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Hawks’ season at tipping point

Could go either way entering today’s game

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, right, leads league’s best rushing attack. (Associated Press)
Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, right, leads league’s best rushing attack. (Associated Press)
Danny O’Neil Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The homestretch starts today.

The Seahawks have played only two games at Qwest Field the previous eight weeks, and now they will play four of their next six at home. That makes this game against Kansas City the beginning of the end for a Seahawks season that could go either way.

And the end is what coach Pete Carroll focuses on above everything else whether it’s the end of the practice, conclusion of the game or finishing kick for a season.

“That is his whole thing,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said of Carroll. “It’s really not about starting fast, it’s all about finishing.”

What happens against Kansas City will play a large factor in determining that because this is a game between two surprising division leaders. These two teams have rubbed elbows in the draft order each of the past two years, which made them next-door neighbors in a part of the standings where no one wants to be. The Chiefs won four games last year, and the Seahawks just five, and now they’re playing games with postseason implications.

The Chiefs are a young team that has lost its past four games on the road, but they also pair the league’s top rushing offense with an adamant refusal to turn the ball over. This is a Chiefs team that won’t beat itself – not like San Francisco, which imploded at Qwest Field in its season opener, or the Cardinals and Chargers who committed five turnovers apiece during their defeats in Seattle.

Seattle’s ability to get on a roll will depend upon its ability to stop the run this week. Kansas City can alternate between running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones until the Seahawks prove they can stop them.

That wouldn’t have seemed to be too much of a problem earlier this season. Defense was Seattle’s signature, especially against the run. The Seahawks were allowing the second-fewest rushing yards in the league after five games, but that was before Red Bryant suffered a season-ending knee injury in Oakland where Seattle gave up 239 yards rushing. They allowed 197 yards on the ground to the Giants the week after that.

Three weeks later, Seattle still is trying to find its footing.

The Seahawks allowed almost twice as many yards these past five games as they did the first five, and last week in New Orleans, Chris Ivory – an undrafted rookie free agent who couldn’t stick at Washington State – finished with 99 yards and a touchdown against Seattle.

“We just didn’t tackle very well,” said Gus Bradley, Seattle’s defensive coordinator. “It’s pretty evident that we missed a lot of tackles. More tackles than we have all year. That’s what was really disappointing.”

After the game today, the most experienced member of Seattle’s defense looked out from his locker and shifted his view to the big picture for just a moment. Lawyer Milloy’s voice carries the weight that only a Super Bowl ring can bring.

“We’ve got to accept the challenge,” he said. “Our challenge as a team is how we can get all three phases working at the same time. We haven’t done that yet this year. That’s the one positive going into the end of the year, still being on top of our division, having four out of the last six games at home. (If) we can figure that out before season’s end then we’ll be a very dangerous team.

“Until that, we’ll just be .500.”

The homestretch begins against Kansas City in a game that could be a turning point in either direction.

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