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Larry Stone: Don’t worry, Seahawks will be ready – and better – for Dallas

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson absorbed plenty of punishment from the Arizona Cardinals, but Seattle’s offensive line expects to be much healthier in time for the playoff opener at Dallas. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson absorbed plenty of punishment from the Arizona Cardinals, but Seattle’s offensive line expects to be much healthier in time for the playoff opener at Dallas. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

It was a fret-fest practically from the start, a sloppy affair in which the Seahawks managed to puncture the giddy air of optimism that had prevailed since the Kansas City win.

As they waited until the last second – literally – to avoid an unthinkable loss to the worst team in the NFL, the Seahawks offered up a compendium of worries heading into the postseason.

The offensive line was porous and at times endangered quarterback Russell Wilson, who absorbed far too many hits and was sacked six times. The offense, as a result, moved only fitfully. And the special teams were, up until the two fourth-quarter field goals by Sebastian Janikowski that locked up the 27-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals, an unadulterated disaster.

But here’s the counterpoint: No biggie.

This was a shaky performance that can, and should, easily be flushed. No harm, no foul, no carry-over heading into Saturday’s playoff opener in Dallas.

That’s not to say the Seahawks don’t have some heavy-duty mending to take care of. But even for those who don’t carry the inherent positivity of Pete Carroll, it’s easy to see that this step backward by the Seahawks isn’t indicative of an impending tumble.

Oh, they still may lose to the Cowboys. But it won’t be because this outing unleashed their demons.

For one thing, the game was a classic recipe for a letdown. In the wake of a nationally televised upset of the Chiefs that clinched a playoff berth, they faced an Arizona team that was in position to lock up the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Yes, the Seahawks had the fifth versus sixth seed to play for, as well as the psychic appeal of a 10-win season. And yes, they knew that the Cardinals have an inherent knack for playing them tough in Seattle regardless of the sorry state of their season.

But human nature is also at play here. Carroll’s admonition that each week is a championship opportunity doesn’t always push the needle, try as he might. That won’t be an issue in the maelstrom of a loser-out playoff showdown against the Cowboys.

“Everyone had that sense of urgency coming off the field,’’ Seahawks tackle Duane Brown said. “Guys were happy, but we weren’t satisfied with the win. Everyone knows what we left out there.”

As for the offensive line woes, which awakened bad memories of breakdowns past, the solace is that help should be on the way. The Seahawks played Sunday with a makeshift alignment made necessary by having guards D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy on the sideline nursing injuries.

The hope is that both will be ready Saturday, which would mitigate the need for Germain Ifedi to play guard, as he did – and not very effectively – against the Cardinals. It would also allow them to move George Fant back to his tight-end role, and put Ethan Pocic back in a reserve role.

“You could see the mixing and matching caught us a little bit today against a team that makes it really hard on you,’’ Carroll said. “It was a bad mix. Fortunately, we should be back to pretty good shape next week.”

Odd lineup or not, Brown didn’t mince words in assessing the play the of the O-line. The laundry list of fiascoes doesn’t even include a sack/fumble of Wilson that would have resulted in an Arizona touchdown had the Cardinals not been flagged for defensive holding.

“Not good,’’ Brown said. “This was a poor performance. I’m not very happy at all. We had a lot of breakdowns of protection. We didn’t run the ball consistently. … We got Russ hit way too many times. That’s not the kind of product we want to put on the field.”

No doubt much of the emphasis this week will be on cleaning up the special-teams mess. The horror show included two Michael Dickson punts that were blocked – one leading directly to an Arizona touchdown – and a 45-yard punt return that set up a field goal.

“The whole field-position thing just messed this game up totally,’’ Carroll said with a grimace.

But in the end, the Seahawks made it through relatively unscathed. They got the W (on Janikowski’s 33-yard field goal as time expired) and can say they reached double-digits in victories for the sixth time in Russell Wilson’s seven years as quarterback. And speaking of Wilson, he made it out alive, which is the best news of all, considering how many times Arizona rushers had a clean shot at him.

Was the Seahawks’ uneven play a wake-up call of sorts, a reminder of the focus and intensity that they’ll need in the next round? Tyler Lockett, who made two of the periodic big plays (a 29-yard catch for a TD, and a 37-yard catch that set up another) that shook the Seahawks of their doldrums on Sunday, thinks so.

“It was good for us to be able to go through something like this in the last game of the season,’’ he said.

Brown spoke of how each phase of the season requires an increased level of effort — “Preseason speed, regular-season speed, and playoff speed” — is how he put it. The Cardinals, to their credit, played like a team fighting for a playoff berth, not one about to have their coach fired.

“They played their heart out,’’ Seahawks tight end Ed Dickson said. “We lasted longer than them today.”

Carroll began his postgame monologue by saying, “I know there’s a lot of concerns about the way this thing came off today.”

It was a day for concerns, but not distress. As Frank Clark said, while answering a question about his two sacks, the good and bad of this game, and everything that preceded it, became instantly irrelevant.

“Every stat I’ve recorded, everything that happened, after these interviews are over and the cameras shut off, all that goes back to zero,’’ he said. “If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand football in the playoffs.”

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