OK, now that my home-state Buckeyes went to work on the Duckies ... back to the issue at hand:
Just like that, the Denver Broncos go from the Super Bowl last year into a complete transition full of doubt.
Coach John Fox is out, as of Monday. Legend Peyton Manning may or may not be back for an 18th season at the age of 39 as a quarterback with a new coach. Complete transition and doubt in Denver.
It can happen that quickly.
The Seahawks (13-4) know to behold this run they are on. Eleven months after beating Manning’s Broncos in the Super Bowl they are one win away from another one. That game is Sunday’s NFC championship game against Green Bay (13-4) at CenturyLink Field.
“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 okay,” 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 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.
Maxwell’s return comes at the end of his four-year contract with the Seahawks. Aaron Rodgers are going to test him – as every team does opposite Seattle All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
Moeaki should be fine to play this weekend after missing last weekend with a calf injury. That return could open up the outside for the wide receivers; the last four of the catches for Seattle’s midseason signing as starting tight end Zach Miller went on injured reserve have gone for first downs.
Carroll already seemed to start some of the gamesmanship Monday, too.
Richardson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee Saturday in the third quarter against Carolina; Carroll said the injury was complicated beyond just the ACL tear, so it sounds like Richardson may be out for much of 2015, too.
Usually when roster spots are open to be filled, as Richardson’s is, Carroll is coy about how he might fill it.
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 Seattle acquired months 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 in the last month. But Carroll going on and on about a practice-squad promotee who can run and play multiple positon 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.”
Head Coach Pete Carroll
January 12, 2015
(Opening) Well it’s a pretty exciting championship week – really look forward to this – something that you hope for – that you get into this position, this opportunity and our guys are really pumped up about it. I think it’s only fitting that they’re starting the game at 12:00 – worked really hard to negotiate that and finally got that done so hopefully our 12s will celebrate our 12 o’clock start – getting up early, getting prepared for the game. Anyway, we’re really excited about it. Everybody is looking forward to this preparation and getting ready for, obviously, a fantastic football team. Mike [McCarthy] has a done a great job with this team for years. They’ve always been in the hunt for being a championship team and here they are again and there’s no surprise – really coming off a great performance this past weekend so here we go.
(On how much the Packers have changed since week one) Similar at the start of the season, going in, they’ve really turned their season around statistically in some really obviously areas from the first eight games to the second eight games. Their rushing stats on both sides have gone way up on offense and gone way down on defense. They’ve gone through a transition during the course of the season that has really turned them into playing great football here at the end. As we went against them in the opener, we thought this was the team we would be playing like right now so it’s matched up pretty well.
(On the secondary jumping routes and what gives them the trust factor to take that risk) Well, I don’t know if we do anything different than anybody else. Our guys play with a lot of confidence and they believe in the plan, they believe in what they’re seeing when they get their opportunities. We’re certainly not trying to really jump routes and stuff. We don’t play with that thought. We’re trying to play according to the plan and sometimes you get a tip and all that. It really comes back to confidence – it’s the confidence to make the break on the football and go with what you see and that comes from diligent preparation and believing in it. I think that’s maybe what you’re seeing.
(On several times this season players saying that a play they made in the game was a play that they had seen in practice and how big a factor that is) Well, that’s what you hope for. That’s why you prepare and work at it. Most teams run a lot of plays because it’s their base stuff. They’re going to run it regardless. Sometimes you have an opportunity, you get in the right position and you can make a play. It’s good to hear the guys saying that but so much of this preparation is to get them in the right mindset so when the opportunity arises they can go ahead and make a play. They believe in what they see – sometimes guys will second guess. They will hesitate – they’re not quite sure and so you try to get past that through the preparation. Maybe that’s working some for us.
(On if getting the ball out quickly and in rhythm is something Russell Wilson has gotten better at these last three or four weeks) Certainty has – I think it’s probably been four or five weeks that we really made it a big emphasis. We thought we could really pick up our tempo some and he’s really jumped on it. Every game there has been four or five throws that are really, just great rhythm throws, that I think are showing up more and like I said, it helps us because we’re going to have some plays that are going to take a long time to throw it – he’s going to move around, cover some ground back there before he throws it. To have that at each end of the spectrum working for us makes us as tough as we can make it. We need more of the fast rhythm stuff – eliminate the rush issue and hopefully get the ball out quicker. It’s good to see it happen.
(On why getting the ball out quickly and in rhythm is important) It’s important because you don’t get rushed – that’s the important part of it. You have a chance to get the ball out before they can get to you and that makes the urgency of the rush have to pick up and then it helps us in some other areas that we try to take advantage of. When you play Russell, the ball can come out really quick and you better get your hands up, you better do what you can to get in his way as well as you’re going to have to deal with him when he moves and he takes off – makes it about as hard as we can make it.
(On Russell Wilson’s post season numbers being higher than his regular season numbers) I think, like great competitors, these opportunities really bring out the best. He has great habits and they come together. What I hope is happening as we get to the ends of games, the ends of seasons, is our guys believe more in what they can do and they do it even better with the confidence they’ve gained during the course of the year and they execute a little bit better. We’re trying to execute better all the way down the stretch and continue to improve as each success builds from one another – you get that sense that you can do stuff right and you can pull off the plays that you need to pull off and get it done and the guys should execute better because of that. I think that’s what you see in Russell. He really trusts what’s going on and what has brought him to this point where he really believes in himself.
(On what has improved in the offense other than Russell Wilson to allow that type of execution on third-downs) I do think that the rhythm that was brought up here is part of that. You don’t allow the rush to get there. There’s a lot that goes into that. It’s not just the quarterback. It’s the timing of the route. It’s the execution of it, precisely adjusting as they need to and seeing it the same in conjunction with how we pick up whatever pressures and the four-man rushes that are thrown at us. I think that’s part of the reason that it’s valuable to us is you need it so much so when the team knows that you’re going to throw the football. It’s third and six or seven – they’re coming at you. They’re throwing everything they can at you, getting off the football as fast as they can. The rhythm really helps you there. I think we’re seeing the benefit of that as well as some really good adjustments upfront – identifying pressures and things like that and taking advantage of that.
(On Russell Wilson setting the protections and if that is something he’s gotten better at) Sure. It takes time to get good at that stuff but it’s been throughout the season. He had a couple really good ones in San Francisco a few weeks back. He had a pretty good run of it. He’s looking for the people to come after us because he knows he can see it and take advantage of it if we execute really well. We hit a couple great ones in the last month or so.
(On Paul Richardson’s injury and how he’s contributed this season) He’s been a really good factor. We’ve loved what he’s doing. It will call for Kevin Norwood to step-up which is another good call for us. We’re excited to see him play. He will do a really good job. We totally trust that he knows what’s going on and can make good plays. They’re a little different in style but we think he’s going to be a very effective player. We just haven’t seen a lot of him so that you would know that. We’re okay about that. We’re definitely going to miss Paul because he’s making a lot of big plays and tough catches in tough situations and stuff. We will miss him in that.
(On if Kevin Norwood takes over the workload that Paul Richardson had) We switched it around a little bit. You’ll see.
(On how the secondary was able to continue to improve this season) The longer they play together, the more trust is developed and the communication is better. They believe in what they’re seeing more so and it makes them play fast. Kris Richard does a great job. They have a very aggressive attitude in the style of play whether it’s hitting receivers or the nature of playing on the line of scrimmage – it’s instilled in these guys so they’re utilizing it and hopefully, we can make some plays again this weekend.
(On his recollections of the 2012 Seahawks vs. Packers matchup with the Golden Tate hail mary ending) It was an amazing moment when the official makes the call and you get a chance to win a game like that – very difficult situation because somebody loses and somebody wins but it was huge for the 12s and our following. It was a time where Russell gave Golden [Tate] a chance, gave him a chance to make a play and chucked the ball up to him. We had seen him tons of times find a way to make a catch on guys in crowds and stuff like that and to the call of the official, he got it done. It was huge moment and it was a big win obviously because they’re such a good football team and as much drama as you can get in a game – that’s about as good as it gets.
(On what kind of confidence the win gave the team) Some – it was good game and it was exciting and all that. I think it just started the process of understand the value that Russell brings to our football team and the play making and the ability to finish and stuff that he’s shown time and again. You have to start logging those when you’re a first time player. I still will always regret that we didn’t win the Cardinal game when we had those shots at them right off the bat. Culminating 18 play drive, your opening game of your career and we could have won it right there and started the process. I think that’s one of those games but I don’t think it changed anything. We know that you can win on the last play of the game and that’s a good thing to know. You need that sometimes.
(On Max Unger) He looks good. I think he’s come out okay – very fortunate on that one.
(On Byron Maxwell) He seems to be fine today. I checked in with the trainers and it seems like he’s recovered. He had a bad – whatever it was –the night air – I don’t know. He had some issues but he’s okay now.
(On Paul Richardson and if it is just his ACL) There is a little bit of other stuff in there too. It’s a complicated issue. It wasn’t like the worst ever but there are some complications in there and they’re going to take some time to figure out what’s next about it.
(On having a young team and if he had always felt that way about the value of experience) That experience word can be taken a couple of different ways. You don’t need to get old guys to be experienced. We want really good experiences. We like to develop our mentality and teach it and so guys think the way we want to think so that we can function and execute the way we want to function. We knew we would take some chances. John [Schneider] was really emphatic that we could develop a younger roster if we really go that way. He couldn’t believe that I was so much in favor of that thought. He was shocked so that’s why that happened. It’s really to develop those experiences that give you the reservoir of background so that the learning takes place and the execution can really elevate and the performance can elevate. Coach Walsh said a long time ago, you need five years with a team to really get them to a point where you have enough stuff that you have in reserve that you can draw on to really function at a high level. I see what he was talking about – I didn’t know at the time what he meant but there’s so much that goes down – that when we talk to Kam [Chancellor] and Earl [Thomas] and those guys on the sidelines and we’re talking to K.J. [Wright] and Bobby [Wagner] and we’re making adjustments – it’s a look or it’s a word, ‘Bang, they got it. Okay, here we go. Let’s do this like we did last year in this situation’ and stuff clicks. That’s invaluable. It’s invaluable and we are a very well adjusting team I think because we’ve been together and our language and our communications are really good. We try to bank on that and hopefully help us with the challenges as you go through the course of a game and a season.
(On where he feels the experience shows through most) I think it helps in all ways – as long as the experiences are all founded and well-based and you’ve grown from them. Experiences can be bad too and you get those terrible thoughts. It facilitates communication. It allows players to feel more confident so that they can execute closer to their potential. They are not second guessing and wondering if ‘I can do this’ or ‘Is this the time I can go after is?’ If they have the right background, it allows them to function and allows Kam to make that break on that football. He saw the guy in route. He saw the quarterback looking. He didn’t have to hold off any longer. He knew what he saw was right and he makes his interception going 100 miles an hour. That’s good experience in his background – trusting and then executing too
(On how much Lawyer Milloy helped Kam Chancellor’s development) I really think that was an invaluable opportunity for him—because of who Lawyer Milloy is; his approach to the game, his toughness, and the unbelievable competitiveness that Lawyer lived as. I don’t know what Kam would have been without it; I just know what he is now. He’s a perfect strong safety and Lawyer was exactly that as he came through his years. I think I got Lawyer in year two and got to coach him for a few years and have come to appreciate him. He never backed off who he was, and you’ll never see Kam back off who he is either. Maybe, he was going to always be like that, but I know it probably helped a little bit.
(On Kam Chancellor’s reaction to sitting out because of injury) He understood that he was not right—he was not well. He got back to playing speed but he wasn’t at his best. He fought his way back into the lineup, but he knew he wasn’t right so we waited that one out a little bit.
(On the idea of thinking long term with Kam Chancellor’s injury) The idea was to make sure that we got him healthy enough to play safely, but like I said, it took him a few weeks to get going again—to where he felt the confidence and his play making started to come back to life. He was kind of surviving out there for a while.
(On assessing his five years so far) Aw shoot, now that you look back, I can only remember what’s happened here. It’s gone great—it’s been an amazing experience to come here and embrace a whole new environment, a whole new culture of fans, the history of a club, and ownership. It’s been an incredible journey and it’s been so much fun—more fun than I ever could have imagined. I thought I could never top what I did at USC and what we’re in the middle of right now—the youth, the connection we have with our following is so special that this is as good as it gets. I’m thrilled about it—if you would have asked me in the middle of it, I would have said that it’s taking too long because I’m extremely impatient, but now as you look back, ‘Ok we kind of washed out the first couple of years trying to get it going and we’ve had the opportunity to really experience the best of the NFL. Our guys are really getting a full experience of it, it’s wonderful to see these guys growing up, and find out what this thing is all about. It’s about the hard work, the sacrifice, giving to one another, and what you can get out of that when you really give of yourself. It’s been a wonderful experience for all of us and I’m happy to be a part of it.
(On going through the growing pains with young guys) Yes—there’s a give and take there. Earl [Thomas] is a classic example. Earl gave up hundreds of yards trying to make plays—hundreds of yards trying to make a break on the football and steal the ball in his early days. It’s comical to see how crazed he was about trying to help us win—in the wrong ways and he couldn’t get out of his own way, but he did learn from his experiences so we did have to suffer through it—still was a remarkable player, but yet he was giving away things because he was trying so hard. So we’ve corralled him and he’s gained tremendous wisdom the position now that makes him an elite player—that’s just one of the examples, but you do have to suffer your way through it. It’s a blend because we don’t want to give up games, we’re trying to blend that and that’s why it was so many changes in the first couple of years on the roster to try and get that right mix. Once we saw the heart of the guys that we had drafted in the first couple of years, we really felt confident that we could build on that and we would struggle through the growth process of the learning and it’s worked out fine.
(On preparing for Aaron Rodgers) Well it doesn’t look as if he’s ready to run as much that’s all, but look what he did. Look at that touchdown pass he floats out to his left and just throws a dart between guys that he’s famous for. So he still can make the plays—he threw for 328 yards or something like that and had a fantastic day, which is a great statement about a great player being able to adapt to what you have available to you. As players get older, they age and they change and they have to be able to adapt. Also, great players have to be able to deal with injuries that allow them to still function at a high level—you’re seeing a remarkable illustration of that. He just played championship football and he’s got a problem that a lot of other people wouldn’t be able to function—you don’t know how guys do that, but some guys just do that better than others and he’s obviously doing that.
(On O’Brien Schofield) He has been really active—it’s not a surprise to us because he has such a great motor. Sometimes it just the opportunities—he’s always digging and scratching. One of his best plays—he knocked a fumble out on [Cam] Newton, might have been his play of the game, but the ball went out of bounds. He probably didn’t get recognized for that, but he’s just a great football player; he really is a terrific football player.
(On does he feel Russell Wilson has worked his way into being a top quarterback in the league) Yes I do feel that—maybe not everybody else feels that at this point, but I certainly do because we cherish his ability to help his team win. He does that—he’s a real winner. He’ll find a way. Of all the qualities over the history of quarterbacks, the great ones are able to do that and they’re not all the same size, style, or makeup—they have their ways about them. He certainly off to an incredible start to a career that’s really highlighted by winning. In football—quarterback in a huge position that has a chance to help determine that and he’s doing it. So how that measures up and all of that—I don’t know. I’m still disappointed about the pro bowl thing in that regard because if you want to win, you want him on your team, but I don’t know.
(On Max Unger) He did fine—he did a good solid. He was real solid—pass protection was really good. Our consistency, just like we had hoped, was there along with the communication. 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.
(On Max Unger being rusty) No—he did alright, he did fine. I’m sure he’ll feel better the next time out after getting a full game of full speed playing.
(On his philosophy on waiver wire pickups) John [Schneider] does a real deep study. It’s ongoing throughout the season—we’re looking for guys the whole time. We know the qualities that we’re looking for in order for guys to fit into this team. You have a pool of guys available, we rank them, and then we go with the guy we think is best suited to play with our team in filling needs. You don’t always get everything that you want, but we have a very strict process in figuring out the style of the player. He just keeps doing it—he just keeps coming up with guys that help us. It’s a fantastic job—all of his guys help to do that in the personnel department. It’s not by luck and it’s not by the seat of your pants, this is a long hard process that they go through to maintain. Really the top of the information that we could have to make these choices and I think he does a great job.
(On Tony Moeaki and Jeron Johnson) Tony is going to practice—he should be ok. Jeron is going to go slowly this week and we’re going to see what happens. There’s a chance he can make it back—Tony should be fine.
(On Dez Bryant’s controversial call) I think it was a heartbreaking proper call. In the old days, that catch would have just gone on and nobody would have talked about it, but technology caught it—that ball hit the ground and it moved. So I can see why they said it because you have to complete that catch. It’s a difficult pill to swallow I’m sure, but it was just a week ago where it kind of flipped so you never know.
(On why he didn’t think he could top USC) Because I had thought I had seen the top of it—we won for so long. We won a lot of games there, a lot of games in a row, and did a lot of stuff—how could you hope to hit it again. I’ve been around coaching a long time—it’s hard to do that and it’s rare when it happens so it just feels like we were very fortunate that we’ve been able to find a way to put it together in this fashion.
(On Tharold Simon) He played solid football—like I told you, he had a lot of zone calls where he didn’t get the help underneath him that we needed so they wouldn’t continue to catch some ball on out routes, but he held on fine. They went after him, double moved him, and he was in shape a couple times. It was unfortunate that he misplayed the ball in the end zone that he’s really good at. He really always dominates those situations and he just got a little bit out of whack and didn’t make the play.
(On roster moves with Paul Richardson out) Yes—we’re going to move up B.J. Daniels. 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. 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, 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. Really, more than anything, it’s great to reward a guy who’s competed so consistently and so hard for us so I’m excited to do that.
(On Jermaine Kearse) I said to him in pre-game, ‘It’s good to have you back because I know you’re going to do something again.’ He just does things, he makes cool plays, and he did it again. It was obvious that we had him back in the lineup. I think he’s become a terrific factor for us and a guy to really count on and he’s got special play making in him—that was just an impeccable throw and catch in play and finish and the whole thing. You couldn’t ask for a much better play in football more than that one—the throw, the catch, the finish; it was great. So we were kind of expecting that from him.
(On preparing for Green Bay 2nd time around) I don’t think it’s that much different except their guys are coming through—they’ve grown with their season and they’re at the top of their game. They’re always good—they’re always a good team. Maybe they’ve had a couple games that get away from them, but they’re always a good team. Mike [McCarthy] has had them for a number of years and I don’t expect anything different out of them, I just expect great play and great game plans. Dom Capers is a great coordinators—he’s been at it for years on the other side of the ball. It’s a fantastic club they have so I don’t think things are different at all, I just think it’s championship time and they are right where they want to be.
(On having success in the fourth quarter) I love the question because it points to something that we take tremendous pride in—it’s about finishing. It’s not just finishing the fourth quarter; it’s about finishing the season, finishing the plays, and finishing everything. We’re trying to do the right stuff when you’re faced with the clock ticking down and trying to be right longer than the other guys is really what we’re trying to do. Our guys are showing it—I love that characteristic of our team and hope we can hang on to it and show it one more time this week.