So much for the notion of the the Seattle Seahawks resting their starters for their final regular-season appearance next Sunday.
The Arizona Cardinals dented Seattle’s aura of home invincibility and put the Seahawks’ division-clinching plans on hold with a 17-10 victory on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
The Hawks (12-3) could have wrapped up not only the NFC West title but home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs with a victory on Sunday.
Now they must beat the St. Louis Rams in Seattle or hope for a San Francisco loss at Arizona on Sunday to earn that distinction.
Seattle players and coaches took that setback in stride, to the point where they appeared to reading from the same manual.
“It’s championship week again. We’re very fortunate to have that opportunity,” Seahawk coach Pete Carroll said. “(The players) have flipped the switch and they’re ready to move on.”
“Once (the game) is over, it’s behind you,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas agreed. “Even if we had won, you’ve got to move on.”
“I’ll lick my wounds tonight and I’ll move on,” Seahawk defensive end Red Bryant offered.
If the loss (Seattle’s first at home since 2011) represented a wake-up call for the Hawks, the sellout crowd could have used one as well. This slow-paced defensive battle consisted primarily of punt exchanges and replay reviews. Referee Scott Green spent more time under the hood than many members of the Ku Klux Klan.
In reality, this contest bore several similarities to Seattle’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers earlier this moth. In both games, the Seahawk defense played well enough to win, but the offense had difficulty moving the ball against a quality defensive unit.
The Cardinals, who entered the contest first in the NFL in rushing defense, limited the Hawks to 192 yards of total offense. Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson completed only 11-of-27 passes for 108 yards.
“(Our) defense did a great job. They made play after play,” Wilson said. “Offensively, we were off by a hair.”
“We saw a great defensive football game today,” Carroll said. “Two great defenses duking it out. It was a slugfest today and they won out.”
As in the San Francisco loss, the Hawks were also plagued by untimely penalties. Arizona’s two “drives” to second-half field goals consisted primarily of defensive infractions — including personal foul and pass interference calls on consecutive plays early in the fourth quarter. The game-winning march was also prolonged by defensive holding penalty.
Overall, the Seahawks incurred 102 yards in infractions — not an unusual development for the NFL’s most penalized club.
Seattle’s offense briefly sprung to life when Wilson found tight end Zach Miller on a 11-yard scoring pass with 7:26 remaining. Given a second chance when a blocked PAT was nullified by a rarely called illegal defensive formation penalty, Steven Hauschka kicked the conversion for a 10-9 lead.
Following the ensuing kickoff, sore-kneed Cardinal quarterback Carson Palmer wobbled out of the pocket to hit Jake Ballard for 17 yards on a third-down pass. The Seahawks seemingly apparently halted that threat when another third-down throw near midfield fell incomplete, but a late flag for defensive holding gave Arizona an automatic first down.
“I didn’t like that (call) on the sideline,” said Carroll, who otherwise scrupulously avoided criticizing the officials. “It was awfully late.”
Moments later, Palmer made his best throw of the contest on a deep fade route and second-year wide receiver Michael Floyd made a juggling catch in the end zone. Rashard Mendenhall ran for the 2-point conversion with 2:13 left.
Wilson’s pass, on the first play following the kickoff, either hit the turf or receiver Doug Baldwin’s arm and bounced into the outstretched arms of linebacker Karlos Dansby. Officials ruled it an interception and Green, after still another trip to the replay monitor, upheld the call.
The Cards then ran out the clock.
Both teams had cause to lament missed opportunities. Palmer was intercepted four times — three of the picks coming when the Cardinals were in field-goal range.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, came away empty on a first-and-goal situation from the Arizona 3-yard line late in the first half when the normally automatic Hauschka hit the upright on a 24-yard field goal attempt.
Sunday’s total offense output was Seattle’s second lowest of the season. Perhaps forebodingly, the lowest came against its next opponent. The Seahawks netted only 135 yards at St. Louis in a Monday night game they still pulled out, 14-9.
None of that information, nor the delay in the championship celebration, appeared to faze Wilson.
“At the end of the day, the goal is always to win the next one,” the Seahawk quarterback said.
Rick Anderson: (360) 537-3924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.