K.J. Wright promised he’d be ready for the playoffs.
He absolutely was.
The 29-year-old linebacker, who missed 11 of 16 games this regular season following knee surgery in August, was flying around sideline to sideline pressuring Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, tackling running back Ezekiel Elliott and even Cowboys wide receivers Saturday night in the Seahawks’ NFC wild-card playoff game.
Wright had six tackles solo tackles and one assisted by the midpoint of the second quarter.
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Then early in the fourth quarter he saved Seattle from going down two scores. He ran down open Cowboys receiver Noah Brown at the goal line, deflected Prescott’s pass to himself and intercepted the ball in the end zone while falling down. That gem kept Seattle behind only 17-14 with 9 minutes left.
“I told my guys when I was hurt: ‘Just get me to the playoffs,’” Wright said this past week.
But Wright also had a key pass-interference penalty of 6 yards and an automatic first down for Dallas with 7 minutes left, arriving early for a pass on third and 8.
He also said he felt ready to play every down, and his best since the surgery that kept him out into late October, and then again into December. He had regenokine, blood-spinning injection treatment in California to accelerate the healing, while the Seahawks had rookie Shaquem Griffin, veteran Mychal Kendricks (now on injured reserve) and backup middle linebacker Austin Calitro trying to replace him this season.
Saturday, Wright’s treatment appeared to be working wonders.
These could be the last games of Wright’s time with Seattle.
His contract ends after this season. He’s already seen what the Seahawks have done to veterans ending second contracts about to turn 30 years old. They never gave three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas the top-of-the-market extension he wanted, then Thomas broke his leg in October and has almost certainly played his final Seahawks game. He’s due for free agency in March.
“I want to be here” he said in the Seahawks’ quiet visiting locker room following Saturday night’s loss. “I’d love to be here. I love playing with this team, with (defensive coordinator Ken) Norton, with Bobby (Wagner, his All-Pro linebacking partner). And I believe it would be in the team’s best interests if I stay here.”
When I asked what indications he’s gotten team may re-up him, Wright said: “Nothing.
“I’m heading to free agency. We’ll see how that goes.”
Wagner, Wright’s great friend, has publicly lobbied for the team to re-sign Wright beyond this season, injury or not. He says the Seahawks should reward Wright, with wide receiver Doug Baldwin the longest-tenured players on the team after arriving in 2011, for always doing things the right way.
Wright absolutely knows that missing all but five games of this regular season is not the optimal way to show his team it should re-sign him into his early 30s.
“When I got hurt it did cross my mind like, ‘Damn, this is the worst timing,’” Wright said a couple months ago.
“But when you get hurt and you miss some ball, all you care about is football. And the contract stuff will handle itself.
“I just want to play. The money is the money. Whatever.”
Those are the words of a husband and father who has made $23.1 million in his NFL career. One who is earning $7.2 million this year. It’s the most money in one season of his career.
“I want to be here,” Wright reiterated late Saturday night. “But this is a business. They have decisions to make. They are going to whatever they think is best for their team.”
The Seahawks had their starting offensive line intact for their most important game yet this season.
J.R. Sweezy was active and started at left guard Saturday night.
His return along with that of starting right guard D.J. Fluker from a strained hamstring meant Germain Ifedi went back to starting at right tackle, where he was for the 14 games he was healthy and active this regular season. Ifedi started for Fluker last weekend in the regular-season finale against Arizona.
The starters back in place moved George Fant back to his regular role as extra tight end when the Seahawks went to six offensive linemen to lead what was the NFL’s top rushing offense in the regular season. Fant started at right tackle the previous weekend against Arizona, when Ifedi moved inside for a game.
Sweezy was on the field two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff, in sweat clothes like the rest of the Seahawks, firing out of his stance and trying to show offensive line coach Mike Solari he was ready to play.
The Seahawks obviously liked what they saw with that brief test.
Sweezy had been questionable to play pending a “game-time decision,” coach Pete Carroll said Thursday.
The new line wasn’t paving many rushing lanes early against Dallas’ aggressive defensive front. Chris Carson, an 1,100-yard rusher in the regular season, had just 16 yards on eight carries in the first half. No other running back had a carry in the half, which ended with Dallas ahead 10-6.
As expected, fullback Tre Madden was inactive because a hamstring injury.
The rest of Seattle’s inactive players were healthy scratches: cornerback Kalan Reed, running back Bo Scarbrough, tackle Elijah Nkansah, wide receiver Malik Turner, defensive end Branden Jackson and rookie defensive end Rasheem Green.
Cowboys receivers hurt early
The Cowboys lost two of their top three wide receivers on the game’s first two drives.
K.J. Wright tackled Dallas’ Cole Beasley by the ankles while Beasley was making a first-down catch on the game’s opening possession, with ended with a Cowboys field goal. He limped off favoring his right leg, but returned to the game.
On Dallas’ next possession after Seattle’s opening three-and-out drive, Allen Hurns ran a slant route in front of Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin for a first down. Griffin’s teammate Bradley McDougald made the tackle, with all his weight coming down on Hurns’ lower left leg. His ankle snapped.
After a long delay of stabilizing Hurns and getting him into an air cast and onto a stretcher, Seahawks players came off the sidelines and joined Cowboys teammates on the field to support Hurns as he was driven out of the stadium to the hospital.
Flowers hurt, returns
The Seahawks lost starting cornerback Tre Flowers late in the first quarter after he got up slowing after getting tangled up with on the sideline defending an incomplete pass. to Amari Cooper.
Akeem King replaced Flowers for a few plays. Flowers returned to the defense for the start of the next drive.
The NFL has already determined next week’s game times and days for the division round of the NFC playoffs.
The West division-champion Los Angeles Rams will host a Saturday game at 5:15 p.m. New Orleans, the top seed in the conference, is hosting on Sunday at 1:40 p.m.
A Seahawks win at Dallas then a victory Sunday by third-seeded Chicago over Philadelphia would send Seattle to New Orleans for a Sunday game.
A Seattle win then an upset by the sixth-seeded Eagles at the Bears on Sunday would mean Philadelphia goes to New Orleans and the Seahawks would play the Rams in L.A. on Saturday night.