SEATTLE — Sunday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals was supposed to be little more than an appetizer for the main course, an aperitif to whet the palate in preparation for the true delicacies still simmering on the kitchen stove.
Well, the holiday feast remains on, but now the Seahawks have to take their seat at the dining table while suffering from a bad case of acid reflux.
The NFC West championship still comes down to next Sunday’s game between the Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, just as it’s seemed destined to do ever since their classic confrontation six weeks ago. But Seattle’s ugly 27-13 loss to the lowly Cardinals on Sunday at CenturyLink Field changes the narrative heading into next week’s division decider.
In the context of the NFC West, Sunday’s result was inconsequential. San Francisco’s dramatic last-second 34-31 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday took all the tiebreakers off the table. Next week’s game between the Seahawks and 49ers at CenturyLink — which will be the final game of the NFL’s 2019 regular season as it was flexed into the prime-time 5:20 p.m. slot— is a true winner-takes-all affair.
But the nature of the Seahawks’ loss Sunday means the mood around Seattle heading into next week’s game transforms from anticipatory to apprehensive.
Prior to Sunday’s game there were visions of the resuscitation of the Seahawks-49ers rivalry that was the NFL’s most intense from 2012-14. Sure, Jim “What’s your deal?” Harbaugh is no longer roaming the sidelines for San Francisco, but Richard Sherman’s agitating presence on the opposite side of the ledger is a reasonable facsimile. The 27-24 overtime game won by Seattle on Nov. 11 in Santa Clara, California, conjured up memories of the fabled “tip” game for the NFC championship in the 2013 season, which propelled Seattle to its Super Bowl XLVIII title.
But the way the Seahawks lost Sunday, being beaten convincingly at home by a down-and-out Cardinals team that lost its starting quarterback, is likely to generate responses less in the vein of, “I can’t wait to see the game between these two juggernauts,” and something more akin to, “How in the world are those guys playing for a division title?”
“Before this game everybody was talking about how we were one of the best teams in the NFC,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Now things are probably going to change. It’s part of the media process, right? We didn’t play great. Sometimes you go up to bat and go 0-for-4, sometimes you go to the gym and try to shoot and the ball doesn’t go in.”
But the performance was only half the story. The other half is the injuries. Defensive starters Jadeveon Clowney, Shaquill Griffin and Quandre Diggs were unavailable. Left tackle Duane Brown sat out, and after the game Seahawks coach Pete Carroll revealed Brown will undergo knee surgery that will sideline him a couple more weeks. And running backs Chris Carson (hip) and C.J. Prosise (broken arm) both left the game with maladies that will end their seasons.
Carroll said Seahawks general manager John Schneider “has to get to work.” Those aren’t the words anyone wants to hear in Week 17, especially heading into the most important game of the year.
“Our focus is gone on (the Arizona) game, because it wasn’t going to be on this game after we got in this locker room anyway, with the game coming up next week,” Carroll said. “Everything comes down to the final week of the season. We’re fortunate that we have the chance to play for a division this late in the year. What’s important for us is to be disciplined about this so we can turn our focus and not be affected by what just happened.”
The Seahawks better not have been caught looking ahead, because while Sunday’s result didn’t have any effect on Seattle’s ability to win the division, it may have a profound effect on whether the Seahawks get a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Seattle came into the weekend as the NFC’s No. 1 seed, and had the Seahawks’ won out, they were guaranteed a bye in the wild-card round and a home game in the divisional round. But Sunday’s loss, combined with the New Orleans Saints beating the Tennessee Titans — Monday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings is the other key contest in the equation — increases the probability that even if the Seahawks beat the 49ers next week and win the division, they’ll fall short of earning one of the top two seeds and thus have to host a wild-card game.
But Seattle has more pressing problems than seeding. The Seahawks under Carroll have been renown for finishing strong. There was no sign of that Sunday. Another performance like that against the 49ers and Seattle will need to stock up on the Pepto-Bismol for the start of the playoffs.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.