John McGrath

Two for one special: Seahawks playoff hopes tied to Atlanta, setting up a wild final Sunday

Does this look like a coach who’s worried about the Panthers-Falcons score on Sunday? “There’s always stuff that can distract you and there’s always stuff out there. It’s hugely important to focus on what’s at hand, so you know it’s not anything different than what it normally is,” Pete Carroll said about scoreboard watching and his team’s playoff hopes.
Does this look like a coach who’s worried about the Panthers-Falcons score on Sunday? “There’s always stuff that can distract you and there’s always stuff out there. It’s hugely important to focus on what’s at hand, so you know it’s not anything different than what it normally is,” Pete Carroll said about scoreboard watching and his team’s playoff hopes. TNS

The Seahawks playoff fate hinges on two games, but they’ll only get to participate in one of them. That would be the contest Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, when the Cardinals visit.

Meanwhile, 2,200 miles away, the Falcons will be home against the Panthers, hoping to secure the wild card berth that makes the Cards-Hawks result irrelevant. The suspense will be intensified by a scheduling change implemented the other day by the NFL, which moved the kickoff time in Atlanta from 10 a.m. on the West Coast to 1:25 p.m.

Ticket-holders who worried about taking a seat Sunday afternoon, only to learn the Falcons already had squashed the Seahawks hopes, can thank the Seattle Mariners. In 2014, on the final day of the regular season, more than 40,000 fans filled Safeco Field for what loomed as an electrifying afternoon. The Mariners were a game behind Oakland in the wild card race, and not only needed to beat the Angels, but for the Athletics to lose at Texas.

When the gates opened for batting practice, the air was thick with an anticipation that soon turned into trepidation. The out-of-town scoreboard showed the A’s had taken an early 2-0 lead in a game that began two hours before Felix Hernandez faced his first batter. Chants of “Let’s Go Rangers!” could be heard, but when Oakland extended its edge to 4-0 in the top of the ninth and held on, the festive mood was gone – and so was any chance for the Mariners to force a one-game playoff.

Major League Baseball officials took notice. Since 2015, the 15 games played on the final day of the season have been scheduled concurrently, increasing the odds of spectators monitoring a photo finish instead of anticlimactic one.

Which brings us to the Seahawks, who will be required to concentrate on the immediate task of beating Arizona while keeping their fingers crossed about another outcome out of their hands.

“All we need to focus on is winning against Arizona – taking care of our business, and whatever happens, happens,” center Justin Britt said Wednesday. “I hope our stadium doesn’t show a lick of that other game on the scoreboard. If we get tied up in that emotionally, or wonder what’s going on, we’ll lose sight of what we need to do and what’s in front of us.”

True that, but all pro football players are human, and curiosity is as much a component of human nature as joy, regret, suspicion and the recurring dream of turning in a term paper two days after it’s due. No matter how disciplined the Seahawks might be about tuning out what athletes tend to call “outside noise,” there are times the outside noise is so loud it’s impossible to ignore.

“Somehow, it’s gonna get to us,” linebacker K.J. Wright said of scoring updates from Atlanta. “The word spreads, that’s just natural. We’re definitely going to find out, and whatever we find out, we’ve got to play ball. So it doesn’t matter.”

Hawks coach Pete Carroll is a consistent proponent of the It Doesn’t Matter philosophy regarding games not listed on his team’s schedule, even when the game that’s not listed could determine whether his team’s season will continue or conclude.

“It really doesn’t have any bearing on the game we’re playing,” Carroll said. “I don’t know what they’ll do with that other game. I don’t really care. We’ve just got go finish our game and do what we need to do. We’re not going to change anything.

“We’re trying to win every game and every one counts. It’s a big deal and we do everything we can to play for that.”

For the Seahawks, the worst-case scenario is not losing for the fourth time in five games at CenturyLink Field, where the home-field advantage once was palpable. Nor is is it winning a game rendered inconsequential by a Falcons victory.

The Seahawks’ worst-case scenario is suffering a defeat on a day Atlanta also loses. To be extended a lifeline that stretches 2,200 miles, and letting it slip away, will find the Hawks seething well into the summer.

Their best-case scenario? Walking off the field after a victory, then gathering in the locker room to watch Carolina edge Atlanta in overtime. The roar would register on the seismograph.

Given the many mood swings involved when a season hangs on two games played at once, the New Year’s Eve forecast is calling for several hours of high anxiety. In the unlikely event Seahawks management follows Britt’s advice and declines to provide updates from Atlanta, the players still will know the score because, well, it’s 2017 going into 2018. There are no secrets.

If nothing else, the fans will provide clues. I can hear them now, cheering or groaning during the kind of time-out lull that doesn’t usually induce cheers and groans. The scene at CenturyLink Field promises to be bizarre, unlike any Sunday in memory.

“There’s always stuff that can distract you and there’s always stuff out there,” said Carroll. “It’s hugely important to focus on what’s at hand, so you know it’s not anything different than what it normally is.”

Sorry, Pete, but I’m not buying any of that. When the home crowd is celebrating a Cam Newton touchdown pass thrown three time zones away from Seattle, it’s 180-degrees from normal.

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