ARLINGTON, Texas Christmas Eve in Texas. And the Seahawks are in a place this group’s never been.
Quarterback Russell Wilson says “there is a great sense of urgency” for his endangered team.
Many of you may wonder why that was last weekend.
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“We have never really had to face adversity in the season like this,” said top wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who in his seventh season is the Seahawks’ longest-tenured player on offense.
“This” is Seattle (8-6) coming off getting boat-raced 42-7 at home last weekend in what was essentially the NFC West championship game. It was the largest margin of defeat in the Pete Carroll coaching era that began in Seattle with the 2010 season.
Now the Seahawks must slow down 2016 NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys (8-6). Elliott is returning Sunday from a six-game NFL suspension to play this Christmas Eve elimination game at AT&T Stadium.
DeShawn Shead is set to make his season debut after the Seahawks activated him on Saturday. The special-teams captain and 2016 starting right cornerback had reconstructive surgery in January and a second surgery in July.
The Seahawks are also getting key outside linebacker K.J. Wright back from the concussion that caused him to miss last weekend’s game and end a streak of 61 consecutive starts. All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will also start after the strained hamstring he dragged through the Rams game while noticeably slowed has gotten better. Since Wagner and Wright got hurt in the third quarter of their loss at Jacksonville, the Seahawks have allowed Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette to romp for 105 yards and Rams star Todd Gurley to zoom to a career-high 153 yards with four touchdowns in just 2½ quarters against them. In the five-plus quarters since Wagner and Wright got hurt, Seattle has allowed 67 points.
The loser on Sunday is out of the playoff race with one game left in the regular season, on New Year’s Eve. Even with a win, both the Seahawks and Cowboys need Santa, all his reindeer and the entire North Pole worth of the holiday luck from combinations of other contenders losing to make the postseason.
The Seahawks need wins at Dallas and on New Year’s Eve at home over Arizona, plus two losses by either Atlanta (9-5 and at New Orleans Sunday, home to Carolina on New Year’s Eve), Carolina (10-4; versus Tampa Bay, at Atlanta) or New Orleans (10-4; versus Atlanta, at Tampa Bay). Perhaps most problematic of all, Seattle also needs Detroit to lose once. The Lions (8-6) play at Cincinnati (5-9) Sunday and next weekend at home against Green Bay (7-7), which is eliminated from playoff contention and just put quarterback Aaron Rodgers on injured reserve.
SEAHAWKS’ NEXT OPPONENT
DALLAS COWBOYS (8-6)
1:25 p.m. Sunday, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Ch. 13
Line: Cowboys by 5.
Against the Seahawks: Dallas leads the regular-season series 10-6. Seattle won the only playoff meeting on Jan. 6, 2007, when Tony Romo dropped the ball trying to hold for the game-winning field-goal attempt. The Cowboys have won four of the previous six meetings, but lost the last game in this series 13-12 at home on Nov. 1, 2015. That was the last game Seattle’s Ricardo Lockette played. He sustained a career-ending neck injury getting hit by Dallas’ Jeff Heath while the Seahawks were covering a punt.
What to know: An elimination game for both teams. The loser is officially finished in the NFC’s playoff race. … The Cowboys have rejoined that by winning three consecutive games. And now Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s 2016 rushing champion as a rookie, is coming off his six-game league suspension to play the Seahawks, who have allowed Leonard Fournette and Todd Gurley to romp through them for 100-yard rushing days the last two weeks. … Dallas went 3-3 without Elliott, who was suspended because of a domestic-violence incident. The Cowboys scored seven, nine and six points in the losses, to the Falcons, Eagles and Chargers. They scored 38, 30 and 20 in beating the Redskins, Giants and Raiders the last three weeks. … The Raiders game could have been a loss without referee Gene Steratore pulling out an index card to measure and grant the Cowboys a first down on a fourth-down scoring drive late, or if Oakland quarterback Derek Carr hadn’t dropped the ball through the side of the end zone trying to stretch for the goal-line pylon on a scramble run with seconds remaining. … Even with missing the six games Elliott remains Dallas’ leading rusher (783 yards, seven touchdowns. The Cowboys are third in the NFL in rushing offense (136.6 yards per game). They are 24th in passing with second-year man Dak Prescott throwing for about 200 yards per game, with 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 89.6 passer rating. … The Cowboys’ offensive line full of blue-chip draft choices has protected Prescott mostly well, allowing 27 sacks in 14 games. That’s the seventh-fewest sacks allowed in the NFL. … Standout left tackle Tyron Smith is iffy to play because of an injured right knee from the Oakland game. … Dallas is 15th in total offense and 11th in scoring. … Dez Bryant’s 63 catches with six touchdowns leads Cowboys receivers. His pace of 72 catches and seven touchdowns for the season would be his lowest such totals while playing a full season in his eight-year career, all with Dallas. …More than one in every four throws by Prescott goes to Bryant. Bryant’s 118 targets are 11th-most in the league. … Tight end Jason Witten, 35, continues to get it done in his 15th season. He has 56 receptions, and his five touchdowns are his most since 2014. … Witten is catching 75 percent of the passes thrown his way (56 of his 75 targets). … He is a reason the Cowboys are good on third downs, fifth in the NFL converting 43.4 percent. … The defense is ranked 18th overall, 12th against the run, 18th against the pass and 17th in points allowed. … Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence has 13½ sacks, third-most in the league. He had nine sacks total in his first three NFL seasons. He usually plays at left end. That means Seahawks’ right tackle Germain Ifedi is in for a huge test. … Dallas is just plus-1 in turnover margin, 16th in the NFL. The Cowboys have fumbled only nine times this season, second-fewest in the league. They’ve lost seven of those. … The Cowboys don’t kick many field goals but when they do, Dan Bailey makes them. He’s 11 for 13.
Quotable: "He looks slimmer. He does look slimmer. It makes his head look even bigger. He looks damn good. I know he is going to be ready to play. It's was exciting just to see him. … He gives us extra boost." – Bryant, to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, on Elliott’s return to the team Tuesday after spending most of his six-week suspension training in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.