"We don't want to peak too early," Carroll said last week.
Well, so much for that problem.
After seven consecutive wins, the last three of which came in dominant fashion, the Seahawks were knocked back down to earth a bit Sunday, losing a tight 19-17 slugfest to NFC West rival San Francisco. And while nobody is panicking over one regular season loss, that game did show that the Seahawks still have plenty of room to improve between now and the postseason.
Which is why, in a way, Sunday's loss in San Francisco could be a blessing in disguise for the Seahawks when it comes to accomplishing their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.
Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you the Seahawks are better for that loss, or that they wanted to lose a chance to clinch the division on the home field of their biggest rival, but some good can come from a tough loss late in the season.
When Carroll talked about peaking too early, he meant that he didn't want to be one of those dominant regular season teams that suddenly falls flat in the playoffs. The Seahawks have embraced the treat-every-game-the-same mantra better than most teams. It's a big reason why they've won so many games in the past two years, and why even when they lose, it comes down to the wire. But there an element of human nature involved no matter how well coaches get the message across to player.
But a loss, one that saw the Seahawks commit too many drive-killing penalties on offense, and that saw one of the NFL's best defenses commit an uncharacteristic and very costly mistake to allow Frank Gore's 51-yard run that set up a 49ers victory? That's a game that provides what coaches like to call teachable moments.
"I don't think there's any question, it can help if you utilize it," Carroll said of the loss. "It's a learning opportunity again, a reality check, how the littlest of things can determine the outcome of a game, and being in a good, hard-fought, tough game is good always."
In other words, if there's such a thing as a loss coming at a good time, this just might be it for the Seahawks. Of course this entire line of thinking will sound ridiculous if the Seahawks drop another two or three games down the stretch and the San Francisco loss contributes to them not earning home-field advantage in the playoffs. However, if a loss in San Francisco serves as a preview for the kind of battles that might await in the playoffs, if it is what players need to get that "nobody believes in us" chip back on their shoulders, the Sunday's down-to-the-wire loss just might serve a purpose for Seattle in the end.
"It's one of those things that, it may be a good time," quarterback Russell Wilson said in his postgame press conference. "It may be a good time to just let us get back to work, let us continue to focus. All of our goals are still in front of us, and our goal is to go 1-0 every week."
Another potential silver lining in Sunday's loss is that it will force the Seahawks to stay sharp if not all the way through the regular season, then at least for the next two games, eliminating the possibility of heading into the postseason having not played a meaningful game in three weeks. Had Seattle won Sunday, it would have clinched the NFC West and a first-round bye, and after that, one more win or one loss by New Orleans would have locked up the No. 1 seed. Instead the Seahawks now need two more wins -- or one win and some help -- to accomplish both of those goals, which means this week's game in New York and next week's home game against Arizona will be, as Carroll likes to put it, "championship opportunities."
"There will be an emphasis throughout the last three games of this year," Carroll said. "Every one of them is going to count in a big fashion. They're all going to make a difference that will call for us to be on it all the way throughout, and that should be crucial in helping us stay sharp for playoff time."
And of course, there are some undeniable negatives that came out of the loss for the Seahawks.
Linebacker K.J. Wright, who was playing incredibly well as of late, suffered a foot injury that could end his season and at the very least will keep him out into the postseason. Center Max Unger came out of the game with a pectoral injury as well, though that sounds less serious. And perhaps most significantly, the win might have served a confidence builder for the 49ers, a team the Seahawks could very well see again in the playoffs.
The real impact of Sunday's loss won't be known until the Seahawks' season ends, either in the Super Bowl or with disappointment -- and yes, those are the only two options at this point for Seattle. Did this loss make the difference in Seattle getting home-field advantage, or did it light a fire that allowed the Seahawks on a roll? Only time will tell, but at least for now the Seahawks can stop worrying about peaking too early.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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