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Originally published December 22, 2013 at 7:46 PM | Page modified December 22, 2013 at 11:34 PM

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Seahawks’ smooth ride gets bumpier after loss to Cardinals

The Seahawks expected to be toasting to an NFC West division title, a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. Instead, their offense stalled again, and they lost for the second time in three weeks.


Times staff columnist

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Pete Carroll roamed the locker room after Sunday’s downer, taking the pulse of the Seahawks, checking in on the aggrieved, the bereaved and the downright peeved.

He spoke for a few minutes with wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who sat shirtless at his locker. He spent a few minutes with safety Earl Thomas and then running back Robert Turbin, who had lost a fumble during a kickoff return. Then he found quarterback Russell Wilson, who had played his worst game of 2013.

In every brief meeting, Carroll was reassuring, not angry. After the Seahawks’ most disappointing performance of this Sunday drive of a regular season — a 17-10 loss to Arizona at CenturyLink Field, snapping a 14-game home winning streak — the coach was more concerned with keeping his team together and confident. Which tells you how jarring the game was.

The Seahawks expected to be toasting to an NFC West division title, a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. Instead, their offense stalled again, and they lost for the second time in three weeks.

As the Seahawks (12-3) rolled through 11 victories in their first 12 games, the closest they came to adversity was dealing with the occasional complaint that they weren’t winning impressively enough. Now, they must contend with an actual pattern of lackluster play that has resulted in substandard results.

As good as the Seahawks are — and they’re still just as dangerous despite these two late-season losses — the nature of the NFL is catching up with them. They’ve been the league’s best and most consistent team all year, but that doesn’t make them miles better than everyone. They never lapped the competition.

More than anything, you’re being reminded of how difficult this championship pursuit will be. It’s not necessarily because the Seahawks are slipping. It’s because of how closely bunched NFL teams are in this parity-driven league. And it’s because, for as complete and dominant as they can be, the Seahawks still have issues they must manage.

“It’s a disappointing loss,” Wilson said. “We should have won that game, we felt like.”

Since beating New Orleans 34-7 three weeks ago, the Seahawks have averaged only 16.7 points and 261 yards of offense in their last three games. That’s well below their season averages of 26 and 343.7. The offense is burdened by a rushing attack that has been in decline over the past five games, and on Sunday, Wilson wasn’t as efficient as he normally is through the air.

Wilson posted his worst passer rating of the season (49.6) after completing just 11 of 27 passes for 108 yards. On the Seahawks’ last possession, he threw an interception on a questionable play in which officials ruled the pass ricocheted off Doug Baldwin’s arm, not the ground. Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby snagged the game-clinching pick off the deflection.

It was that kind of a kooky game, and the Seahawks deserve ample blame for putting themselves in weird situations. The Seahawks intercepted four of Carson Palmer’s passes, but they managed only 10 points. Once again, penalties plagued them; nine for 102 costly yards.

In Seattle’s three losses this season, they have averaged 90.7 penalty yards. That’s impossible even for them to overcome.

It’s hard enough to beat the field in the NFL. When the Seahawks resort to beating themselves, too, it makes for a frustrating afternoon.

So much for the notion the Seahawks can’t be beaten at CenturyLink Field.

So much for the opportunity to clinch the division and home-field advantage a week early and rest some starters next week.

But panic? Not so much.

The Cardinals (10-5) were determined to prove they’re not the team that lost 58-0 here last December. Heck, the Cardinals were determined to prove they’re not the team the Seahawks beat 34-22 in Arizona in October. They’re a hard-nosed, defensive team that has won seven of their past eight games, and they followed the well-known blueprint to beat the Seahawks perfectly.

That blueprint: Stand up to the Seahawks’ physicality, which is easier said than done. Limit Seattle’s run game. Play sound enough on defense to limit the explosive plays that Wilson creates with his mobility. And pray like crazy the Seahawks defense doesn’t tear you apart.

“We knew coming in we were going to have to fight every down,” Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.

You must applaud the Cardinals for being up for the fight. And lament that the Seahawks looked a bumbling mess at times.

Just when the Seahawks were ready to celebrate their regular season, a glorious year got complicated. Some might call it annoying. But in the NFL, it’s inevitable.

“Those experiences can be good,” Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant said. “We’ve got to understand, in order to achieve something, you’ve got to go through something.”

Well, they’re going through something now. With the playoffs looming, the Seahawks must finally show their resolve.

Jockeying for position
The Seahawks are still in good position to secure the NFC West title and the top seed in the NFC playoffs, but it may come down to them needing to win on Sunday at home against the Rams. Seattle could also clinch the division if the 49ers lose. Here’s the updated seedings after Sunday afternoon’s action.
TeamRecordNote
1. Seattle12-3Clinched playoff spot, can win division with 49ers loss.
2. Carolina11-4Clinched playoff spot, clinches NFC South with win on Sunday vs. Atlanta.
3. Philadelphia9-6Plays Dallas on the road on Sunday. Winner wins NFC East.
4. Chicago8-7Still in position to clinch the NFC North.
5. San Francisco10-4Plays Atlanta at home on Monday.
6. New Orleans10-5Can clinch NFC South with win and a Carolina loss.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com



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