More than a game was lost for the Seahawks. The 17-10 setback to the Arizona Cardinals turned the Hawks' perceived home invincibility into a clear susceptibility over 60 minutes of painfully hard-to-watch offensive football. The game was a strong in-your-face reminder that how you play, especially in a playoff push, is much more important than where you play.
To drive that point home even more, since 1975, No. 1 seeds in the NFL playoffs have actually lost their first playoff game (21 times) more often than they've made it to the Super Bowl (20). A quick, ugly exit like the Broncos made last season or a Super Bowl appearance is basically a 50-50 proposition for a top seed.
The loss to the Cardinals was the second swing and a miss for the Seahawks in their bid to wrap up the NFC West and home field for the playoffs. The first came in the 19-17 loss in San Francisco two weeks ago. No shame in that. The third and final try will come against the 7-8 St. Louis Rams in the regular season finale next Sunday.
The Seahawks' Week 17 mulligan falls far short of a gimme putt. The Rams will roll into to Seattle with back-to-back wins and a defense that dominated the Seahawks back on October 28th in St. Louis. In a low-scoring defensive struggle (sound familiar?) the Seahawks won 14-9. The Rams defense overwhelmed a patchwork offensive line and sacked Russell Wilson seven times. The Seahawks generated just 91 passing yards, a whopping 135 yards of total offense and were just 2-11 on 3rd down conversions.
The issue of 3rd down success or lack thereof may be the biggest concern for the Seattle offense moving forward. In the loss to the Cardinals, the Hawks were just 2-13 on third down and last week against the Giants they were only 3 for 13.
Despite Cards quarterback Carson Palmer's best Eli Manning impersonation, Arizona persevered and proved it's actually possible to defeat the Seahawks at the Clink even if your quarterback stinks. On a day when the Seahawks defense came up with four interceptions just a week after getting five against the Giants, the Wilson-led offense had few answers to what the Cardinals were doing defensively.
Without a doubt credit must be given to the Arizona defense. They were every bit as good as the Hawks "D," but that doesn't fully explain the Hawks offensive futility, which was magnified late in the first half. After a Malcolm Smith interception gave Seattle a first and goal at the Cardinals 3-yard line, The Hawks couldn't even get three points after a short Steven Hauschka field goal attempt ricocheted off the left upright. It was a symbolic moment during a game full of offensive frustration.
While the Hawks' inept offense deserves most the fallout for the loss, another massive issue was front and center again. Penalties! The Seahawks had almost as many penalty yards (101) as they had passing yards (108) with the Cardinals picked up six of their 16 first downs via yellow flags.
While there's certainly no reason for the 12th Man to panic heading into the regular season finale, feel free to go into highly nervous mode. After all, it's what we've been programmed to do in a city full of epic collapses and teases from its pro sports past.
In 1994 we saw a SuperSonics team seeded first in the Western Conference lose at home in a decisive fifth game in the first round of the playoffs to the 8th seed, the Denver Nuggets. Can't you still see Denver's Dikembe Mutombo on his back clutching the ball as time expired along with the Sonics championship dreams?
In 2001, the Mariners stunned everyone with a remarkable 116-regular season wins only to see their bats go silent in a 4 games-to-1 ALCS loss to the Yankees. Just two examples of how painful it can be to be a sports fan here.
I don't see the 2013 Seahawks sharing the same excruciating fate as the '94 Sonics and '01 Mariners. The defense is just too good. The quarterback is talented and resilient. Despite the chink in the CenturyLink armor they still have a home field advantage as good as anywhere in the NFL and frankly, Seattle and its fans are due. Make that overdue for a championship celebration.
Yesterday may have been unexpected but it's typical of the NFL. The Broncos, the team to beat in the AFC, lost at home less than two weeks ago to an inferior San Diego team, but nobody wrote Peyton's team off and there's no good reason to overreact to a rare Hawks loss at home.
On a day when the Seahawks defense looked as good as that shiny bike you found next to the Christmas tree all those years ago, the offense delivered a massive lump of coal. But in the NFL, Christmas isn't in December, it's February 2nd and the Seahawks still have a very good chance of spending that holiday in New Jersey.