The best things about this ugly win in the regular-season finale for the Seahawks?
Frank Clark. Jarran Reed. Chris Carson.
And that it’s over.
“Poor performance. And I’m not very happy about it. At all,” veteran left tackle Duane Brown said Sunday after Seattle allowed six sacks of Russell Wilson, the most since weeks one and two, the stone age of this Seahawks’ rebound season to the playoffs.
“That’s not the kind of product we want to put on the field.”
But Clark was. Again. He had two more sacks to bring his season total to a career-high 14. His second one of Arizona rookie Josh Rosen forced a fumble that Seahawks teammate Quinton Jefferson recovered to set up Sebastian Janikowski’s go-ahead field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
Rosen and the 3-12 Cardinals answered with a tying field goal with 1:49 remaining.
Then just like they did at Carolina last month, Wilson and Tyler Lockett connected on the game’s decisive play. Wilson slid out of the pocket to the right. Lockett broke off his route into an improvisational deep one. And Wilson’s pass found him for a 37-yard gain, to the Arizona 25 with 45 seconds to play.
Janikowski kicked the winning field goal from there, and the Seahawks pulled out a victory over the always (for them) troublesome the Cardinals on the final play for the second time this season, 27-24.
Carson romped for 122 yards on 19 carries—61 on one sprint to set up Seattle’s go-ahead score late in the third quarter—for his sixth 100-yard rushing day of the season. And the Seahawks (10-6) clinched the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs despite their makeshift-for-a-day offensive line and special teams, which allowed two blocked punts. One block went for a Cardinals touchdown. The other set up another Arizona TD.
Despite the ugly, the Seahawks will play Saturday night at fourth-seeded Dallas (10-6). The test at the NFC East champion that has won seven of its last eight games will kick off at 5:15 p.m. and be televised on Fox.
This was supposed to be rebuilding year for Seattle, a regression to 5-11 or 4-12, according to many around the NFL. That was after coach Pete Carroll fired his offensive and defensive coordinators, made changes with nine assistants’ jobs, changed the offensive line’s and entire offense’s systems and brought in eight new starters on defense.
Then Seattle started this season 0-2, as if on cue.
“Everybody think we’re down and out, from where we started,” said Wilson, who completed 12 of 21 passes for 152 yards, his second interception in eight weeks and his Seahawks-record 35th touchdown pass of the season.
“To be where we’re headed right now with 10 wins again, it’s exciting. Back to 10. Going into where we’re headed right now, in terms of the playoffs, we’re excited about the opportunity of where we can go. ...
“We feel like we can beat anybody, on the right day.”
Sunday was definitely not the right day.
The Seahawks’ stay in the postseason won’t last long if they play like they did against Arizona. Or like they did at San Francisco in losing to what was then another three-win team two weeks ago.
But, to Wilson’s point: In between those alarming performances, they beat Kansas City (12-4), the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Playing the way they did two nights before Christmas could make this a much more enjoyable January than the next-to-last day of 2018 was for Seattle.
“I know there’s a lot of concerns about the way this thing came off today, about the way we played,” coach Pete Carroll said, accurately reading the pulse of the Pacific Northwest entering Seattle’s return to the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.
“But I really look at it like we stopped the streak. We hadn’t beaten these guys in three years here. So whatever it took to get it done, we finally got that done.
“There were a lot of issues with this game, and field position because of special-teams plays and mishaps.”
Carroll also called much of what his team did Sunday “garbage.”
The regression to previous months’ and years’ issues in protecting Wilson came from missing line calls and failing to pick up Arizona’s aggressive, looping pass-rush stunts along the line of scrimmage. That happened after three changes on the five-man offensive line, because of injuries.
“We had a lot of breakdowns in protection,” Brown said, shaking his head. “We didn’t run the ball consistently; we broke open some big ones that got our total up, but consistently we weren’t as good as we have been... Got Russ hit way too many times...
“It’s not a good performance. There’s a lot we have to clean up going into the playoffs.”
This Seahawks regular-season ender was ugly.
Right guard D.J. Fluker was active in his rebound from a strained hamstring. But he did not start, as the Seahawks decided instead to save him from the playoffs.
Seattle had to leave J.R. Sweezy inactive. The left guard is recovering from what Carroll on Friday called an “unusual” foot sprain that had the Seahawks seeking national advice on treatment. Carroll said the Seahawks expect Sweezy will recover in time to play in the playoff opener next weekend.
So the starting offensive line Sunday was Ethan Pocic at left guard, Ifedi at right guard for Fluker and George Fant for Ifedi at right tackle. Ifedi was Seattle’s right guard in his rookie season of 2016.
It largely failed.
It also showed how valuable having Sweezy and Fluker back starting at guards with Ifedi back at right tackle next week in Dallas will be.
The Seahawks allowed four sacks of Wilson in the first half. That was the most he’d taken for any game since Nov. 11 in the loss at the Rams.
It took officials calling a defensive-holding penalty on Arizona’s Haason Reddick while Wilson was dropping the ball trying to throw it. Patrick Peterson picked up the fumble and jogged 3 yards for what would have been the Cardinals’ go-ahead touchdown with 6 minutes left in the third quarter. Instead, Seattle had a gift first down on fumble that never happened.
Carson changed the game’s ugly complexion with a beautiful sprint up the middle on the next play, 61 yards from the Seattle 11 to the Arizona 28. Mike Davis’ 17-yard touchdown run completed the day’s U-turn, and gave the Seahawks at 21-13 lead on a 14-point swing.
The tone of the day: Befuddlement. And boos.
The Seahawks had three and outs on five consecutive drives from the middle of the second quarter through the middle of the third. Those drives netted a total of minus-13 yards, and went like this: Run, run, sack, punt; run, run, sack, punt; pass, pass, sack, punt; run, pass, pass, punt; drop, drop (both by Doug Baldwin), sack, punt.
“It’s always tough against Arizona,” Wilson said of a team that has sacked him 45 times in 14 career games.
But the Seahawks kept sacking Rosen, too.
In addition to his huge sack in the fourth quarter, Clark had a hand, and arm, in the touchdown that put Seattle ahead 14-3 in the second quarter. Rookie Jacob Martin sped off the edge to sack Josh Rosen and forced Arizona’s rookie quarterback to fumble. Martin’s fellow defensive end Clark recovered the fumble at the Cardinals 34-yard line.
Two catches on consecutive plays by Baldwin, his first target of the day, netted 27 yards. Then Carson ran seven yards for his ninth rushing touchdown of the 1,000-yard back’s season. Carson got the final four of those yards on his own, going parallel to the ground after getting hit and reaching across the goal line for the score.
Arizona cut the lead to 14-13 at halftime—after starting drives at the Seattle 27- and 21-yard lines.
Arizona’s Dennis Gardeck blew past blocker Delano Hill and partially blocked rookie Pro Bowler Michael Dickson’s punt. The Cardinals turned that in a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown catch of 15 yards. The legendary receiver faked out Seahawks reserve cornerback Akeem King with look like he was run blocking then speeding past him.
King was playing because starter Shaquill Griffin twisted his right ankle at the end of a catch by Fitzgerald early in the second quarter. Griffin left to get examined by a team doctor then taped. He tested the ankle running behind the Seahawks’ bench and appeared ready to re-enter, but stayed on the sidelines with an eye toward next weekend’s playoff game.
So King played on. And Arizona kept targeting him.
Pharoh Cooper returned Dickson’s 54-yard punt at the end of the next drive 45 yards to the Seahawks 21. Clark’s sack of Rosen extended his career high to 13 this year, and increases his cost after his contract ends this season. It also pushed Arizona back into having to settle for a 50-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez.
Defensive tackle Jarran Reed saved the lead. Reed sacked Rosen on third down from the Seattle 30 with 11 seconds remaining in the half and the Cardinals out of time outs. They couldn’t get their field-goal unit on the field before the half expired.
The points-saving play plus another sack in the second half left Reed with 10 1/2 sacks this season. Carroll pointed out that total to his cheering teammates in the locker room after the game. Reed had three total in his first two NFL seasons for Seattle.
Yet the Seahawks won 10 games for the sixth time in seven years. That’s more 10-win seasons under Carroll than in the franchise’s entire history before he got to the team in 2010.
“It’s a good marker to measure yourself for a season by season,” Baldwin said. “But we’re not done, so I don’t really care about the 10 wins.
“I need four more.”