John McGrath

John McGrath: Patriots looming large for weary, sloppy Seahawks

When the Seahawks’ 2016 schedule was released in April, a specific date loomed as a showcase contest.

Nov. 13, at New England Patriots.

Coaches insist all games are created equal. Baloney. Sunday will be the first time the Seahawks and Patriots have clashed since Super Bowl 49. Seattle, with five consecutive playoff appearances and counting, might be the closest thing there is to royalty in the NFC. New England’s AFC royalty, on the other hand, is as blue-blooded a dynasty as the Hapsburgs once were.

But some time between the release of the schedule and the reality of a short week preceding their trip to the East Coast, eager anticipation about the Seahawks-Patriots game has been replaced by a sense of impending trouble.

Dread is not too strong a word.

It’s not just because the Patriots, fresh off a bye week, are a 7-1 powerhouse in a league where just about everybody else is either 4-5 or 5-4. The challenge of going on the road and taking on a 7-1 team used to make the Seahawks’ mouths water.

Maybe that’s still the case. Maybe the Hawks will be dialed up for the task, capable of believing their trademark formula for success during the Pete Carroll Era — staunch defense and a clock-eating ground attack — can be rediscovered because it’s how they roll.

And wow, what a roll: Over their last 96 games, the Seahawks have entered the fourth quarter either leading or within at least one score of the lead. It is the longest such streak in NFL history.

They haven’t been beaten by more than 10 points since Oct. 23, 2011 — a full year before the last presidential election. Carroll’s Seahawks don’t always win, tradition tells us, but when they lose, it’s never by much.

I suspect this proud distinction is about to be erased by the kind of knockout punch that turned the once-invincible heavyweight champ Mike Tyson into, well, vincible.

A team unable to make third-and-long stops on defense or third-and-short runs on offense can rely on prime-time magic, home-field karma, inexplicable officiating and opponents with esteem issues for only so long.

Buffalo controlled the ball more than 40 minutes Monday night. The Bills enjoyed virtually every advantage on the stat page except the only one that counts — the score — because they aren’t adept at finishing the deal.

Some bad news: The Patriots are very good at finishing the deal. Some worse news: The deal figures to be done long before the fourth quarter.

The Bills’ Tyrod Taylor is a nimble scrambler whose potential as a comprehensively explosive quarterback has been mitigated by the inaccuracy of his passes. Against the Seahawks, he completed 27 of 38 for 289 yards.

If the Hawks allow Patriots quarterback Tom Brady the same comfort zone they gave Taylor, he’ll throw for 289 yards in the first half.

Brady has completed 73.1 percent of his passes, averaging almost 10 yards per attempt. A four-game suspension to start the season has found his overall numbers deflated — sorry, couldn’t resist — but a 12-0 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions is the stuff of an Offensive Player of the Year candidate.

The obvious way of containing this guy would be to keep him on the sideline, watching the Seahawks grinding it out on drives longer than the one from Ellensburg to Spokane.

Won’t happen.

Behind an offensive line that provided no space against the Bills, the Hawks’ leading rusher on Monday was wide receiver Tyler Lockett. He gained 13 yards on one carry, which was 12 more yards than starting running back Christine Michael gained on five.

Taking the ball into what amounted to a brick wall had to be frustrating for Michael, savoring his start on national TV. So when he got enough room to score a three-yard touchdown on a right-side sweep, he milked the moment by turning his back at the goal line before throwing the ball, in the manner of a Punt, Pass and Kick contestant, toward the stands.

Michael’s over-the-top celebration of a routine touchdown was consistent with everything else about a Seahawks team whose players seem determined to continuing their college education as drama majors.

Here’s thinking of Richard Sherman, the Pro Bowl cornerback forever plodding in controversy. National debates about his behavior on the field, and on the sideline, have become as unavoidable as bumper-to-bumper traffic at rush hour.

Enough, please.

There’s a next game lurking, a game long identified as the centerpiece of the Seahawks 2016 schedule, and one word comes to mind.

Dread.

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