Daily Press (Sunday)

Clawing to stay in hunt

At 4-5, Washington is just on outside of NFC wild-card race

- By Tim Booth

SEATTLE — There have only been a few instances in Pete Carroll’s long tenure that he has seen the Seattle Seahawks humbled by a true thumping from their opponent.

Last week was one of them. And considerin­g what’s on the horizon, Carroll can’t allow that 34-point loss to linger for his team.

Seattle begins a two-week stretch of what looks like must-win games today when it hosts the Washington Commanders. Seattle’s 37-3 loss last Sunday at Baltimore showed the gap that remains between the Seahawks and the elite teams in the league. It was the second-worst loss of Carroll’s time in Seattle.

But while there are plenty of deficienci­es that were on full display last week, the Seahawks (5-3) are still tied for the NFC West lead. That makes today’s game against Washington and next week at the Rams so important for Seattle because of a four-game stretch that follows: two games against San Francisco, a trip to Dallas and a visit from Philadelph­ia.

“Sometimes when you win or you’re having some success, the details of the game might get away from you and the winning might disguise that,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Sometimes having a loss like that or having a loss in general reminds you how important those things are through the season.”

Somewhat remarkably after losses to the Bears and the Giants, the Commanders (4-5) are just on the outside of the NFC wild-card race.

“It’s all in front of us,” coach Ron Rivera said. “I really do believe that.”

Despite seeming to pivot on what this season could be after trading two of their best defensive linemen, the Commanders responded by winning

last week at New England. The Commanders have won two of their past three road games and Carroll was quick to point out how tough Washington played Philadelph­ia in a pair of one-score losses.

“It’s a great opportunit­y to go play against a good football team,” Commanders quarterbac­k Sam Howell said of the Seahawks. “They’re doing a good job on both sides of the ball and they’ve won a good amount of games this year and we know it’s going to take our best to go up there and get a win.”

Rivera season

Since Rivera took over control of football operations for Washington, the team is 9-3 in November. While that could portend some success, he said the focus this season with new owners in charge is on developing Howell, a refrain he has repeated for several weeks.

“You look at what we’re doing, and we continue to be competitiv­e,” Rivera said. “We’ve had a lot of change, a lot of things that we’re doing differentl­y, and just trying to put it together. For me, the biggest thing is just to continue to play hard and continue to do the best we can and hopefully win some football games.”

Howell is coming off throwing a touchdown pass and an intercepti­on in a victory at New England. His 2,471 yards passing rank second in the NFL, and his nine intercepti­ons are tied for first — all part of his growing pains.

Better Geno

Seattle would like to see a cleaner performanc­e from quarterbac­k Geno Smith than it has received in the past few games.

Not all of it is Smith’s fault as injuries on the offensive line have eroded continuity and led to pressure issues. But Smith needs to be more careful with the ball after throwing six intercepti­ons in the past four games. He had just 11 intercepti­ons in 17 games last season.

Home debut

Someone who knows the Commanders well is new Seattle defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who’ll make his home debut today. Williams played 41 snaps in his first game with Seattle last week following his trade from the New York Giants.

It was a whirlwind week for Williams and a far more difficult transition than the last time he was involved in a midseason trade when he stayed in the same city after being dealt from the Jets to the Giants.

“It was a lot to digest last week, but I feel more comfortabl­e this week going into it,” Williams said. “Feel more comfortabl­e with the playbook. Feel more comfortabl­e with my teammates and coaches and things like that, so I can just focus on ball.”

Defensive changes

Washington’s defense looks much different since trading pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Because rookie K.J. Henry’s sack was negated by a questionab­le roughing-the-passer penalty last week, the Commanders had zero against Mac Jones, but still held the Patriots to 17 points.

One of the keys has been improved secondary play from rookies Emmanuel Forbes and Quan Martin and consistenc­y from safety Kam Curl, who has been on the field for 350 coverage snaps without allowing a touchdown.

“He’s been a solid force,” Rivera said. “He’s a terrific football player, a guy that is a veteran leader now. You see his play, it’s very savvy and it’s very timely. You see him come up with solid plays at the right time in terms of third down and making a big tackle or knocking the ball away.”

 ?? MICHAEL DWYER/AP ?? Washington Commanders quarterbac­k Sam Howell scrambles against New England last Sunday. His 2,471 passing yards rank second in the NFL, but his nine intercepti­ons are tied for first.
MICHAEL DWYER/AP Washington Commanders quarterbac­k Sam Howell scrambles against New England last Sunday. His 2,471 passing yards rank second in the NFL, but his nine intercepti­ons are tied for first.

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