The coveted first-round bye is covetous for a reason. And as enjoyable as it would have been for the Seattle Seahawks to nab the bye, it was just as enjoyable for the Arizona Cardinals to make the road even more difficult by squeezing out a win in Seattle. Rivalry games are weird, just like that weird 6-6 tie between the two teams earlier in the year.
It’s head-scratchingly peculiar how inconsistent the Seahawks have been, albeit for a nine-win team. Russell Wilson has looked like the worst quarterback in the league and also the best. The offensive line has looked like an excellent bargain and also the weak point for a team with the potential for a deep playoff run. The kicking, the defense, the running game, all the same.
The only consistency has been holding court while at home. Before Saturday’s Christmas Eve game, one thing was certain — the Birds are unbeatable at home. They handled Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons in Week Five, survived Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo Bills in Week Eight, and dismantled the Carolina Panthers in Week 12.
But those nagging, nagging Arizona Cardinals.
The Cards struck first on Saturday, turning a Seattle fumble into a David Johnson touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead. Later in the second quarter they scored again, on an 80-yard bomb from Carson Palmer to JJ Nelson. It’s safe to say that had Earl Thomas been there, there is a 100 percent chance that that would not have happened.
On the next possession after the Palmer touchdown, the unwatchable happened. Russell Wilson drove the Birds with a 15-yard run then found Doug Baldwin for 31 yards. On the next play Wilson threw a deep pass to the left for Mr. Tyler Lockett, who appeared to catch the touchdown as he was hit. The camera panned to a Seattle fan holding up a crutch — a dark, dark foreboding of what would soon be revealed.
The touchdown was reversed, Seattle took possession on the one-yard line, and Lockett was carted off the field, out for the season with a broken right leg. These are not pleasant words to type, so that’s all we’re going to say about that.
Seattle eventually failed to score on the one-yard line, getting stuffed by the Arizona defense. The result was a turnover on downs. The Cardinals fumbled on their next possession and the Seahawks scored a field goal to keep it at a modest 14-3 halftime deficit.
Coming out of the half, Jermaine Kearse capped off a much-needed 13-play, 66-yard drive with a touchdown off a fade pass from Wilson. Rookie running back Alex Collins made some plays which provided a sliver of light on the otherwise dark setting cast from the Lockett injury.
The Cardinals later scored a touchdown early in the fourth to bring the score to 21-10 in favor of the bad guys.
Down 11 and needing a score, Wilson engineered a methodical nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 42-yard touchdown catch from an emotional Doug Baldwin, who made the grab, turned, and outsprinted everyone in red and white. The two-point conversion was successful and the ‘Hawks pulled to within 21-18.
But Palmer came right back, handing the ball off to David Johnson for a generous gain then passing to JJ Nelson who caught the pass and was pushed out at the one-yard line. Palmer calmly handed the ball off to Johnson again who scored an easy TD to bring the lead to 10. The frenetic fourth quarter was really just beginning.
On the next possession, the Arizona defense stopped the Birds on fourth down and hit a field goal to push the lead to 31-18 with four minutes left. The chance of the first round bye that Seattle so coveted was slowly slipping away.
With a lot on the line and with little time, Wilson used just six plays to find Jimmy Graham for a 37-yard touchdown that looked as easy as it was to write this sentence. With a couple of timeouts and the two-minute warning on their side, the 31-25 Cardinal lead was definitely in danger. Rather than onside kick, Pete Carroll opted to kick off, and the Cardinals had the ball with 2:44 left in the game and needing a couple of first downs to get the W.
Needing a stop, and with CenturyLink Field absolutely rocking on Christmas Eve, the Seahawks did just that, as KJ Wright finished the defensive stand by blitzing through the Arizona O-line and going untouched, forcing Carson Palmer to make an ill-advised throw that led to a Cardinal punt.
Of all the quarterbacks in all the towns in all the world, you can bet the Arizona Cardinals would rather have been facing someone else other than No. 3 in Seattle blue. Wilson found Baldwin for 31 yards, scrambled for seven, then hit Paul Richardson on consecutive passes to grab the much-needed touchdown and make it a tie game at 31.
Steven Hauschka lined up to kick the go-ahead extra point, against the team that Seattle tied with back in Week 6. As he lined up, and the snap went to the holder, and his foot made contact with the ball, he booted the ball way left — much like he did in Week 6, to keep the score tied at 31. Against the Cardinals.
And with a minute left, the Cardinals took full advantage and came all the way down, using the clock and their timeouts perfectly. With the clock running on third down on the Seattle 33 and with no timeouts, Chandler Catanzaro, the foil to Hauschka, hastily lined up and booted a perfect 43-yarder to shock Seattle and make that aforementioned bye all the more difficult.
It was a week where the Cleveland freakin’ Browns got a win, Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr were lost for the rest of the year, and the mighty Seattle Seahawks lost at home.
The Seahawks play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, New Year’s Day. If they win and the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons, they get the bye.