Rost: Seahawks had a lot to prove in season finale — and they did

Jan 9, 2022, 11:00 PM
Seahawks Rashaad Penny...
Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny runs for a touchdown in Sunday's win over Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

There was little to gain but plenty to prove for the Seahawks in their season finale in Arizona.

Instant Reaction: 710 ESPN Seattle on Hawks’ 38-30 win over Cardinals

Here was Russell Wilson, Seattle’s franchise quarterback. He’d risen from undersized third-round pick to one of the league’s top-paid players thanks to a style that drove defenses crazy, with wild scrambles, improbable escapes, and beautiful deep balls on broken plays. He helped lead the Seahawks through their most successful era in franchise history, but he entered this game under a cloud of criticism and curiosity – the former due to inconsistent play, and the latter due to months of trade rumors.

Had he lost a step? Was his regression permanent? Could he look more like his former self in what could be his last game as a Seahawk?

Here was Rashaad Penny, a former first-round pick widely considered a bust who couldn’t stay healthy. That was until he rattled off 137 yards against Houston. And then 135 yards against Chicago. Then 170 against the lowly Detroit Lions.

Could he do the same against an Arizona Cardinals defense that held Ezekiel Elliot and the Cowboys to 45 yards on the ground the week prior?

Here were the Seattle Seahawks. They were knocked out of postseason contention by late December, entered this game with their most losses since 2009, and were set to finish last in their division for the first time in 25 years.

All eyes were on Wilson, and Penny, and the struggling Seahawks. But despite all doubts, and despite being a 6.5-point underdog against the 11-win Arizona Cardinals, Seattle played some of its best football of the season.

That doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing. It was all Seattle in the first half, with the Cardinals’ only touchdown coming from a scoop-and-score off a fumble by Wilson on the opening drive. Wilson and the offense bounced back on the next series thanks to a 20-yard burst from Penny and a beautiful 43-yard touchdown pass, delivered with perfect touch, from Wilson to wide receiver Tyler Lockett.

Seattle’s defense then held Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ offense to 89 net yards and a single field goal by halftime.

But the second half started even uglier than the first. Murray found Christian Kirk, the Cards’ receiving leader, for an explosive 35-yard gain to push Arizona into Seattle territory. A 20-yard touchdown to running back James Conner tied it up, 17-all.

The Seahawks had a chance to try to give their quickly-deflating momentum a boost, but that effort took its biggest hit of the day with a poor decision by Wilson. Under pressure, he lobbed a pass over the head of running back Travis Homer and right into the arms of safety Jalen Thompson. Conner made quick work of another scoring drive to give the Cardinals a one-touchdown lead.

In the moment it was gutting. Ultimately, though, that was the final time the Cardinals found the end zone.

Seattle’s defense sacked Murry five times, including two by Carlos Dunlap (who finishes the season as Seattle’s sack leader with 8.5, with all but a half-sack coming in the final six games). Wilson threw three touchdown passes and would’ve had a fourth were it not dropped in the end zone by tight end Gerald Everett. Wilson also rushed for one himself, extending himself as he lunged into the end zone. It was a bit of vintage Wilson – and it was topped off by one of the more energized celebrations fans have seen from the normally cool veteran.

Penny meanwhile proved that his 170-yard game against the Lions’ 27th-ranked rush defense in Week 17 was far from a fluke. He finished with 190 yards on 23 carries, including a 62-yard sprint into the end zone. A player who for years couldn’t stay healthy was bouncing up from the ground with chunks of grass in his facemask, a streak of blood trailing down his arm, and a grin his face.

Nothing Seattle did Sunday helped its season – it was too little, too late for that. But Wilson proved he can still be special, Penny proved he could play well up to his draft stock, and Seattle’s banged-up defense proved it could still fend off one of the league’s better offenses. And if Sunday’s version of the Seahawks is the version this team can be through a full year, they’re better off doing everything they can to preserve it.

That’s easier said than done. Several starters or key contributors are hitting free agency, including Penny, left tackle Duane Brown, center Ethan Pocic, right tackle Brandon Shell, safety Quandre Diggs, cornerback D.J. Reed, and Everett, among others. General manager John Schneider said during the Seahawks radio pregame show on 710 ESPN Seattle that the front office will begin free agency talks as early as next week after they wrap up exit interviews.

With so little set in stone with those names – and doubt still surrounding Wilson’s future – those free agent talks will only be the beginning of the Seahawks’ most important offseason yet.

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