Objectively, there’s no way the Seahawks beat the 49ers Saturday in Santa Clara. The 13-4 Niners, on a 10-game winning streak, are a 10-point betting favorite because they throttled the Seahawks by a combined 48-20 in the two regular-season meetings. And seven of the Seattle points were a result of a freaky blocked field goal returned for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the 9-8 Seahawks during the season’s second half were lower than a legless Corgi until finding two teams more helpless, the New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams. The Seahawks beat both, but the latter outcome Sunday at the Loo required overtime, despite the injury absences of LA’s three best players, Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and QB Matthew Stafford.
The main reason the struggling Seahawks gained entry to the NFL’s post-season tournament had little to do with their play. The NFL in the off-season approved expansion of the tourney in each conference from six teams to seven, after earlier expanding the regular season from 16 games to 17. The moves were the latest endorsement in the sports-industrial complex of the maxim attributed to comedian John Belushi: “Too much is not enough.”
The embrace of mediocrity played out Sunday when three 8-8 teams (Seahawks, Lions and Packers) were vying for the single remaining berth in the NFC. After the Seahawks beat the Rams, they had to wait three hours until the Lions, eliminated by Seattle’s 19-16 win, surprised the Packers, 20-17, at Lambeau Field, giving Seattle the No. 7 seed.
The outcome had the Seahawks as Hobbits joining in the NFL version of Middle Earth, where most everyone is a little short. Seattle was one of 20 teams with records between 10-7 to 7-10, a peculiar sort of sports purgatory that many teams fail to escape.
Regarding San Francisco, the normally ebullient Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, on his KIRO 710 radio show Monday, was fairly candid about prospects: “We’re going to try to make something of it. Unfortunately, we’re playing the Niners, and they are loaded and healthy and on a roll, and about as hot as you can possibly get.”
He was also being strategic. He wants to cushion the blow by diminishing expectations, while setting up the 2023 escape from purgatory: The Seahawks are the first NFL team in 20 years to make the playoffs and also have a top-five pick in the next draft.
As followers of the Russell Wilson saga know, that pick is the prime fruit of his trade to the Denver Broncos, who have spent the season as pop culture targets of ridicule second only to the GOP side of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Broncos finished their playoff-free season at 5-12 and fired their head coach, but his successor won’t have their first- and second-round picks to help with the rebuild.
Rebuild — that word rarely escapes Carroll’s mouth without being soaked in scorn. In the aftermath of the trade, fans and local and national media said the Seahawks without Wilson, and defensive star Bobby Wagner dismissed on the same day, were doomed to rebuild. No one saw coming the rise of Wilson’s backup, Geno the Genie Smith. He made Carroll’s wishes come true about staying competitive.
“I couldn’t go along with all of the talk about rebuilding,” he said Monday after tying Mike Holmgren for 15th place (161) in NFL career coaching wins. “It just doesn’t drive me, to make that concession. I don’t get it. So we didn’t (rebuild) and fortunately, we were able to hang in there, and did enough good things.”
Including a 48-45 win over Detroit Oct. 2 that provided the eventual tiebreaker Sunday with the Lions. The events of Sunday were vindication of Carroll’s belief that “enough good things” were enough to reach the NFL’s bloated midsection. Along with a little good fortune.
Looking back, the Seahawks played only six teams that ended up with winning records, winning three (Lions, Chargers and Giants) and losing three (Chiefs and twice to the 49ers). They were 6-5 against the sub-.500 teams. It’s hard to make a case for a signature win, although beating twice (barely) a broken Rams team — LA had the worst record (5-12) following a Super Bowl championship in NFL history — is always a nice hood ornament in the NFC West neighborhood. Triumphing in the season opener against Wilson and his new team was a huge emotional one-off, but in hindsight was hardly a proud pelt, given the Broncos epic season-long rot.
So the unexpected arrival in the playoffs means the heavy lift of the 2022-23 season is done. The Seahawks found a good, stout quarterback — Smith is one of only 11 QBs to have started all 17 games — took great advantage of a robust six-man rookie class, have $62 million at the moment to spend on free agents (seventh most in the league) and four picks in the top 38 draft slots.
Saturday by the bay?
Referencing the horrendous series of storms pounding the region with rain and wind all week, likely leaving the usually crappy field a white-capped swamp, Carroll said, “With the bomb cyclones threatening down there, we may be running the ball 40 times.”
May? Of course Pete Carroll will. He gave away the game plan for a 13-12 win. When he’s playing with house money, he can do that.