Seattle finally solves playoff futility on road
Instead of reveling in shaking 29 years of postseason road futility and completely looking ahead to another cross-country trip, Pete Carroll was left waiting Monday for the results of an MRI that only confirmed what the Seattle Seahawks originally feared.
Seattle will go forward in the postseason without pass-rushing defensive end Chris Clemons, who suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus in his left knee in Sunday's 24-14 win at Washington.
Clemons was hurt when it appeared his cleat got stuck in the messy, dirty turf at FedEx Field early in the third quarter. Seattle was immediately concerned the injury could be serious and Monday's scan confirmed it.
''It's a big loss for us in a lot of ways,'' Carroll said. ''Chris has been a great football player and just a symbol of consistency in the years that we've had him, but he's been a great leader for us too and a tough dude and a guy we've become very comfortable playing with and we'll miss the heck out of him.''
The loss of Clemons and uncertainty about the availability of kicker Steven Hauschka, who suffered a calf strain, overshadowed what should have been a day of celebration after Seattle won its first road playoff game since beating Miami on Dec. 31, 1983.
Clemons was the most consistent pass rusher for the Seahawks since arriving in a trade from Philadelphia before the 2010 season. Clemons had 11 sacks in both 2010 and `11 and followed up a new contract over the summer with 11 1/2 sacks this season.
Rookie first-round pick Bruce Irvin, drafted to be a pass-rushing complement to Clemons, will get the first shot to start. Irvin set a franchise rookie record with eight sacks, but the real challenge will be whether he can hold up in the run game, an area where Clemons did well.
''This is Bruce's opportunity. This is what we drafted him to play and we'll see how he does,'' Carroll said. ''We expect him to do really well as he steps up.''
Players were not available at the Seahawks facility after arriving back in Seattle in the early hours of Monday morning. Clemons tweeted, ''I want to thank everyone for ... prayers. I will be ready for next season. We still got a Super Bowl to win!''
Even with Clemons going down, the Seahawks continued to display a level of resolve that has now carried them to six straight wins and eight of their last nine. Despite falling behind 14-0, Seattle solved the defensive problems that allowed Washington to roll down the field on its first two possessions. In turn, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks offense was given time to chip away at the two-touchdown deficit.
The 14-point hole was the largest deficit overcome in Seahawks playoff history and the largest of any game this season. Wilson directed Seattle back from a 23-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat New England 24-23 in Week 6. Being down 14 in the first quarter seemed easy compared to that.
''I think people take notice we've put together a lot of games together,'' Carroll said. ''When you look at our schedule you can misread the schedule a little bit if you just look at the W's and the L's. We've played really good solid football for a long time. It hasn't just sprung up at the end of the season.''
Seattle's sudden defensive change was helped by hobbling Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, but also by the Seahawks not overthinking. Carroll said he was concerned that with all the intricate details of learning how Washington runs its unique offense that his defenders could be thinking too much early in the game.
But instead of sticking with the zone-read plays Seattle was ready for, the Redskins simply used Alfred Morris to run right at the Seahawks. Washington had 129 total yards in the first quarter and just 74 the rest of the way.
The sticky defense allowed Wilson and Lynch time to get Seattle's offense clicking. After falling behind 14-0, the Seahawks had five drives of 60 or more yards, including a 68-yard drive to start the second half that ended without points after Lynch fumbled at the Washington 1. Lynch atoned for the mistake with his go-ahead 27-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
Lynch carried 12 times for 99 yards after halftime. Seattle rushed for 224 yards as a team, the highest-total in franchise history for a playoff game, and third time during its six-game win streak they have topped 200 yards on the ground.
''We haven't been as solid as we are now,'' Carroll said. ''We're much more solid in our thinking and mentality and just the resolve about everything we're doing.''
Notes: Carroll said both offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are focused on the game at Atlanta even as both are courted by other teams for possible head coaching jobs. Seattle has granted permission for Bradley to speak with Philadelphia and Bevell with Chicago. ... Carroll said the team would have kickers in on Tuesday to try out because of the uncertainty about Hauschka's calf. ... The Seahawks may also look at linebackers Mike Morgan and K.J. Wright as pass-rush options with Clemons out and Irvin filling his role.