SEATTLE – Don’t believe Pete Carroll on this one.
Don’t believe the Seahawks coach when he’s asked if he can remember a regular-season game meaning so much, and he responds, “Yeah, last week and the week before and every one of them have been the same … you can look at it differently, but we don’t.”
Perhaps that would be true if the Seahawks were made up of 53 androids. Maybe that would be the case if the entire roster went in for a lobotomy on their off day Tuesday.
But anyone with human emotions – anyone who’s ever felt a jitter, butterfly or tinge of anxiety – can’t possibly look at the upcoming matchup with the Rams like any other Sunday.
It’s not just the biggest regular-season game so far this year – it’s the biggest regular-season game in the Russell Wilson era.
At 8-5, the Seahawks would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today. Falling to 8-6 would bury them up to their necks in quicksand.
The postseason wouldn’t be impossible at that point, but they would need to win out and get help from newfound friends for that to happen.
A win, on the other hand, vaults the Seahawks into a tie with the Rams (9-4) for first place in the NFC West. And because they would be 2-0 against Los Angeles this year, they’d own the tiebreaker.
Winning out would still be critical, but perhaps not compulsory with the Rams going to Tennessee the following week. Long column short: The stakes in this game are scraping the sky.
After Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was repeating the phrase “we’re playing for first place” in the locker room. He knew that despite the disappointing result (and a game Wilson thought they should have won) they hadn’t lost any ground in the division.
It’s not quite as if that loss didn’t happen, but with the Rams falling to the Eagles – who lost QB Carson Wentz for the season – it was a pretty ideal day for the team outside of Jacksonville. Want to make sure that descending playoff window stays ajar? You have to beat the Rams. No other option.
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin took to the podium Wednesday and was asked about the situation. A reporter wondered if it was easy to treat Sunday’s matchup like any other game.
“No,” Baldwin said. “If it was easy, then everybody would do this.”
That you can believe. You can also believe that Seattle’s offense has evolved dramatically since its 16-10 win over the Rams in Week 3, when a dropped touchdown pass by Cooper Kupp would have won it for L.A.
The Seahawks have watched Wilson make a true MVP push for the first time in his career, as he is now two TD throws and 18 yards from becoming the first player to ever have multiple seasons with 30 touchdown passes and 500 rushing yards. They have watched Jimmy Graham (nine TD catches) become the red-zone threat they envisioned when they traded for him in 2015.
They have watched Duane Brown and Luke Joeckel shore up the left side of an offensive line that held Jacksonville to one sack. And they have found a semblance of a ground game with running back Mike Davis.
The only (colossal) problem is they’ve lost Pro Bowlers Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril – and might not have Pro Bowl linebackers K.J. Wright (concussion) and Bobby Wagner (hamstring) on Sunday.
Even so, I’d still be on Seattle. The Seahawks have given away games this season, but it seems like the ones that felt most crucial have resulted in a victory.
They held on against the Rams. They edged out the Texans. They upset the Eagles, and are yet to lose a division game.
The Rams might be the future of the NFC West – and will almost certainly be the Seahawks’ rivals of the near future. But this is still the Seahawks’ division.
The stakes are stratospheric Sunday. Expect the Seahawks to rise to that height.
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