By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — In what has so often felt like a charmed season, Sunday was finally a day when everything didn’t come up Seahawks.
From drafting what looks a lot like a franchise quarterback in the third round, to winning on one of the most debatable plays in all of sports in 2012, to finding ways to blow out teams in historic fashion, to even winning off the field by having their best defensive player win an appeal of a four-game suspension, the Seahawks have given folks plenty of reason to believe that there just might be something special going on this season.
But on Sunday, when the Seahawks needed not only a win over St. Louis — which they got in the form of a closer-than-expected 20-13 victory — but also some help from the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle’s magic ran out. After keeping things interesting for a half, the Cardinals reverted back to Cardinals form, allowing the 49ers to clinch their second straight division title. Had one more miracle occurred — and to be clear, an Arizona win in San Francisco qualifies as a miracle — the Seahawks would have jumped all the way to the No. 2 seed thanks to Minnesota’s win over Green Bay. That would have meant a first-round bye for Seattle, as well as a home game in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Instead, the Seahawks, despite an 11-5 record and a fifth-straight victory, will be a Wild Card team and will have to play on the road against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. This time, crazy didn’t happen for the Seahawks. San Francisco took care of business, so any playoff success Seattle is going to have will have to take place on the road.
Here’s the thing though; the Seahawks just might be good enough for that not to matter. Sure the Seahawks would have loved another game or two at CenturyLink Field, where they went 8-0 for the third time in franchise history, but after winning seven of their last eight, after showing they can pull off thrilling comebacks on the road, blow teams out when they get a chance, or grind out a tough win when the game calls for that, the Seahawks look like a team capable of making a playoff run no matter where the road takes them.
“If we just do what we do, we are a very, very dangerous team,” said receiver Golden Tate, who had three catches for 105 yards and a huge fumble recovery that kept the winning drive alive. “If we stay away from the turnovers and silly penalties and trust our preparation, we can go a long way. … If we can just execute, I think we have a great chance to go far.”
Many of the reasons this team can go far were on display in Sunday’s gritty win over the Rams. No, the Seahawks weren’t dominant like in their previous three games. But they again got a strong outing from a defense that gave up the fewest points in franchise history. They again got a clutch performance from Russell Wilson, and they again won the turnover battle. The Seahawks need to shore up their pass protection, which yielded a season-high six sacks — though plenty of credit should go to the Rams, one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league. And Seattle’s 10 penalties brought back memories from early in the season. But overall the Seahawks look very much like a team that’s game will travel well in January.
“We’re fine either way,” said cornerback Richard Sherman. “It’s always nice to get a bye, rest your legs a little bit, but with Brandon (cornerback Brandon Browner, who returns next Sunday after serving a four-game suspension) coming back with fresh legs and everybody firing on all cylinders, we’ll be prepared.”
And as impressive as Seattle’s last three wins were, this one might have been more important. There are no Arizona Cardinals or Buffalo Bills in the playoffs, and those everything-that-could-go-right-does-go-right wins like the one Seattle had over San Francisco last week just don’t come along very often. But physical, down-to-the-wire battles like Sunday’s are precisely what the Seahawks are likely to see next week and beyond.
“It was good for us to have to finish like that in a tough situation and actually come from behind to get it done,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “We had some games on the other end of that ledger for a while, and it doesn’t hurt us to have to struggle and fight like that.”
When the Seahawks did have their backs against the wall, they came out on top once again. Their rookie quarterback put together yet another impressive, late game drive. Their defense, despite allowing the Rams to move the ball, got the stop they needed in the form of another Sherman interception. And on a day when the Seahawks didn’t get everything they needed to go their way, they still showed why they should be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
“That’s exactly how we would like to finish,” Carroll said. “… Get all those wins, stack it up and feel good, be rolling at this part of the season and the playoffs with a real good feeling about us. We feel fine, we’re not going to go crazy. We’re going to take care of business and see if we can throw a good football game out there.”