SEATTLE — On a day the Seattle Seahawks were hoping to accomplish much, they instead came up empty in every way but one — frustration.
Needing a win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday to clinch an NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs, the Seahawks instead were inept offensively and ultimately dropped a 17-10 decision on a cold, sometimes rainy afternoon at CenturyLink Field.
It was Seattle’s first home loss since a 19-17 setback vs. the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 regular-season finale. Sunday’s defeat snapped a string of 14 straight Seahawks home victories.
“It was a disappointing loss,” said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. “We should have won that game. There were so many opportunities.
“For whatever reason,” he added, “today was not our day.”
The good news for the 12-3 Seahawks, they still have a very good chance of finishing with the NFC’s best record. Since Seattle has the tie-breaker advantage against 11-4 Carolina, the only rival with a chance of finishing ahead of the Seahawks is San Francisco at 10-4.
For the Seahawks to fall short of being the NFC’s top team, the 49ers would have to win twice, beginning with tonight’s home game against Atlanta and then next week at Arizona. Seattle would also have to lose at home next week to St. Louis.
“These guys in that locker room, we have to flip the switch from the frustration of not getting it done today and turn (our attention to) next week,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to try to do that really well and see if we can finish this thing off … and win this division.”
“Everything is still in front of us,” pointed out Seattle defensive end Red Bryant. “That’s what so great about adversity. It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond. It’s going to be tough, but we’ll move forward and get ready for St. Louis.”
So, yes, there is a silver lining for the Seahawks and their fans. But the loss to Arizona was also a slap of reality for a team that has seemingly been invincible at home for almost two full seasons.
“This mystique about CenturyLink and the 12th Man, you just feel like you have an extra edge when you’re at home,” said Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin. “But at the same time, on any given Sunday anything can happen. (The Cardinals) were hungry. They brought their best game plan and they executed it pretty well. And I thought we had opportunities to make plays and we didn’t.”
No question, the Seahawks had a bushel of mistakes and otherwise disappointing play against the Cardinals. Most glaring was a first-and-goal from the Arizona 3-yard line late in the first half — linebacker Malcolm Smith had returned an interception 32 yards — with Seattle not only failing to reach the end zone, but not getting any points at all after place-kicker Steven Hauschka inexplicably missed a 24-yard field goal attempt.
Seattle sputtered offensively throughout the game, ending up with just 192 total yards and going three-and-out seven times. Of course, much of that had to do with an improved Arizona defense — certainly much improved from a 34-22 Seattle road victory back on Oct. 17 — that has helped the Cardinals win seven of their last eight games.
The Seahawks’ only touchdown came in the fourth quarter and capped a six play, 61-yard drive that followed a terrific 37-yard kickoff return by Baldwin. From the 11-yard line, Wilson scrambled in the pocket to buy himself time, and then found tight end Zach Miller alone in the back left corner of the end zone for a 10-9 lead with 7:26 to play in the fourth quarter.
But with the game on the line, it was Seattle’s defense that failed to produce. Beginning a drive at their own 20, the Cardinals reached the end zone in 10 plays while converting three times on third down, the last time on third-and-6 from the Seahawks 31. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer dropped a perfect pass over the shoulder of wide receiver Michael Floyd in the end zone and the Cardinals added a two-point PAT for a seven-point margin.
Adding to Seattle’s misfortunes in the decisive fourth quarter were two adverse calls by the officials that seemed likely to be overturned by video reviews. Instead, both calls were allowed to stand. The first took away an apparent fumble recovery by the Seahawks early in the period and the second allowed Arizona to have a controversial interception when the thrown ball appeared to bounce off the field.
With the latter ruling coming with 1:56 left in the game, the Cardinals managed to get one first down and then were able to take a knee to run the remaining seconds off the clock before trotting off the field with a win.
As for the Seahawks, instead of wrapping up a conference title on Sunday they now face uncertainty at least until tonight and perhaps for another week. Because if San Francisco beats Atlanta this evening, the Seahawks will go into the final week of the season knowing they could possibly surrender the division and conference titles to the 49ers. Instead of finishing No. 1 with a first-round playoff bye, Seattle could end up No. 5 in the NFC, meaning no first-round bye and likely no home postseason games.
“I was going to tell (the players) they had to win that game (against St. Louis) no matter what anyway, so here we go,” Carroll said. “We have to go get this last one and try to see if we can secure our division.”
“We missed this opportunity to lock everything up,” said Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. “But the great thing about it, we have another opportunity coming up.”