O’Neil: Ready or not? Seahawks head to playoffs after uneven win over Cards
Ready or not, the Seahawks are moving on the NFL playoffs.
And honestly, the Seahawks were more not than ready for most of Sunday’s regular-season finale against Arizona.
Russell Wilson was sacked six times, Seattle’s punt team was an abject disaster that was responsible for most of Arizona’s points and the Seahawks’ offense went five straight drives without gaining so much as a single first down.
In fact, Wilson’s fourth quarter and a pair of clutch kicks from Sebastian Janikwoski were all that kept the Seahawks from kicking themselves after this one. Yep, that’s right. The Seahawks have their kicker to thank for a pair of fourth-quarter field goals, including the 33-yarder to win it as time expired in a game that didn’t turn out to matter a lick with regard to Seattle’s playoff positioning.
Seattle 27, Arizona 24.
Yes, it was that close, and no, it absolutely should not have been. At least not with the way Arizona had been playing, getting outscored 88-26 during the three-game losing streak the Cardinals carried into Week 17.
Of course, the Seahawks entered the game already assured of a playoff spot, and the fact that Minnesota lost at home to Chicago meant that even had Seattle lost to Arizona, the Seahawks would still have been the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs, playing at Dallas.
But before you go and get all worked up about a lack of focus or motivation or any other reasons the Seahawks had to sweat out a victory over a team that finished tied with the Jets for the worst record in the league, let’s point out what Seattle did do well. Namely, the Seahawks’ defense kept Arizona in a headlock for the better part of Sunday afternoon and into the evening.
Arizona gained 198 yards, the lowest total for any Seahawks opponent this season. The Seahawks also had five sacks, two of which caused Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen to cough up the ball, and Seattle also stopped the Cardinals on fourth down.
So how did the Cardinals manage to tie the game twice in the second half, leaving Seattle to eke out a win?
Well, they had some help from Seattle. Lots of it. The stinginess of Seattle’s defense was more than made up for by the sieve that was the Seahawks’ punt protection.
Seattle had a punt deflected in the second quarter, leading to the Cardinals taking over at the Seattle 27 for what turned out to be a touchdown drive. The Seahawks surrendered a 45-yard punt return later that period to Pharoh Cooper, leading to a field goal, and then capped off the debacle of a game by having a punt blocked outright in the third quarter and recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
Throw in Arizona’s first-half interception of Wilson and the Cardinals’ offense had a short porch for much of the game. Of the five times the Cardinals scored, only one came on a drive that required Arizona to even cross midfield.
That was the Cardinals’ final drive, which started at the Arizona 25 and got as far as the Seattle 34. With 2 minutes remaining, Arizona faced third-and-12, and receiver Trent Sherfield dropped a pass that would have given the Cardinals a first down. Instead, Zane Gonzalez made a 55-yard field goal to tie the score.
The Seahawks got the ball back with 1:46 remaining and two timeouts, which turned out to be more than enough time for a drive that barely qualified as a hurry-up offense. Of the eight plays on the drive, only two were passes, with the biggest being a 37-yard throw to a wide open Tyler Lockett, which gave Seattle the ball at the Arizona 25.
After two Chris Carson rushes, Wilson took a knee to center the ball for Janikowski’s second game-winner of the season against Arizona and Seattle moved on to the playoffs – ready or not.