 yards off left tackle. Coach Pete Carroll and safety Earl Thomas said after the game a linebacker overran his assigned gap allowing Fournette to romp free. Michael Wilhoite was in at middle linebacker for Wagner.
How much more emphasizing does anyone need on how absolutely vital he is to Seattle’s increasingly decimated defense that is currently down five Pro Bowl players?
“Hamstring. Same one that he’s had. That’s the first time he wasn’t able to finish a game,” coach Pete Carroll said.
The Seahawks, 8-5 and currently on the outside of the NFC playoff chase, host the first-place Los Angeles Rams (9-4) Sunday at what amounts to an NFC West championship game.
A large reason why Seattle has won the last two meetings with the Rams by a combined score of 40-13 has been because Wagner and Pro Bowl linebacker partner K.J. Wright are uniquely equipped to throttle L.A.’s dynamic running back Todd Gurley in a way no other NFL team has. As I detailed in October before the Seahawks held the NFL’s top-scoring offense to 10 points while winning at Los Angeles, Wagner and Wright have the speed to stay with Gurley outside and on pass routes. They have the strength and tackling ability to meet him in holes and bring him down for shorter gains.
But Wright got a concussion during Sunday’s damaging--and damning --second half. The league’s protocol he’s now in can take a week or more to get through successfully.
Carroll did not have a prognosis for Wright following the loss at Jacksonville. Not did he have anything on whether Wagner will be able to play against the Rams. His injury sounds potentially more lengthy.
“We’ll wait and see. I don’t know,” Carroll said after the game when asked specifically about Wagner.
Monday morning Carroll told Seattle’s KIRO-AM radio: “How he is, I don't know that yet” --and “I can't state how valuable he is to us."
But then Carroll said : “Michael Wilhoite has to play football for us, likely” Sunday against the Rams.
Then there was the disgraceful fighting, beer throwing, and fan threatening that happened at the end of Sunday’s game. Those could also have effects that imperil Seattle’s chances to win the division, which right now is the team’s most likely way into the postseason for the sixth consecutive January.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk Monday morning was already into “thoroughly” reviewing Michael Bennett’s dive into the back of Jaguars center Brandon Linder’s legs, Sheldon Richardson throwing a punch at Fournette and then fans throwing beer on Quinton Jefferson after the Seahawks’ defensive lineman was ejected from the game for fighting. Jefferson went after fans by scaling a wall at the bottom of the stands and grabbing a railing as if to hoist himself into the crowd. A Seahawks staffer intervened and pulled Jefferson down and finally got him into the tunnel and locker room.
Lockhart told PFT the NFL will be talking to the Seahawks and Jaguars to determine what actions to take. Suspensions are not out of the question. The league may see the need to draw a firm line that players cannot even come close to entering seating areas to challenge fans, no matter how justified a response from a player to fan idiocy may be. And there is an issue of integrity of the game at what it appeared Bennett was doing during and especially after a Jaguars kneel-down play that easily could have resulted in a major injury for Linder.
“Nothing to report at this point, but all of this will be looked at thoroughly,” Lockhart told PFT.
He was including how Jacksonville’s security procedures in the Jefferson incident with the fans.
Asked Monday morning by KIRO AM if he’s heard yet from the league, Carroll quipped: “I’ve not been taking any calls at this time.”
All the Seahawks involved are defensive linemen. Any suspensions would be potentially decisive blows to a defense that cannot afford any more losses. Seattle, of course, is already without Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril for the rest of the season due to injuries.