TORONTO (AP) — For someone who’s spent little time traveling to Canada, and never visited Toronto, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn’t expect it’ll take long to get settled in on the north shore of Lake Ontario this weekend.
All Carroll figures he needs in preparing to play the Buffalo Bills at their northern home away from home Sunday is to draw on his experiences in visiting neutral sites during his previous job at Southern California.
“It’s kind of like a bowl game,” Carroll said. “You go and play in somebody else’s place and see what happens.”
And he didn’t need to be reminded that in seven of nine bowl appearances, the Carroll-coached Trojans came away successful.
“Well,” he said with a laugh. “That’s kind of why I’m thinking that way.”
There won’t be a parade of roses greeting these non-conference opponents with little history between them. And yet there’s plenty at stake for the surging Seahawks (8-5), who have vaulted into contention by winning four of five, including last weekend’s 58-0 trouncing of Arizona.
The test for the Seahawks is not getting caught looking back at their most one-sided victory. And it’s just as important to not peek ahead to the following week when the Seahawks host NFC West rival San Francisco in what could be a showdown for the division lead.
“We’ll see,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “I don’t like to call it a trap game, but it’s a game we need to be on our Ps and Qs, just like every game, but more so this because it’s a different environment and a different team, something we’re not familiar with.”
Oh, don’t worry, these are the same old bumbling Bills. They’re coming off a 15-12 loss to St. Louis in which they squandered a lead in the final 65 seconds for the second time this season.
The Bills (5-8) are stumbling down the stretch of yet another failed year. They’ve all but been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for a 13th straight season.
“Just playing for pride and hope,” receiver Stevie Johnson said. “At the end of the day, we most likely won’t be in the playoffs, but still, we’re putting on this Buffalo Bills jersey. You still have your name on the back. You still have people watching that support you. You’ve still got to go out there and play hard.”
Who and how many will be supporting them in the cavernous confines of Toronto’s downtown domed Rogers Centre remains the question.
Even without an NHL season in hockey-mad Toronto, the game on Sunday has not sold out. And fans in Toronto have shown indifference warming to their adopted Bills, who have gone 1-3 since the series started in 2008.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s been under plenty of heat from fans in Buffalo for the sputtering offense, was careful not to upset fans north of the border. He took a diplomatic approach in comparing the Toronto crowds to the raucous fans attending games at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“I don’t want to make any headlines or be controversial here,” he said. “The atmosphere’s different. I think everybody knows that. It’s much different than the Ralph in terms of noise and intensity.”
The Bills have been such an odd fit in Toronto, that they’re hardly even the top bill Sunday. They’re sharing that position with PSY, the YouTube music video sensation, who will be performing his “Gangnam Style” hit at halftime. The Korean pop artist is prominently featured on promotional posters, pictured standing between Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who’s facing his former team, and Buffalo running back Fred Jackson, who will not play after being placed on injured reserve this week.
“More power to PSY,” Johnson said. “But I’m not even interested in it right now, because we’ve got to worry about getting a win against this team that just put up 58 points and shut out the Arizona Cardinals, you know.”
The Seahawks’ defense has become one of the NFL’s best. It ranks third in yards allowed, is 10th with 32 sacks, and seventh with 25 takeaways. It’s also coming off a near-perfect game in which it forced eight turnovers, returning two for touchdowns, and limited the Cardinals to 154 net yards.
Their offense is coming to life, too. There’s Lynch, second in the NFL with a career-best 1,266 yards rushing. Lynch, selected 12th overall in the 2007 draft by the Bills, declined interview requests this week, not unusual because he rarely spoke to reporters during his three-plus seasons in Buffalo before being traded to Seattle.
And then there’s quarterback Russell Wilson, the rookie third-round pick, who’s been efficient with 20 touchdowns versus nine interceptions, and won three games in which the Seahawks have trailed with 2 minutes left.
What the Seahawks haven’t mastered yet is winning on the road, where they’re 2-5. But they won at Chicago in their last road game.
Baldwin is curious to see how they respond in their final game away from Seattle.
“I think there are some aspects of us that are mature, and then some aspects that are not. We’re still a young team,” Baldwin said. “We know the importance of this last stretch of the season for our ultimate goal. I don’t think anything is going to distract us from that.”