The Seahawks' special teams squads had their worst game of the year, and Russell Wilson had to run for his life behind a makeshift offensive line. But the Seahawks somehow found a way to win anyway.
If there were more wince-inducing moments than expected Sunday before the Seahawks finally escaped with a 27-24 victory over the Cardinals, coach Pete Carroll preferred to look at the big picture afterward.
A spot in the playoffs after a one-year drought and yet another 10-win season, the sixth in the past seven years (consider that Seattle had had only five 10-win seasons before drafting Russell Wilson in 2012).
“It’s an important deal,” Carroll said of getting to 10-6 instead of 9-7. “And seven just doesn’t look good at all. And 10 gives you that feeling like you almost had a good year. Those guys knew that. They took pride in that today.”
Even if the 10th win came with as much difficulty as any victory all season.
On to the grades.
Without the kind of pass protection he has been used to much of the season — he was sacked six times, tying a season high and the most since Week Two — Russell Wilson had to scramble often just to survive. He also threw an uncharacteristic interception in the first half, which ended Seattle’s hopes of tying an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season at 10 — Seattle finishes the regular season with 11. But he made the key play at the key time — the 37-yard evasion and throw to Tyler Lockett — to set up the winning field goal. Along the way, he also set Seattle records for touchdown passes in a career (196) and a season (35).
Against the worst rushing defense in the NFL, there was surprisingly little room to run for much of the day — the Seahawks had just 69 yards on their first 19 carries. But Chris Carson at least made Arizona pay for one blown defense when he rumbled 61 yards to set up a touchdown in the second half, which went a long way toward allowing the Seahawks to ultimately finish with a solid 182 yards on 34 carries. You imagined the Seahawks would have preferred to not give Carson 19 carries, though, with a playoff game now six days away. But he used them to finish with his third consecutive 100-yard game and sixth of the season. Rashaad Penny returned from two weeks off due to a knee injury and looked a little rusty with 6 yards on four carries.
This was a hard group to judge on a day when Wilson was under pressure on almost every dropback. David Moore made a nice catch to set up a field goal in the fourth quarter, and Lockett put Seattle ahead early when he broke wide open to catch his 10th touchdown pass of the season and then also reeled in the 37-yarder on the final possession that helped win it — those were his only two targets of the day. Doug Baldwin had a couple of uncharacteristic drops and two catches on five targets.
Nick Vannett had a couple of well-timed catches but also dropped a low throw in the third quarter that preceded the blocked punt for a touchdown.
Boy, did the Seahawks miss starting guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker. In the first game this season in which neither played at all, the Seattle offensive line was a mess. The Seahawks moved Germain Ifedi from right tackle to right guard to take the place of Fluker, who was in uniform but didn’t play, with George Fant at right tackle for the second consecutive week while Ethan Pocic again filled in for Sweezy at left guard. That meant the only two regular starters playing their normal spots were center Justin Britt and left tackle Duane Brown. It showed throughout as an Arizona defense whose only real strength is its pass rush pressured Wilson time and again. He was sacked four times in the first half, including on three consecutive drives in the second quarter, all on third downs to end three-and-out drives. The good news is the Seahawks expect their regular offensive line back next week.
Jarran Reed concluded what might have been one of the quietest really good seasons by a Seahawk in recent memory. He had a sack late in the first half to prevent an Arizona field-goal attempt and then another to push the Cardinals back on their final drive to finish with 10.5 sacks — just the third defensive tackle in Seattle history to finish with double-digit sacks (the others being Cortez Kennedy and John Randle, each Hall of Famers). Frank Clark also finished strong with two sacks to end the year with a career-high 14 while Jacob Martin set up one touchdown with a strip sack that was recovered by Clark as Seattle had six sacks on the day to tie a season-high. And Nazair Jones forced a holding penalty in the fourth quarter by former Seahawk Oday Aboushi that set up a third-and-long that resulted in Clark’s forced fumble of Josh Rosen that led to a fourth-quarter field goal.
K.J. Wright looked as spry as he has all season on a screen pass to David Johnson on which he made an open-field tackle to set up a third-and-long while Bobby Wagner had a team-high 12 tackles as the Seahawks held Arizona to just 85 yards rushing.
Shaquill Griffin left the game in the first half with a sprained ankle, forcing Akeem King into his first significant action as a left cornerback (he had played a lot the past few weeks as a slot defensive back). The Cardinals noticed, and targeted King a lot the rest of the way, and got the better of him on a second-quarter touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. But, in general, the secondary played well with coverage helping lead to a few of the sacks.
The kicking game was as bad Sunday against the Cardinals as it has been good at other times this season. A blocked punt led to one touchdown, a deflected punt led to another and a long punt return led to a field goal — or, in other words, 18 of Arizona’s 24 points. At least Sebastian Janikowski hit the two field goals needed to win it, including his third game-winner this year as time ran out. That pushed this grade up from an F-minus.