INGLEWOOD, CA – From a pair of Pro Bowl selections to the second-most sack total in Bengals history, Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap has accomplished a lot in his 12-year NFL career. However, there is one pretty big step that has eluded him for over a decade: winning a playoff game.
As Dunlap’s 32-year-old season draws to a close, the reality that the ending will be all too familiar has begun to set in. Despite his best efforts Tuesday night, including 3.0 sacks by Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Seahawks suffered their ninth loss of the 2021 season by a score of 20-10. As a result, their odds of sneaking into the playoffs have dropped to less than 0.1%, thanks to FiveThirtyEight.com.
After arguably his best performance of the year, Dunlap stepped onto the podium for his post-match press conference. As he walked up donning a bright Seahawks-branded Christmas sweater, his mood was anything but cheerful. Knowing that his drought will unfortunately continue for another year, the only thing he could understandably focus on was the fact that his team were far below their target.
“It’s bittersweet,” Dunlap began. “I would love to top it off with a win. Three [sacks] it is, but I would love to have the opportunity to top it off with a win. ”
Sitting at a 5-9 record, Seattle got its first season under .500 since 2011, just a year after winning the much-vaunted NFC West.
Arriving in a mid-season trade with Cincinnati, Dunlap was instrumental in the team’s race to a division title. He recorded 5.0 sacks in his first eight games in a Seahawks uniform, helping them to a four-game winning streak to close the regular season before welcoming the Rams into the wildcard round.
But on that cool January night at Lumen Field, Seattle’s season ended with a 10-point loss to Los Angeles. Almost a year later, it happened again, already seen.
While the circumstances and setting were different, the result followed a similar script; A stagnant and dysfunctional offense the Seahawks failed to consistently put points on the board as the defense held on for life before succumbing to several explosive plays. Of course, having lost eight of their first 11 games, their eventual demise was predictable in nature. But the finality of it all, coming into the hands of Aries again, strikes a chord.
It’s a fitting ending for a team that has vastly underperformed across the board. Dunlap was no exception, entering Tuesday night’s game with just 1.5 sacks on 21 taps. Its ineffectiveness resulted in a significant decrease in shots, from an average of 34.7 in weeks 1 to 10 to just 9.3 in weeks 11 to 13.
“We underperformed,” Dunlap said of his struggles and those of the team. “I have very high expectations for myself and my teammates. We all hold ourselves accountable for where we are at stake and how our season goes, and we know we have a very good chance, you know, to have a full season. different, but it didn’t change that way and today was … yes, another count in the column that we didn’t want.
Dunlap has been playing better lately, sacking quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for safety and a pass deflection sealing the game on just seven reps in a 30-23 victory over the 49ers. In part, that resulted in his snapshot count returning to 28 and 21 in the Seahawks’ last two games, respectively. For Tuesday night, in particular, that sudden increase was very calculated.
With Los Angeles offensive linemen Joseph Noteboom and Rob Havenstein both on the reserve / COVID-19 roster, Seattle has let veteran Dunlap get down to work to replace right tackle Bobby Evans. Dunlap got the better of Evans in his first and third sacks of the night, the second against left tackle Andrew Whitworth, his former teammate in Cincinnati. He also added a tackle from wide receiver Ben Skowronek, stopping him near the line to win on a key third down.
Sadly, his efforts would be in vain as the Seahawks saw their fate confirmed.
“Well I think Carlos took the opportunity against the guy who came for Havenstein,” said head coach Pete Carroll. “I know he had 3.0 sacks, I think one of them was on the right side. I think two on the left side. They must have played a substitute there. Carlos has been there for a long time. He had one of his best games, so I think he took advantage of his opportunities very well. It was a game of opportunities. You know, we captured some and some didn’t and that. is really frustrating to have to live with that. ”
While math has yet to officially eliminate them, Dunlap and his colleagues know the truth: They’ll be cleaning up their lockers after their Week 18 trip to Arizona. Game controls, contract incentives, stats and, perhaps most importantly, pride and respect for the sport are all that’s left to play in these last three games.
Of course, the urge to win in Seattle is not dead.
“Just ready to go home, watch that tape, find the fixes,” Dunlap said of what will happen next. “Keep trying to excel in my role and be a leader for my young boys. I think we, as a defense, personally, we catch fire here at the end of the season. But we play the game to win. and we didn’t. I’m not doing enough to win today. ”
With his family ready to make the trip to the Pacific Northwest for the holidays, Dunlap is particularly keen on a victory over the Bears this Sunday. So until the final whistle for this heartbreaking year, it’s business as usual.