RENTON, Wash. – For the second straight year, the Seahawks’ final game at CenturyLink Field will be one of significant meaning for both teams involved.
And the fact that Seattle has a lot at stake – heck anything at stake – is pretty remarkable considering where this team was less than two months ago.
When the Seahawks host the 49ers today, both teams will have plenty to keep them motivated beyond the fact that they are division rivals or that their coaches have a bit of a contentious relationship going back to their Pac-10 days.
For Seattle, which has won five of six since going 2-6 in the first half of the season, this game is a must-win for its wild-card hopes. The Seahawks will need some help to make the playoffs even if they win their final two, but a loss today will render all playoff discussions moot.
The 49ers, meanwhile, have long ago clinched the NFC West, but with an 11-3 record they are still battling New Orleans for a first-round bye, and they even have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed if Green Bay stumbles down the stretch.
It’s not as simple as last year’s winner-takes-the-NFC-West game between St. Louis and Seattle, but this is still a game with big playoff implications for both parties.
“We need a win, they need a win and it’s not going to be easy,” 49ers defensive end Justin Smith said on a conference call.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said. “They’re playing for some stuff, we’re playing for some stuff. And even beyond this year, we’re playing to change the identity of this organization; we’re playing to take that next step to be the type of team we want to be.”
The Seahawks also probably wouldn’t mind sending a message to the 49ers that, while they have the division title in hand this year, they’ll have a fight on their hands next season. But for now more immediate goals are on players’ minds.
But don’t think for a second that these players are feeling the pressure of a playoff push. Following Thursday’s practice, a dance-off broke out in the locker room between cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive end Anthony Hargrove. Dozens of players watched, cheered and filmed as Sherman and Hargrove showed off their moves. If this team is tensing up, it has a strange way of showing it.
“It’s just a good feeling around the locker room, a lot of confidence going on,” linebacker Leroy Hill said. “It feels good.”
The Seahawks have a right to feel good. Even in winning the NFC West last year, they were blown out several times and only went to the playoffs because of a historically bad division. This season, however, they’ve recovered from a slow start and made enough progress that, playoffs or not, fans have to be encouraged about the direction of the team.
“We’ve come a long ways,” quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said. “We started off 2-6 in the first half of the season and we tried to rededicate ourselves to the second half and learn from the first half and see where it takes us. It’s brought us a long way and we feel like we’ve established our identity a little bit and feel we know exactly what the coaches are expecting out of us. … It’s been big for us. It gives us confidence.”
And while everyone in the Seahawks’ locker room wants to make the playoffs, they also know they put themselves in a position where they don’t control their own identity. Even with two more wins, Seattle needs help from other teams to make the postseason, but playoff berth or not, the Seahawks come into today’s game feeling good about the progress that has been made over the past six games.
“There’s a lot of good feeling in our locker room,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “These guys know what we’re trying to get done. They’re excited about whatever the challenge is and wherever we’ve got to go and wherever it is. It happens to be a terrific football team in the 49ers coming in, so we’ll get revved up and let it rip and see what happens.”