SEATTLE – Finally, some good news for the Seahawks in a month that so far has brought almost nothing but dread – a loss by the Los Angeles Rams in Minnesota Sunday.
That dropped the Rams to 7-3 and it means that if the Seahawks can beat Atlanta on Monday night, Seattle, which at the moment owns the tiebreaker on Los Angeles due to a win there last month, can again move into first place in the NFC West.
Therein lies the hard part.
The Seahawks will have to beat Atlanta, and every other team remaining on its schedule, without cornerback Richard Sherman and probably without safety Kam Chancellor.
Sherman is done for the year with an Achilles injury and Chancellor is officially out for the Atlanta game with a neck injury, and there are rumblings he could be sidelined for the rest of the season.
Seattle has not played a game without Sherman since 2010, and has not played a game since the fourth week of 2011 without at least two of the trio of Sherman, Chancellor and Earl Thomas starting in the secondary. (We’ll try not to read too much into the fact that game was a 30-28 home loss to the Falcons.)
How it’ll look without two players who, for most of the last decade, have been as feared as any at their position is as impossible to predict for those around the team as it may be frightening to envision to fans.
“It’ll be the first of its kind,’’ said Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard. “We haven’t been in this territory before.’’
As news broke late this week that Chancellor is for sure out against Atlanta the betting line on the game dropped with Seattle – initially favored by three points – favored by just 1.5 points as of Sunday afternoon.
Seattle has rarely had that small of a spread in a home game since Russell Wilson’s rookie year in 2012. The Seahawks have been favored in every game at CenturyLink Field since 2013.
Rarely have they needed the home crowd as much as they may against Atlanta – and rarely has a regular-season game seemed to loom as vital both in terms of how it can help the team in the standings and in its psyche.
Football’s next-man-up culture had most at the team’s training facility this week professing confidence in those who will be tasked with stepping in, and Sherman said that he is “excited to see’’ how the replacements perform.
“We trust the guys that we’re going to put out there,’’ Sherman said. “These guys battle, they prepare. They prepare as if they’re going to be starters, and it’s the NFL. Everyone is always one play away.’’
The replacements Monday are Jeremy Lane, who three weeks ago was traded for a day to the Houston Texans and now will step in as the starter for Sherman. Bradley McDougald, who filled in for Earl Thomas at free safety the last two weeks, will take over for Chancellor at strong safety.
Lane will become the first player to start a game for Seattle at left cornerback other than Sherman since Walter Thurmond against Cleveland on Oct. 23, 2011.
But if Lane falters, the Seahawks could also call on Byron Maxwell, who played for Seattle from 2011-14 and was re-signed this week in the wake of Sherman’s injury. Maxwell was released by Miami in October after having been traded by the Eagles to the Dolphins in 2016.
While the fact that two teams have basically given up on Maxwell since he left town as a free agent might paint him as damaged goods, the Seahawks think his return to a system he thrived in could help him become the same player he was during his stint in Seattle.
“All it’s going to take is just for him to get out there and get his feet wet again,’’ Richard said.
McDougald held down Thomas’ spot well enough the last two weeks, especially in preventing explosive plays, the biggest thing the Seahawks ask of its defense. Washington and Arizona each averaged just 5.2 yards per pass attempt, below Seattle’s season average allowed of 6.59.
In replacing Chancellor, McDougald will be tasked with more responsibility against the run, something Chancellor so far this season was doing as well as at any time in his career. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the third-best safety against the run so far this season.
Carroll this week praised McDougald’s tackling and all-around play and called him “a little bit of an unsung hero at this time for this season.’’
McDougald’s days of going unnoticed are likely to end now, especially if he truly has to take over for Chancellor for the final seven games of the regular season, which begins with Monday night’s trip into the unknown.
“It’s brand-new territory for us,’’ Richard said. “But we have to keep rolling. The games aren’t going to stop.’’
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