RENTON, Washington — The first step for Seattle's return to the NFC West race had nothing to do with what happened on the field. The Seahawks had to clear their own in-house issues.
And like most conversations for the franchise, it started with Pete Carroll. But instead of leading the charge, Carroll simply broached what needed to be addressed and put the responsibility on his core group — including Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Doug Baldwin and others — to make sure the entire locker room understood the message.
For at least a week the message was embraced, capped by the Seahawks' 19-3 win over Arizona on Sunday. The question now is whether it can carry forward on a short week Thursday night against San Francisco.
"It was a topic I was on and generated some questions with some guys and we got together and just tried to bring the truth out of what was important," Carroll said Monday. "I was able to step back and let them pass the message on and they did a great job and we're just getting going. We've been trying to find our best play throughout the year. We've been working at it and this week it came clear and we made sense of it."
If Seattle (7-4) can pull off a win over the 49ers, it will be back in the discussion of elite teams in the NFC. But the talk in the locker room after Sunday's victory centered on the difficult conversations before the win over Arizona.
"It's hard to get to that point but once you open the floor up, then it's easy to talk about it," Baldwin said. "The feeling was pretty mutual throughout the locker room. There was something missing. There was a feeling that was missing and we're getting that feeling back."
The idea of a midseason refocus isn't unusual. The Seahawks had similar issues a season ago when they played poorly in victories over St. Louis and Tampa Bay. At that point, the conversations were more about fundamentals than the atmosphere in the locker room.
"This was different just in the direction of it, but the impact of it was basically the same," Carroll said.
Sunday's win included a defensive performance that was reminiscent of last season's dominant unit. The Seahawks allowed only 204 yards for their best total since St. Louis had just 158 in Week 17 of last season. It was the eighth regular-season game in the past two seasons where Seattle held its opponent under 10 points.
A significant factor was the return of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed five games with a toe injury. But that was only part of the positive showing. Strong safety Kam Chancellor had one of his best games of the year, and Seattle's pass rush flustered Arizona quarterback Drew Stanton.
"I'm here and I'm trying to make as much of an impact as I can," Wagner said.
Seattle was unable to get Marshawn Lynch going against the Cardinals, and he finished with 39 yards on 15 carries. Lynch has been dealing with soreness in his back throughout the season, but Carroll said he should be able to play Thursday despite not receiving the usual full week of rest.
"We'll take good care of him and he's really smart about how he handles it and so we'll expect that he'll be ready to go and I know he won't want to miss this thing and he'll be ready to play," Carroll said.
NOTES: Carroll said LG James Carpenter (ankle) was very close to playing Sunday, but was held out in the hopes he would be able to go Thursday against the 49ers. Seattle's one injury worry from Sunday's game is a sprained ankle suffered by TE Cooper Helfet. Carroll said they wouldn't know until later in the week if Helfet can play.
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