Because of how the Seahawks’ game ended, it’s easy to overlook the best thing that happened to them on Sunday afternoon. The Rams lost to the Eagles 43-35 in Los Angeles, setting up a showdown for first place in the NFC West at CenturyLink Field. If the Rams had won, they would have brought a two-game lead into this week’s game and hung on to first place in the division even with a loss to the Seahawks.
And if you’re looking at the bigger picture, you can’t really be happy about an injury to a star player without sounding like a pathetic fool, but since it happened, the top-seeded Eagles won’t be nearly as difficult to beat in the playoffs with Nick Foles at quarterback instead of Carson Wentz after he suffered a season-ending ACL tear.
I wasn’t all that surprised by the Seahawks’ 30-24 loss to the Jaguars, coming as it did after a huge, emotional win over Philadelphia last week and being played before the big one against the Rams this week. It looked like a letdown spot to me, and it’s never a complete shocker when a team doesn’t play as well on the road as it does at home, particularly against an 8-4 team that was favored by 2 1/2 points.
The only thing that surprised me was the score of the game – I thought it would be low-scoring with two tough defenses allowing next to nothing for the opposing offenses, and that’s the way it was going until someone turned on the pinball machine in the third quarter. At one point, in what must be an unprecedented development in franchise history, Jacksonville scored three touchdowns on three consecutive plays.
But I’m burying the lead by dancing around the periphery of what everyone is talking about – how the game ended with a flurry of unsportsmanlike activity by the Seahawks. Normally when a team goes into victory formation like the Jaguars did, the game is basically over. The ball is snapped once or twice, the two teams go through the motions, and there’s not much in the way of contact at the line of scrimmage as the clock ticks toward :00.
That didn’t happen in Jacksonville. I’m guessing Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Jefferson all would say they wanted to fight ’til the finish on the off-chance of a botched exchange leading to a fumble recovery and a last-ditch chance for the Seahawks. But it’s pretty much understood, as if in a gentleman’s agreement, that there’s nothing left to do but shake hands once the game officially ends. I would love it if someone at Pro Football Focus or some other leather-head site did some research and produced the one time when a team forced a fumble by slamming into the center the way Bennett did on the next-to-last play of the game. I’d guess they’d find that it has never happened.
The worst part about Bennett’s play wasn’t his initial surge. It happened in the next instant when center Brandon Linder tried to untangle himself only to have Bennett continue to target his left knee. It looked pretty clear to me that Bennett was trying to injure his opponent. For what reason, I’m not sure, probably because he was frustrated about losing. Whatever the case, it was really sad, but it’s not as if this is an isolated occurrence for Bennett. Two years ago during an Earl Thomas interception return at Cincinnati, Bennett intentionally tried to hurt Andy Dalton.
And this is the same player who complained about Jake Matthews’ cut block in last year’s game against the Falcons, calling it a dirty move. Linder, to his credit, didn’t make much of the Bennett incident after Sunday’s game. If you’re going to fine players for unintentional hits, such as helmet-to-helmet, Bennett should definitely be fined for his actions and maybe even suspended for one game. For all of the hand-wringing over safety in the sport, the NFL should be heavy-handed in its punishment when a player tries to intentionally hurt another.
Richardson will likely be fined as well for throwing a punch. Again, I’m sure he was frustrated, but I’ve never understood punch-throwing in football because the intended targets are generally wearing helmets, and if anyone’s going to feel the brunt of the blow, it’s the punch-thrower and his hand.
Jefferson also was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the last play of the game and on his way out of the stadium, a Jaguars’ fan allegedly used the N-word, causing the Seahawks defensive lineman to try and climb into the stands before being restrained by security personnel. In the heat of the moment, you can hardly blame Jefferson, but you still can’t cross the line of entering the bleachers. So he faces a possible fine and suspension too.
The Seahawks were already playing without three starters on defense – Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor – and ended the game with two more – Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and K.J. Wright (concussion) – on the sideline. Now there’s a chance they’ll face the Rams without six starters on defense if Wagner and Wright can’t make it back and Bennett is suspended.
Usually fans of the home team cut players from the home team all kinds of slack. They typically criticize players from other teams when they go over-the-top. So you know it’s a bad look when Bennett got friendly fire for his actions on Sunday. Then he doubled down by not explaining himself in the locker room and telling reporters to leave Jefferson alone, as if it’s his place to do that. Jefferson appeared to be talking to reporters until being interrupted, and if Jefferson didn’t want to do the interviews, it’s his call, not Bennett’s.
All of this could have been avoided if the Seahawks had acted like every other team on the other side of a victory formation – you’re mad that you lost, but you go through the motions and handle it with class. Fortunately this won’t be headline news later this week. The Seahawks will have moved on with all of their focus on the Rams and what that game means for their postseason chances.
It’s the biggest game of the season and it also marks a turning point for the Seahawks. If they win, they’ll likely repeat as NFC West champions and host a playoff game. If they lose, they’ll probably miss the playoffs for the first time in the Russell Wilson era.
There will be all kinds of negative stories about fines and possible suspensions and injuries this week, but I’m also guessing that because they’re the Seahawks, they’ll find a way to bounce back against the Rams.