Seahawks head into playoffs with ugly win against Cardinals

SEATTLE -- Whenever the subject came up this week about the Seattle Seahawks possibly easing off the throttle in their regular-season finale with a playoff berth already secured, coach Pete Carroll quickly shot it down.

His stated reasoning was that maintaining momentum trumped whatever benefit there would be in giving some starters a rest against the Arizona Cardinals.

That momentum exists at least on paper for the Seahawks (10-6). Because while they beat the Cardinals 27-24 on a last-second Sebastian Janikowski field goal to finish the regular season with wins in six of their final seven games, they did so with a clunker of a performance. It included six sacks of Russell Wilson and two blocked punts that resulted in 14 points for Arizona.

Recent history shows that even a few late-season losses don't necessarily preclude deep playoff runs for the teams that make it, but the ugliness of this Seahawks win doesn't exactly leave anyone with a great feeling heading into Saturday's wild-card game at the Dallas Cowboys (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox).

Unless you're Carroll, of course.

"I know there's a lot of concerns about the way this thing came off today, about the way we played," he said, "but I really look at it like we stopped the streak."

Carroll was referring to how the Cardinals had won four of their previous five games against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. They made a bid for another win by harassing Wilson and by owning the special-teams battle.

The Seahawks' offensive line felt the absences of guards D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy. Seattle went with a reconfigured starting five that had Germain Ifedi sliding inside to play right guard, Ethan Pocic coming off the bench to play left guard and George Fant switching from the oft-used third tackle to right tackle.

It's a good thing Fluker is expected back for the playoffs and that Sweezy appears to have a good shot of joining him.

"The first thing we would say to you is we had trouble with the line stunts," Carroll said. "But I think that so much of that is communication and these guys are really quick with what they do and they're creative and they're really committed. We didn't handle it very well. You tie that together with a couple of pressures that they hit that we missed, we missed the pick-up on, it was a terrible day pass-protecting."

Said Ifedi: "I don't know if it was communication as much as it was just, the attention to detail wasn't there today. ... We work too hard, we do too many walk-throughs, we work too hard at practice to go out on Sunday and give up [six] sacks to a three-win team. It's unacceptable and we'll fix it, but it's unacceptable and it doesn't leave a good taste in our mouth because we work too hard. ... So, we just have to be better."

It was starting to feel like the 2017 season when Wilson was sacked on third down for a second consecutive three-and-out to begin the second half. The game changed on Seattle's next possession. Another sack of Wilson resulted in a fumble that Arizona recovered for a touchdown, but the play was negated by a defensive holding penalty. Chris Carson busted out for a 61-yard run on the next play to set up a Mike Davis touchdown, completing what could have been a 14-point swing.

Carson carried 19 times for 122 yards and a touchdown as the Seahawks' No. 1-ranked rushing offense finished with 182 yards. That effort -- albeit against the league's worst rushing defense -- plus Seattle's six defensive sacks shouldn't be overlooked amid everything that went wrong Sunday, but there was a lot of the latter.

The Seahawks could have tied the NFL record for the fewest turnovers in a season with 10, but that ended with an interception on their first possession. Wilson (12 of 21, 152 yards) was looking for David Moore on a slant route, but David Amerson jumped in front of him for the pick, only the second for Wilson in his past eight games.

He made some history of his own later with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett, who was wide open thanks to a coverage bust. That was touchdown No. 196 of Wilson's career, which broke a tie with Dave Krieg for the most all time by a Seahawks quarterback. It also set a new career-high for Wilson with 35 and gave Lockett 10 on the season.

The Cardinals' first touchdown was set up a short field after they partially blocked a Michael Dickson punt in the second quarter. Carroll didn't have much of an explanation for what happened when the Cardinals blocked another punt in the third quarter, which tied the game at 21 when they fell on the loose ball in the end zone and ran in a two-point try.

Seattle allowed 66 return yards on five punts.

"The whole field position thing just messed this game up totally," Carroll said. "We could have lost the game today just because of that."

Their defense bailed them out. Frank Clark's strip-sack of Josh Rosen set up a field goal that put Seattle up, 24-21. A Jarran Reed sack helped keep the Cardinals to a field goal on their next possession, setting the stage for the 27th game-winning drive of Wilson's career. Clark and Reed each had two sacks.

The big play was a 37-yard completion on the run to Lockett. Janikowski kicked the game-winner -- his third of the season -- from 33 yards out.

"I love that we won at the end of the game," Carroll said. "We needed a fourth-quarter drive to do it, and we had a stop to get that done, had to use the clock. All of those things are going to come in handy when it comes time in this next week or maybe weeks ahead, and here it comes, we're coming down to Seabass to win the game, everybody is going to click right into this mentality that we've already been through this, we know what it takes, we've got the best guy we could hope for to go kick the game-winner, and on and on."

The Chicago Bears' win against the Minnesota Vikings meant the Seahawks were heading to Dallas for wild-card weekend no matter their Week 17 outcome.

Now Seattle will get its a rematch with the Cowboys, whom the Seahawks beat in Week 3. "I think what it comes down to is nobody wanted to play in Chicago," Doug Baldwin said. "We wanted to play in Dallas in a dome."

If the Seahawks' victory against the Kansas City Chiefs last week showed how high their playoff ceiling could be, what did the performances that bookended it indicate? The Seahawks lost to the lowly San Francisco 49ers after setting a franchise record for penalty yards, then needed a strong finish to put away the three-win Cardinals.

All's well that ends well, right?

There's also this: Contrary to what's easily assumed, teams don't necessarily have to be playing their best football heading into the playoffs in order to make a deep run. In fact, of the past 12 Super Bowl winners, seven of them lost at least two of their final four games. That includes the 2013 Seahawks, who finished 2-2 before claiming the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

But only two of those seven –--the 2007 New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers -- were wild-card teams.

"As long as you win the games that matter," Baldwin said.

This win, unsightly as it was, means the Seahawks have finished with at least 10 victories in six of Carroll's nine seasons in Seattle. The franchise only had double-digit wins in five of the 34 seasons before Carroll and general manager John Schneider arrived in 2010.

"I don't really care about the 10 wins," Baldwin said. "I need four more."