Seattle Seahawks

Michael Bennett: Seahawks’ playoff fate is all in their minds

Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett tackles Lions running back Ameer Abdullah for a loss during the Oct. 5 game at CenturyLink Field.
Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett tackles Lions running back Ameer Abdullah for a loss during the Oct. 5 game at CenturyLink Field. Staff photographer

Before Marshawn Lynch does or does not return this week, or next — or never. Before they rediscover the trusty offensive line play that spawned Russell Wilson’s record-setting passing during a long-gone, five-game winning streak. Before they find out where they will have to go to open the playoffs in less than two weeks.

Before all that, the Seahawks need to reload their minds. They need to realize that even with a playoff berth already secure, even with having won the past two NFC titles and coming within a yard of two consecutive Super Bowl wins, they haven’t accomplished anything yet this season.

So says one of their most vocal and productive veterans.

“It comes down to, you’ve got to cherish every moment,” Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett said after Seattle’s 23-17 not-that-close loss to sub-.500 St. Louis last weekend. “When you get to January, there are no do-overs. When you get into the playoffs, there are no guaranteed games. You win that one, you get to keep going. You lose, you go home and get to watch it from your couch. That’s the kind of mindset you’ve got to have.

“But the thing about that is, you have to have that mindset every week. That’s how you get to the Super Bowl. You have to have that mindset that you don’t want to go home. When you can get your teammates to think like that every week, it’s hard to lose.”

Did most of the Seahawks lack that mindset against the Rams?

“I mean, we lost the game, so it wasn’t there, you know what I mean?” Bennett said. “We lost the game, so obviously it wasn’t there.

“We’ve got to get it back.”

Pronto.

The Seahawks (9-6) finish the regular season on Sunday at Arizona, now the NFC West buzz saw it has been the previous two Decembers.

The division-champion Cardinals (13-2) are plowing through everyone, and coach Bruce Arians has already declared he won’t be resting anyone. The Cardinals have a chance to steal home-field advantage throughout the conference’s playoffs from Carolina should the Panthers (14-1) lose at home Sunday to Tampa Bay.

How hot are the Cardinals? They are coming off a 38-8 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers (10-5), who with a bounce-back win at home Sunday against Minnesota (10-5) will win the NFC North and be the No. 3 playoff seed just behind Arizona.

The Cardinals have beaten the Eagles and Packers by a combined 78-25 the past two weeks. They beat the Seahawks 39-32 to essentially win the division — six weeks ago.

They are 19-2 the past two seasons with Palmer healthy and starting, which he sure is right now.

If the Seahawks don’t have a mindset these next two weekends that’s starkly different from last week, they are going to have a short postseason.

“Our focus has to move on, so that’s what we’re doing,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We have a terrific matchup coming up. It’s a championship type of matchup that is really fitting for getting you ready for playoff time. And we’ll see how that one works out.

“We’re going to attack it with an intent of really putting together a good week and a good game and get us started.”

The Seahawks’ biggest failing from the loss to the Rams was not being able to sustain what they had done for the previous five weeks. It shows how fine the line is between winning streaks and jarring losses in the NFL, how the mental side of the game is often as or more important than the physical one.

Carroll said after Sunday’s game and again on Monday that he, unlike Bennett, did not sense a mental letup in the Seahawks entering the St. Louis game after the five consecutive wins and playoff clinching.

“No, not at all,” the coach said. “There was no sign in preparation, there was none of that. We had a great week. We’ll see what this means. We have to look at the film and figure it out.”

They have to get restarted this week. If they don’t, they will be taking a two-game losing streak and a 9-7 record as the sixth and final playoff seed into Green Bay or Minnesota on Jan. 9 or 10. That would begin the most challenging road possible for their postseason.

In the next week and a half, Seattle needs to get its running game solidified with Lynch’s return from abdominal surgery he had Nov. 25. That return could come Wednesday, next week, or not at all — the Seahawks still don’t know for sure about their top power running back.

The Seahawks need to get strong safety Kam Chancellor back from a bruised tailbone he sustained during the Dec. 13 win at Baltimore to settle what’s, recently again, been a shuffled, scuffling secondary. They need to get left tackle Russell Okung, the only blue-chip, former first-round pick on the offensive line, back from a strained calf — if that doesn’t happen for the Arizona game it seems it will for the playoffs.

Above all, the Seahawks need to get Wilson trusting his linemen to provide a consistent pocket again, from which he’d thrown 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions the previous five games before St. Louis mauled him. It took less than two quarters of the Rams blitzing and bludgeoning him for 17 hits total for Wilson to begin holding onto the ball too long, ducking and spinning away from pressure that sometimes wasn’t there.

He looked more like the besieged quarterback that got sacked an NFL-high 31 times in the first seven games, and the offense looked more like the malfunctioning one that led to 2-4 and 4-5 starts to this season, rather than the Wilson and Seahawks they need to be entering the postseason.

“Why we had so many problems up front, I don’t know,” Carroll said.

Now they have only this game at the soaring Cardinals to get right.

“We’re going to treat this exactly like it’s a championship football game, a playoff game, with the travel, the trip and how we do it,” Carroll said. “We’ll come right back the next week, wherever we’re going (to start the playoffs) and do it in the same fashion.

“We’re going to have to go back to back – maybe to back – to do something really special.”

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

SEAHAWKS’ NEXT OPPONENT

ARIZONA CARDINALS (13-2)

1:25 p.m. Sunday, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Line: Cardinals 4½.

Against the Seahawks: The Cardinals lead the series 17-16, including their 39-32 win at Seattle Nov. 15. The Seahawks have won the last two meetings in Glendale, including 35-6 last December to win the NFC West. But that was when quarterback Carson Palmer was out injured. Seattle’s last time inside University of Phoenix stadium was, of course, Feb. 1, when they came within 1 yard of a second consecutive Super Bowl title but lost in the final seconds to New England.

What to know: The Cardinals are soaring again, with just one conference loss. They’ve blasted their last two foes, the Eagles and playoff-bound Packers, by a combined 78-25. … Arizona coach Bruce Arians has already declared the obvious: Even with the division clinched, the Cardinals won’t be resting any starters. They can seize home-field advantage as the NFC’s top seed with a win and a loss by Carolina at home to Tampa Bay. … The Cardinals are plus-12 in turnover margin (third-best in the NFL), with 33 takeaways. Seattle is plus-4. That’s the key difference between 13-2 and the division champion and 9-6 and the sixth playoff seed. … Behind the MVP-like numbers of Palmer, Arizona has the league’s top-ranked offense (420 yards per game). It’s 6.41 yards per play leads the NFL. So does the Cardinals’ 47.3-percent rate converting third downs. … The Cardinals are No. 1 in pass offense and now have a running game, too (6th in the NFL). … Palmer has a passer rating of 106.8, No. 2 in the NFL behind Russell Wilson (109.3). … Palmer slings it down the field farther than anyone; his 8.9 yards per completion leads the league. … Arizona is 19-2 the past two seasons with Palmer healthy and starting . … Palmer was 29 for 48 passing with 363 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the win at Seattle last month. … Leading rusher Chris Johnson broke his leg Nov. 29. Rookie David Johnson rushed for 99, 92 and 187 yards in his first three games replacing him. Now Andre Ellington is back off late-summer and early-December injuries. The expected starting RB before the season ran for 40 yards on seven carries this past Sunday in the 38-8 win over Green Bay. … Larry Fitzgerald, selected for another Pro Bowl, has 103 catches, fifth-most in the league. He also has 8 touchdowns. … John Brown has seven TD receptions. … Arizona’s attacking, blitzing defense is fifth overall, fifth in points allowed, tied for seventh against the pass and fourth against the run. …The Cardinals have the third-fewest rushes against them in the league, as opponents have trailed so often they’ve primarily thrown the ball. Seattle rushed 18 times for 115 yards against Arizona in November. Christine Michael and Bryce Brown, the likely running backs on Sunday, weren’t even on Seattle’s active roster that day. … Arizona’s defense has the third-most interceptions in the NFL and allow the third-fewest first downs. … Versatile LB Deone Bucannon, who Arizona uses in various positions all over the field, of Washington State University was the NFC’s defensive player of the week two weeks ago for his 11 tackles, first career interception, which he returned for a touchdown, in a blowout of Philadelphia. ... Pro Bowl defensive back Tyrann Mathieu is out for the season with a torn knee ligament. Jerraud Powers is his replacement as Arizona’s inside cover man against slot receivers.

Quotable: “I see it as another statement game, because we could potentially see them again,” Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd to Phoenix-area media on the Seahawks and a possible rematch in the playoffs.

gbell@thenewstribune.com

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