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Seahawks DE L.J. Collier
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O’Neil: Ready or not, Seahawks’ high-wire act is playoff bound

Seahawks DE L.J. Collier had another big play late in a close game. (Getty)

Ready or not, the Seahawks have guaranteed a playoff berth and will be playing for the division lead next week against the Los Angeles Rams.

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For the first three quarters of Sunday’s game in Washington, the Seahawks looked more than ready. The final period? Not so much. And in that way, Seattle’s 20-15 victory over Washington epitomized this 2020 season.

For the first half of both the schedule and most games, the Seahawks have looked good enough to make you think a Super Bowl is possible. But down the stretch of both the regular-season schedule and Sunday’s game in Washington, Seattle seemed to be holding on by a pinky nail to keep from plummeting into the NFL’s middle class.

For the first three quarters of Sunday’s game, Seattle ran over what has been a very stout run defense. Russell Wilson scrambled for 38 yards in the second quarter, setting up Seattle’s first touchdown. Carlos Hyde rumbled 50 yards to score Seattle’s second touchdown and give the Seahawks a 17-point lead. Seattle finished with 181 yards on the ground, the most allowed by Washington in any game this season.

Seattle’s defense was just as formidable for the first three periods. The Seahawks picked off two passes, they didn’t allow Washington to cross midfield until midway through the second quarter, and Washington didn’t have the ball inside of Seattle’s 20 until the final minute of the third quarter.

Seattle didn’t entirely fall apart in the fourth quarter. It just didn’t do much. The defense, which hadn’t allowed a touchdown in eight quarters of play, gave up two touchdowns in the first eight minutes of the final period.

Seattle couldn’t manage to find a counterpunch. The possession after Washington’s first touchdown began promising, but on first-and-10 from the Washington 39, Wilson had a pass tipped by defensive end Montez Sweat and picked off by defensive tackle Daron Payne. After Washington’s second touchdown, the Seahawks couldn’t manage a first down after Chris Carson was stopped for a 4-yard loss on first down.

That left Seattle white-knuckling its way to the finish as Washington converted two third downs in especially excruciating fashion.

Washington converted a third-and-2 with a pass to running back J.D. McKissic, who was on the ground short of the distance needed but lunged forward before he was touched. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll challenged the spot of the ball, predictably. He lost that challenge, predictably. On third-and-11, receiver Terry McLaurin caught a pass over the middle and was tackled 2 yards short of the first down, ducking into a collision with linebacker K.J. Wright who was penalized for unnecessary roughness.

With 78 seconds remaining, Washington had first-and-10 at the Seattle 23. Feel familiar? That final possession was defused by back-to-back sacks, the first by L.J. Collier and the second one from Carlos Dunlap. A final fourth-down heave into the end zone was knocked down by cornerback Shaquill Griffin, and even if he hadn’t, there was a holding penalty against Washington that would have taken the Seahawks off the hook for that play.

Sound familiar? It’s the story of Seattle’s season. This was the fourth time that an opponent had the ball inside the Seattle 30 in the final minute with a chance to tie or take the lead.

New England had the ball at the Seattle 1-yard line with one second left. Defensive end L.J. Collier stuffed Patriots quarterback Cam Newton for a 1-yard loss.

The following week, Dallas had the ball at the Seattle 26, facing third-and-14 with 16 seconds left when Dak Prescott scrambled to his left and threw into the end zone where it was picked off by Seattle safety Ryan Neal.

Arizona was at the Seattle 27, trailing by seven points with a minute left in that Thursday night game on Nov. 19, a possession that ended with a fourth-down sack by Dunlap.

That Seattle has come so close to losing those four games in the final minute doesn’t inspire confidence, but the fact that they haven’t lost any of those games speaks to the Seahawks’ resilience. They’ve let too many leads dwindle to allow anyone to speak confidently about their chances, but they’ve held on at the finish too often to dismiss them.

Ready or not, the Seahawks are bringing their high-wire act back to Seattle to play the Rams in a game for the division lead, and they’ll be heading into the playoffs.

Follow Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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