ARLINGTON, Texas — All of a sudden, Cam Newton has a few major supporters from the Pacific Northwest. Guys typically hellbent on knocking the Carolina Panthers quarterback silly are now expressing some major love.
“Let’s go, Cam, get it done!” Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright pleaded to USA TODAY Sports as he unwound in the visitor’s locker room at AT&T Stadium on Christmas Eve.
“Cam, Luke (Kuechly), Thomas Davis. Just get the job done for us.”
Funny how these instant fan clubs tend to pop up at this time of year. But the Seahawks, hoping to slide into the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, need help. Seattle can only claim the NFC’s final wild-card slot with a victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, coupled with an Atlanta Falcons loss to Newton’s Panthers.
At least it’s much simpler now, heading into the last weekend of the regular season.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Wright concluded.
Staying alive was hardly automatic, even with Seattle’s gritty Week 16 effort against the Dallas Cowboys. The Seahawks (9-6) needed help even before playing what amounted to an elimination game against Dallas. But they got an early Christmas present when the New Orleans Saints upended the Falcons, who could have clinched that precious berth with a victory.
Yet Wright, who recovered a fumble and snagged a key interception that snuffed out a Cowboys scoring threat during the third quarter of Seattle’s 21-12 victory, didn’t bother himself with scenarios that would have meant nothing if the Seahawks didn’t win.
“I didn’t know what had happened,” Wright said as the linebacker at the adjacent locker, Bobby Wagner, beamed.
“Bobby filled me in, in the fourth quarter. So he knew.”
Of course, this could have gone the other way with Dallas clinging to postseason hopes in the wake of Ezekiel Elliott’s return from a six-game suspension. Yet the Cowboys and Seahawks pretty much showed what they were made of, with their seasons on the line.
The Cowboys gagged. Dak Prescott threw two picks (one returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Justin Coleman), and Dez Bryant was stripped for a fumble that led to another touchdown. And with Dallas not putting the ball into the hands of Elliott (24 rushes, 97 yards), when it was first-and-goal at the 3 in the fourth quarter, has provided some fuel for some serious second-guessing.
Seattle, meanwhile, demonstrated its resilience. The Seahawks generated just 136 yards of total offense and overachieved with an undermanned defense. Sure, there are still more than a few prideful ballers on the defense. But with Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor lost to season-ending injuries, the unit is nowhere close to full strength.
Yet the Seahawks had enough to put away Dallas. It starts with a mindset.
“It’s the way we grew up,” defensive end Michael Bennett told USA TODAY Sports. “A lot of people grew up with a lot of grit and have had their backs against the wall. So you get into a situation when you can either ball up your fist or you’re done. We kept fighting.”
Sherman, the all-pro cornerback, tweeted a heartfelt message of appreciation for his teammates, proud of the manner in which they fought through adversity. One more victory, Sherman noted, and it will mark another season with double-digit victories.
Just a week earlier, the Seahawks were left for dead after getting clobbered on their own turf, 42-7, by the Los Angeles Rams. The NFC West title now belongs to the Rams, and Seattle certainly has only a slim chance to get back to the Super Bowl. But as demonstrated against Dallas, they still have the heart of a champion.
“That’s who we are,” Wright maintained. “When our backs are against the wall, we find a way to bounce back. This team is not going to lay down easily. We could have taken that loss against the Rams and came back and moaned and pouted throughout the week. But we know we’re a quality team.”
And a team that has a lot riding on the Carolina Panthers.