RENTON – The Seahawks have forged the best prime-time record in the NFL on a very simple – though slightly incongruous – theory, preached ad nauseum into their consciousness by coach Pete Carroll.
Namely, that there’s nothing special about it, despite all the trappings, hype and attention that comes with being the spotlight game, the one that every other NFL player is watching.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner summed up the Seahawks’ strategy Tuesday as they rushed to prepare for Thursday night’s showdown with the Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks, he said, have “normalized” prime time.
“I think we don’t let the prime time get to our heads,” he said. “We treat it like a regular game. It’s easy for guys to come in, young guys, having watched Monday Night, Sunday Night, Thursday Night Football and thinking it’s a bigger deal than what it is. From the first day we got here, they always preached it’s just a normal game.
“It doesn’t feel like a big game. It doesn’t feel different than any other game. You don’t feel like you have to do more, do whatever, to show or prove something.”
It has been an effective technique. Since Carroll took over in 2010, the Seahawks have the league’s best record in prime-time games at 26-5-1, an .828 winning percentage. The Patriots are next-best at 33-9 (.786).
At home, the Seahawks are even better in such contests – 17-2. They are 8-1 on Thursday nights. They have clearly internalized Carroll’s mantra to not make prime-time bigger than any other game.
But here’s the rub: This game with the Rams is huge – and it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s the only game in town. Regardless of what kind of Jedi mind tricks the Seahawks play to keep from getting over-amped, they do indeed have something to prove.
The NFC West used to be the province of the Seahawks, and everyone knew it. Then the Rams strutted into CenturyLink Field in 2017 and whipped them 42-7, in what linebacker K.J. Wright on Tuesday called “probably hands-down the worst game I’ve ever been a part of since I was a Seahawk.”
It was an emphatic changing-of-the-guard moment. The Rams, with a young, dynamic coach in Sean McVay, won the division that year and repeated in 2018, making it all the way to the Super Bowl. Suddenly, the Rams were the glamour team in the NFC, not the Seahawks.
Along the way, the Rams swept two agonizing games from the Seahawks last year by a combined seven points. In each one the Seahawks had a chance to win in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get it done.
“That was very frustrating,” Wright said. “We always preach learning to finish, learning to win games.”
In the first one, a 33-31 loss at home, the Seahawks were within field-goal range with 5:19 to go until two penalties pushed them back to second-and-23 from the 45-yard line. They eventually were forced to punt and never got the ball back as the Rams ran out the clock.
In the second game, a 36-31 loss in Los Angeles, a fumble by Wilson led to a key fourth-quarter touchdown by the Rams. In a last-ditch effort to pull out the win, Wilson threw four consecutive incompletions from the Rams’ 35 in the final minute.
This is most certainly a measuring-stick game for the Seahawks to see if they’re ready to wrest back control of the division from L.A. (with a nod toward the still-unbeaten San Francisco 49ers, of course). It’s hard to envision a scenario that gets Seattle to the top of the West at season’s end that doesn’t include a home victory over the Rams.
It’s likely to be another shootout, and the Rams seem more vulnerable than they have been. They are coming off a 55-40 loss to Tampa Bay, have some banged-up players in their secondary and seem to have a quandary involving the once-dominant running back Todd Gurley. He carried just five times against the Bucs, part of a mysterious trend that manifested itself most prominently in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks know fully what’s at stake.
“This is a really good football team we’re playing,” Carroll said Monday. “It’s going to take everything. It’s a game we need to play. We need to be involved in games like this. If you’re going to have a good season, you’ve got to be able to match up and play these kinds of games and do a good job.”
And yet Carroll no doubt will spend the abbreviated break between their victory over Arizona on Sunday, and their showdown with the Rams on Thursday, telling his players it’s no bigger than any other game. Carroll has said he learned that lesson after his first game against Notre Dame as USC’s coach in 2001. He tried to steep the Trojans in the Notre Dame lore and the magnitude of the rivalry, and had it backfire big-time.
“It was so overblown, and we got our butt kicked,” Carroll recalled a couple years ago. “That was the last time they beat us. I realized we had focused so much on all of the hoopla. I wanted it to be rich and represent the heritage of the program and all. It was a total mistake. So really, from that point, I’ve never been the same.”
In other words, the Seahawks won’t let prime time get the better of them. But it’s also a game the Seahawks need to win to get themselves back to prime time within the division.