Photo by Associated Press.
SEATTLE — It was a basic equation for the Seahawks. Two wins over division foes with losing records would land Seattle the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a coveted playoff bye.
With these Seahawks, nothing is that simple. When the Arizona Cardinals are involved, it usually turns into a headache for Seattle.
Seattle kicked away its chance to secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a 34-31 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday. Chandler Catanzaro hit a 43-yard field goal on the final play that opened the opportunity for either Detroit or Atlanta to slide in on the final weekend and deny Seattle the opportunity at rest and a home game in the divisional round.
"It's not an opportunity lost," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. "You would love to make the road easier, but sometimes you have to take the harder road."
The Seahawks did it to themselves, falling behind 14-0 in a sloppy, sluggish first-half performance, then trailing 31-18 late in the fourth quarter before a furious rally. The rally was moot as the Cardinals went 50 yards in the final minute to set up Catanzaro's winning kick and give Arizona a third win in Seattle in the past four seasons.
None will be as costly as this one for the Seahawks. Atlanta and Detroit will be sending thank you cards after Arizona (6-8-1) opened the door for either to end up with the No. 2 seed.
Seattle (9-5-1) lost its bid for a perfect record at home as the questions continue to be raised about its playoff validity. The Seahawks remain flawed, as evidenced by a first half when Russell Wilson was sacked five times and Seattle's offense was a mess.
And when the offense got fixed in the second half, scoring 28 points — 21 in the fourth quarter — Seattle's defense gave up three touchdown drives of 60 or more yards and allowed 20 points in the final period.
Even special teams weren't immune. Steven Hauschka had a field goal blocked, Jon Ryan had a punt blocked, and Hauschka missed an extra point that could have given Seattle a 32-31 lead, a miss that ultimately didn't matter.
"There's a sense of urgency. I wouldn't say there is any panic," said Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who had a career-best 13 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown. "We have an opportunity to win it all still. What it comes down to is us getting our football right."
Down 31-18 Seattle scored two touchdowns inside the final three minutes. Jimmy Graham had a 37-yard touchdown catch and Paul Richardson's 5-yard TD from Wilson with 1:06 left tied it before Hauschka's extra-point miss. Wilson finished 29 of 45 for 350 yards and four TDs.
But Seattle couldn't make a final defensive stand to force overtime.
David Johnson had two catches for 42 yards on Arizona's final drive and Larry Fitzgerald's 8-yard catch got Arizona to the Seattle 25. Arizona rushed out its field goal unit and Catanzaro's kick was true.
Johnson rushed for three short touchdowns and extended his streak of at least 100 yards from scrimmage to 15 games, the longest to start a season. He finished with 95 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving. Palmer was 16 of 26 for 284 yards and an 80-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Nelson that gave Arizona a 14-0 lead.
"That was a lot of fun. We can call it an exclamation point, I guess," Catanzaro said.
Seattle's offense suffered a significant blow when wide receiver Tyler Lockett was carted off the field with a serious right leg injury in the second quarter. He will need surgery and miss the rest of the season, Carroll said.
Lockett appeared to catch a 29-yard touchdown, but was ruled down at the 1 on review. That was just the cap to an awful series of events. Lockett fell awkwardly as he made the catch and had Arizona defender Brandon Williams fall on his lower right leg. Lockett went face down to the turf and trainers immediately raced on the field. An air cast was placed on Lockett's leg and he was carted away.
Carroll did not have an exact diagnosis of the injury suffered.
"It just kind of took the breath out of you to see one of your brothers go down," Seattle's Jermaine Kearse said.
Johnson continued to rewrite the Arizona record book in an otherwise down season for the Cardinals.
The standout running back set the Cardinals' single-season mark for rushing touchdowns with his three Saturday. He tied John David Crow's franchise mark from 1962 with his first-quarter TD run, then set the new mark with his two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Johnson's three touchdowns gave him 20 for the season, also a franchise record. He leads the NFL in total touchdowns and now has 33 TDs in 31 career regular-season games.
Cardinals: Arizona closes out the regular season at Los Angeles.
Seahawks: Seattle finishes the regular season at San Francisco.