RENTON, Wash. – Pete Carroll has coached 31 regular-season games as Seattle’s head coach. Today’s will be the first one that is completely devoid of playoff implications.
Do not, however, tell Carroll that today’s game in Arizona is meaningless. Sure, the Seahawks would have preferred that they won last week and were still clinging to wild-card hopes, but playoffs or not, players and coaches on both teams believe there is a lot left to play for.
“I’m disappointed in that we weren’t able to get to it,” Carroll said of the playoffs. “The circumstance that we were handed here at the end by our own doings – we left way too much up to chance and left it out there by our play early in the season. But as it is, with two teams in our division battling to be at .500 and get the 8-8 thing done, it still feels like there’s a lot going on in this game.
“So we’re making a big deal about it because it is a big deal. It’s important to us.”
Or, as running back Marshawn Lynch so succinctly stated it: “We want to finish the season out right. Eight and eight looks a lot better than 7-9.”
The Seahawks started the season 2-6 before winning five of their next six, creating scenarios before last week that could have landed them in the postseason. Arizona was in the same situation, starting 1-6, rallying to get to 7-7, then losing last weekend to end their playoff hopes. But despite last weekend’s disappointment, both teams say there won’t be a letdown on the final Sunday of the season.
“It’s a division game against two teams that have a lot of things to be excited about for next year,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said on a teleconference. “So if you can’t get up for that type of game, then you shouldn’t be playing.”
Both of these teams came into this year feeling like they could compete for a division title in the wide open NFC West, then both quickly fell out of contention in part because of slow starts, and in part because the San Francisco 49ers shocked everyone with what will end up being a 12- or 13-win season. But despite the 49ers’ runaway success this year, the Seahawks and Cardinals both believe, based on the way they played in the second half of the season, that they can compete for a division title in 2012. And what better way to get a head start on next season than by beating a division rival to finish alone in second place? No, it’s not as good as a playoff berth, but winning certainly beats the alternative.
“A lot of it is just pride right now,” Cardinals quarterback John Skelton said. “Obviously, 7-9 and 8-8 are big differences. No one wants to have a losing record and I think a lot of guys on both teams are going to put it all on the line and try to finish the season on a high note.”
For the Seahawks in particular, who are so young in so many areas, the importance of what happened in the second half of the season is hard to overstate. A team that looked lost at midseason has played like playoff-caliber football over the past two months, and is now a team with clear identity it hopes to take into 2012. Seattle established a running game in the second half of the season, an already promising defense became good, and young playmakers have emerged on both sides of the ball. A loss today won’t necessarily change that, but losing two straight to end the season after winning five of their previous six wouldn’t sit very well with the Seahawks as they head into their offseason.
“It’s very important for us,” quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said. “We’re a young team and I think it would be good for us mentally, coming to the next season, to end on a good note, especially with the way we lost that last game. The record doesn’t really show it – we’re a 7-8 team – but I feel like we’re a better team this year, and it would be good for the record to show that, too. We feel like we improved a lot throughout the whole season and it would be nice to end at .500 instead of having a losing record.”