Sunday 30th December 2018

Seahawks 27 Cardinals 24

Seahawks sneak past Cardinals to sew up No. 5 NFC playoff seed, and a wild-card game at Dallas. Some way, somehow, the Cardinals always play the Seahawks close late in the season, and Sunday was no exception. But a game-winning field goal earned Seattle a 27-24 win and a playoff trip to Dallas.

The best news about the playoffs for the Seattle Seahawks, which begin with a game Saturday night in Dallas?

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But while Arizona officially was the worst team in the NFL this season, finishing 3-13 and getting the No. 1 choice in the 2019 NFL draft, you’d have never known it by how they played against the Seahawks this season in two games that each went down to the final play. That included the regular-season finale Sunday, which Seattle won 27-24 on a 33-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski as time ran out.

At Arizona in September, Janikowski hit a 52-yard field goal on the final play to lift Seattle to a 20-17 victory.

Reverse each, and Seattle could have been stuck with an 8-8 record and sitting home for the playoffs instead of heading for a date against America’s Team on Saturday night, a contest that will kick off at 5:15 p.m.

But then, this has been that kind of season for Seattle, especially in the division — five of Seattle’s six games against NFC West foes were decided in the final possession or overtime.

And if you worried that the seemingly shoddy showing Sunday portends negatively for the playoffs, the Seahawks themselves said to not stress too much.

The game ultimately didn’t matter when it came to the postseason — Seattle would have been the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs regardless of the result.

And as Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark said, reminding all that the Cardinals had won in Seattle the previous three years: “Every time we play Arizona it’s always a battle. It’s always something crazy with Arizona. We know that and understand that.’’

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They also knew that there were two big reasons for what would have been one of the most embarrassing defeats of the Pete Carroll era: three big special-teams breakdowns and the worst performance of the season by an offensive line that featured only two regular starters in their usual spots.

Both issues are fixable, the Seahawks say. And the good news is that the Seahawks expect the offensive line to be whole again for the game Saturday against the Cowboys.

“We should be back to pretty good shape next week in Dallas,’’ Carroll said of the offensive line.

That means J.R. Sweezy back at left guard, D.J. Fluker back at right guard and Germain Ifedi again at right tackle.

Sunday, Sweezy sat out with a foot injury suffered last week against Kansas City. But Carroll said after the game Sunday that Sweezy is expected back against the Cowboys. Fluker sat out with a hamstring injury. Carroll said Fluker who went through a rigorous pregame workout could have played but Seattle decided to hold him out.

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With their two starting guards out, Seattle decided to move Ifedi from tackle to guard and leave George Fant at right tackle, with Ethan Pocic playing left guard.

Seattle’s offensive line has thrived this season with Fluker and Sweezy providing a physical and veteran presence inside.

But with those two out, things were a mess, especially against a defensive front that is about the only good thing Arizona has going for it.
The result was six sacks of Russell Wilson tying season-highs set in the first two games before the Sweezy-Fluker guard combination came to fruition — and a running game that gained 182 yards, but had just 63 yards on 16 carries in the first half before Chris Carson’s 61-yard run in the third quarter got things back on track a bit.

“We had trouble with the pass protection today,’’ Carroll said. “We had some trouble with line calls, line stunts and things that they were doing. A couple pressures we didn’t identify well.’’

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That there were new players in new spots was an obvious reason, and it was why no one seemed too concerned.

Still, Ifedi said he also hopes it’s a wakeup call heading into the playoffs.

“We have to be better,’’ Ifedi said. “It’s unacceptable. We can’t give up that type of pressure versus any team, better yet a team with three wins on the year. It’s not good. We knew what they were going to throw at us. We knew what they were going to be. It was too easy a game plan for us to execute for us to put up that type of performance. We have to be better.’’

More mystifying were the special-teams breakdowns — a deflected Michael Dickson punt that led to a touchdown in the second quarter, a 45-yard punt return that led to a field goal in the second quarter, and then a blocked punt that was recovered for a touchdown that tied the game in the third quarter.

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“We could have lost the game today just because of that,’’ Carroll said of all the special-teams breakdowns.

Fortunately, the defense held Arizona to 198 yards — the second-fewest Seattle has allowed this season, the lowest being 185 by the Raiders in London — while the offense made just enough plays at the most critical times.

After falling behind 3-0 early, Seattle scored on two consecutive drives to take a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. One score came on a Wilson touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett that was the 126th of his career setting a Seattle franchise record – and the 35th of the season, setting a Seahawks single-season record.

Then, after Arizona’s Zane Gonzalez hit a 55-yard field goal with 1:49 left to tie the game and potentially force overtime, the Seahawks drove 60 yards in eight plays to set up Janikowski’s game-winner.

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The key play was a 37-yard pass from Wilson to Lockett, with Wilson evading a rush a constant task on this day – and Lockett sneaking behind the defense on a designed post route.

It was the 27th time in Wilson’s career he led a winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Wilson said he thought there was a positive in coming through at the end one more time heading into the playoffs, though, he acknowledged, “We wish the game was better. We wish that we had played better throughout the game.’’

But that doesn’t matter now, with the Seahawks one of 12 teams left, all with clean slates.

Seattle beat visiting Dallas 24-13 in Week 3, a game that sparked a streak of 10 victories in the final 14 weeks to give the Seahawks a 10-win season for the sixth time in the past seven years. But Dallas, likewise, finished strong, winning seven of its past eight to shake off a 3-5 start and win the NFC East at 10-6, bolstered by the midseason acquisition of receiver Amari Cooper from the Raiders.

“I don’t care who we are playing — you get a chance in the playoffs, that’s all you need,’’ said Seattle left tackle Duane Brown. “We have a team we are familiar with that we have played already, so that’s always good.

“I think they are a better team than the first time we played them but I think we are, as well. I think everybody in here knows the postseason is a different speed than the regular season. So it’s going to be a good one.’’

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