As the Seahawks reel toward the conclusion of a disappointing season, I am reminded of Herm Edwards’ all-time great rant at a press conference.
“You play to win the game,” Edwards said while negotiating through some heavy turbulence as head head coach of the New York Jets. “Hello?
Once more, with feeling.
“YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!”
Well, yes, but there are exceptions. Winning a game Sunday is not as urgent for the Seahawks as playing the game the right way. Basic stuff: Offensive linemen remembering the snap count. Defensive linemen exercising discipline before the snap. Linebackers attentive to the gaps they were assigned in practice.
Blocking with precision on offense. Tackling with authority on defense. Avoiding nonsense after the whistle is blown, which means no taunting, no fighting, and no silly penalties.
If the Seahawks beat the Cowboys on Sunday, it will qualify as the victory that ensures the team of a winning record for the sixth consecutive season. Hoo boy, go for it. But if they manage to execute simple fundamentals, and conduct themselves in a manner associated with professionalism, it will qualify as a revelation.
The premise is to outscore the opposition, of course, and style points are irrelevant. The late Al Davis put it in three-word harmony: “Just win, baby.”
For the Seahawks, style should mean more than anything. I’m not talking about style as a synonym for fancy. I’m talking about style as a synonym for grace. I’d rather watch the Hawks lose by two touchdowns in a valiant effort than win as the cheerless boors who almost overcame a 17-point deficit at Jacksonville on Dec. 10.
Because playoff elimination is not yet official, staying-alive scenarios are plentiful, all rooted in the make-believe land of Iffyville. If the Falcons do this, if the Saints or Lions or Panthers do that, the Seahawks will survive for another week.
The only “If” pertinent to the Hawks regards the Hawks, nobody else. Can the defense muster the energy and awareness to prevent running back Ezekiel Elliott from gashing it as casually as the Rams’ Todd Gurley gashed it last Sunday?
Of Gurley’s 152 rushing yards, none was more than revealing than his 1-yard touchdown scamper into the end zone on a first-and-goal play in the first quarter. He ran off tackle, but resistance was so feeble he could have walked through the hole.
“It’s always the same themes,” coach Pete Carroll said the other day, answering a question about his team’s curiously listless defensive effort to contain Gurley. “We have to play really disciplined and we have to tackle really well. That’s the running game.
“It isn’t about being a hard-nosed tough guy, that’s not it. You have to do things right, play after play. The better the team is, the more they take advantage of your mistakes. You have to remember, that’s how you go about it.”
Momentum swings are tangible in every sport, but especially so in football. When the 2013 Seahawks coasted to their 43-8 Super Bowl victory over the Broncos, it was not evidence the Hawks were 35 points better than the AFC champions. It was evidence how two-point lead gained on the first play — a snap that sailed into the end zone — presaged a dark day for Denver.
Last Sunday, a similar momentum swing sabotaged the Seahawks. If Tanner McEvoy holds onto the ball after catching a 22-yard pass on Seattle’s first possession, the visitors are on their heels and the CenturyLink Field crowd is in a frenzy. But McEvoy fumbled, the Rams recovered, and the beat-down was on.
The beat-down was so severe — 34-0 at halftime — it suggested the Rams will dominate the NFC West for, oh, a decade. Cooler heads must prevail.
The Seahawks were taken into a buzz-saw last week, and got obliterated. They will survive.
But I won’t be paying attention to the scoreboard at Dallas, and I won’t care about any out-of-town results. I’m setting the bar low.
No stupid penalties. No taunting. No fighting. No cranky social-media messages between teammates.
Just play the game the right way. Grasp the reality about how losing honorably can be more rewarding than winning as a cheap-shot clown act.