RENTON — In typical Pete Carroll understatement, here’s how the coach envisions Seattle Seahawks fans during Sunday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field:
“They’re going to be frickin’ flying off the top of the roof,” Carroll said in a conference call this week with Bay Area media. “And there’s a really good chance it’s going to be as loud as it ever gets and as exciting as it ever gets.”
Sure, that might be a bit of hyperbole, considering the Seahawks have won three NFC Championship Games at the ‘ol ballyard, two of them in epic white-knuckle fashion. The “12s” literally made the Earth shake in 2011 on Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Quake” run, and Russell Wilson pulled off the “Fail Mary” to beat Green Bay in 2012.
But Carroll is not far off — and depending on how things play out, he might have nailed it exactly. Sunday’s showdown with the 49ers, appropriately in primetime as the final regular-season game of the NFL season, contains a multitude of storylines. And it will pack an emotional wallop unlike any seen in recent memory.
At first it was going to be just a regular old barn-burner, determining which of these two teams wins the division and has the smoother path to the Super Bowl. And then Lynch came out of semi-retirement, and, well, the excito-meter flew to the top of the roof.
Lynch long ago embedded himself in the psyche of the Seattle sports fan, equal parts folk hero, lovable iconoclast and kick-butt running back. He retired in 2016, came back a year later to play for the Oakland Raiders, “retired” again after last season and now returns to bail the Seahawks out of a terrible jam.
In the past three weeks, the Seahawks have lost their top three running backs to season-ending injuries. That includes Chris Carson, who comes as close as anyone they’ve had since Beast Mode left to replicating his punishing running style.
To deal with this dire predicament — rookie Travis Homer was the only healthy back on the roster — Carroll and general manager John Schneider dipped into their archive to sign not only Lynch, but Robert Turbin, Lynch’s backup from 2012-14. Lynch is 33, long in the tooth for an NFL running back — especially one who confronted defensive linemen like a battering ram — and hasn’t played in 14 months. But if Lynch leads the Seahawks to victory as an exceedingly rare home underdog, it would elevate his status beyond folk hero into the realm of mythical legend.
It also would jump-start the process of erasing the most painful memory in Seattle sports history. You know the one: the Seahawks elected to throw an ill-fated pass rather than hand the ball to Lynch at the 1-yard-line in the climactic moment of Super Bowl XLIX. When Lynch said it was “unfinished business” that drew him back to the Seahawks, no doubt he was pointing to the chance to undo that gut punch.
“He’s highly motivated to do everything you can do in this game,” Carroll said. “He really is. He wants to do everything you can possibly do. He knew he wasn’t done. … He’s not done playing, and he wants to go. This is his entrée, and he’s going to go for it. He won’t hold back. He won’t hold back one bit. We look forward to seeing what happens.”
To the victor Sunday goes the NFC West title, a nod to the not-so-far-off days when the Seahawks-49ers rivalry was the fiercest in the league.
The ramifications go well beyond that, however. If the 49ers win, they would be the NFC’s No. 1 seed, giving them a first-round playoff bye and ensuring that all their playoff games would be at home until the Super Bowl.
If the Seahawks win, they most likely would be the NFC’s No. 3 seed (unless a series of unlikely outcomes occur elsewhere in the league that moves them up higher). The No. 3 seed doesn’t bring a first-round playoff bye or guarantee home-field advantage throughout, but it ensures Seattle would be at home in the opening round against the Minnesota Vikings.
The loser, however, faces a daunting road to the Super Bowl, likely requiring three consecutive road wins as the No. 5 seed. Seattle’s three trips to the Super Bowl all came as the No. 1 seed, routed through CenturyLink. In fact, only four teams in NFL history have made it to the Super Bowl with three consecutive road playoff wins — the 1985 New England Patriots, the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2007 New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers. All but the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.
That puts huge stakes on this game for Seattle. You can make the case that the Seahawks have had bigger ones, but not with the Lynch angle to provide extra juice. In 2010 they needed to win their final game of the year against the Rams to make the playoffs (as a 7-9 team, the first in NFL history to qualify with a losing record, though they redeemed themselves by beating New Orleans behind the Beast Quake).
That was also the case in 1983 (a Seahawks win over New England for the expansion franchise’s first playoff berth, followed by a run to the AFC title game) and 1988 (a Seattle win over the Raiders, followed by a quick playoff ouster in a loss to Cincinnati).
In 1984 against Denver they faced the same scenario they do now — the winner got the division title, and the loser fell to the wild card. The Seahawks lost — and got booted out of the playoffs in the second round.
And so here the Seahawks sit again, with Super Bowl aspirations but wracked by injuries. On the other side sits a 49ers team that has lost eight consecutive games in Seattle since 2011 and is led by a quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, who has never started at CenturyLink.
In the middle of it all, the Seahawks will drop Marshawn Lynch and watch what happens. Honestly, no one is quite sure — the results can range anywhere from miraculous comeback to monumental letdown. Seeing how it plays out, however, will be one delicious slice of drama. Or perhaps melodrama.
“Marshawn and I laughed about it earlier today,” Turbin said Thursday. “It’s like, ‘Man, we picked a heck of a week to come back, didn’t we?’”