Despite loss in Tampa, Seahawks remain on same path to playoffs

RENTON — The Seahawks went facefirst into that corner Pete Carroll had thought they’d already turned.

Seattle’s 14-5 pratfall at Tampa Bay last weekend was less frustrating, damaging or embarrassing than it was humbling.

“They outcompeted us,” running back Thomas Rawls said in the visitors’ locker room at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida following the first loss in four games for the Seahawks (7-3-1).

Them’s fightin’ words for a franchise built upon Carroll’s mantra that’s plastered all over team headquarters, on walls, playbook binders and players’ minds: Always compete.

So how can Team Always Compete have lost this season to three teams to which it is superior in talent: Los Angeles (9-3) in mid-September, New Orleans (25-20) last month and now Tampa Bay? None of those victors entered their games with Seattle with a winning record. The Rams (4-7) have scored the fewest points in the league (170).

“We’d like to have a couple more wins under our belt right now,” Carroll said Monday, knowing the ones that got away.

As galling as it was not scoring a touchdown for the third game this season, the coach was dead on when he added: “But that’s not really a factor in anything that’s going on right now.”

The Seahawks remain three games ahead of Arizona, the reigning division champion, in the NFC West with five games remaining. Seattle is still the No. 2 seed in the conference, though its margin of staying there narrowed to none. The Seahawks are a half-game ahead of NFC South leader Atlanta and North-leading Detroit for second-best in the conference. Dallas (10-1) is two games clear of everyone else, 2 1/2 games ahead of Seattle, for the top seed and home field throughout the NFC playoffs.

The top two seeds get first-round byes in the playoffs before hosting a division-round game.

The Seahawks’ final five opponents all have losing records. That includes Sunday night’s foe at CenturyLink Field: Carolina (4-7) and it’s “catastrophe” offensive line — in the word of its coach, Ron Rivera.

The Seahawks travel to Green Bay (5-6) on Dec. 11. Then they host the Rams on a Thursday night and Cardinals on Christmas Eve. The regular season ends at San Francisco (1-10) on New Year’s Day.

The game against the Packers at Lambeau Field looms as the sternest test remaining. Yes, Green Bay’s defense has struggled mightily, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been far below his usual excellence. But he is 13-2 at home in December. And the Packers are already in desperation mode trying to make up ground in the NFC North division.

This weekend’s return of center Justin Britt from a sprained ankle could solve many of Seattle’s problems on its offensive line. The Buccaneers sacked Russell Wilson six times.

For all the angst that loss caused in the Pacific Northwest, a win over the teetering Panthers on Sunday night leaves Seattle one win from clinching at least a share of the NFC West title.

“It’s nice to know that there’s a few games in there,” Carroll said of his team’s cushion atop its division. “That’s not a factor in what we’re doing. We have to keep working the play better.

“We’ve got to get ready to play against tough challenges and come through better more consistently. We looked, really, typically up and down (against the Buccaneers). That was a terrible outing for us in that regard.

“It’s a very good opportunity for us to respect what’s going on. The situation is whether you’re playing home or on the road and it doesn’t matter about the opponent. We go out there and turn the ball over three times and don’t convert on third downs (1 for 11), you’re going to get yourself in deep water.”

There are some life preservers on the way.

Beyond the return of Britt and starting cornerback DeShawn Shead (hamstring), Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett is planning on playing Sunday night for the first time in six games. That’s been important against Carolina’s Cam Newton. Bennett and fellow end Cliff Avril (10 sacks in 11 games this season) have generally succeeded keeping Newton inside them and not extending plays for big runs or passes in their previous meetings.

Newton is 1-3 in the regular season (2-4 overall) against Seattle. His regular-season passer rating of 60.0 against the Seahawks is his lowest among all opponents he’s faced more than once.

As always with these Seahawks, it’s about themselves more than their foe. Even this weekend’s, one that ended their campaign last season, is the only NFC team besides Seattle to make the Super Bowl since the 2012 season and is desperate for its playoff life.

“We’re really positive about what we can do,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said of the wake of the loss at Tampa Bay. “We’ve obviously shown it in tons of different circumstances this year. We’ve battled, we’ve battled, we’ve battled.

“There is nobody that is down at all. We look forward to the challenge of getting back next week and coming back at home and playing at Century Link and playing for the 12s.”

Extra point

The Seahawks on Tuesday released rookie RB and seventh-round draft choice Zac Brooks and RB Malcolm Johnson from the practice squad. They signed former Washington Huskies WR Kevin Smith to the practice squad. Smith played in seven games for Seattle last season, with one start. The team waived him as injured on Aug. 30 near the end of the preseason.