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Venerable coaches lead Steelers and Seahawks into key Week 17 matchup

Both teams have playoff hopes, but Seattle has clearer path

By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer
Published: December 30, 2023, 10:33am
2 Photos
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll reacts as players gather during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 20-17.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll reacts as players gather during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 20-17. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson) Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — On the list of the NFL’s winningest coaches, Pete Carroll and Mike Tomlin are linked by proximity and success.

Carroll ranks 13th all-time with 180 wins between the regular season and the playoffs. Right behind him is Tomlin, with 179 victories.

Despite being among the league’s longest-tenured coaches, the two have met only four times previously heading into Sunday’s matchup between the Steelers and the Seahawks.

Even though their teams have rarely crossed paths, there’s a healthy respect between the two leaders.

“He’s a really good man,” Carroll said. “They’ve had the good fortune of having him for years; 16 years and never had a losing season. That’s a pretty good mark, that’s hard to get that done. I have the ultimate respect for him.”

This fifth matchup between the coaches is arguably the most important to date because of what is at stake. Both teams have playoff hopes, although the path for Seattle is clearer.

The Seahawks (8-7) need wins over the Steelers and at Arizona to make the playoffs for the 11th time in Carroll’s 14 seasons.

The route for Pittsburgh (8-7) to the playoffs is more complicated. But after snapping a three-game losing streak last week against Cincinnati, the Steelers at least have a possible path to navigate. Beating the Seahawks and knocking off Baltimore in Week 18 would put the Steelers in a good position. But even a loss to Seattle wouldn’t entirely eliminate Pittsburgh, depending on what happens elsewhere in the AFC.

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A win would also ensure yet another season finishing at or above .500 for Tomlin.

This season has featured striking similarities for both teams — some unexplainable losses, a bunch of close wins and an untimely losing streak. The Seahawks lost four straight before salvaging their playoff chances with consecutive 20-17 wins over Philadelphia and Tennessee the past two weeks.

After starting 7-4, the Steelers lost three straight before reviving their playoff hopes with last week’s 34-11 thumping of the Bengals.

“The bottom line, it’s late December, the road is getting extremely narrow and it’s a big football game,” Tomlin said.

LATE DRAMATICS

The Seahawks have not made their victories easy on fans. Each of Seattle’s last four wins has been decided by a score either in the final minute of the fourth quarter or in overtime. The Seahawks beat Cleveland in Week 8 on a touchdown from Jaxon Smith-Njigba with 38 seconds left. In Week 10, Seattle needed overtime to beat Washington 29-26.

The last two weeks have been the most dramatic. Drew Lock’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Smith-Njigba with 28 seconds left beat Philadelphia, and last week it was Geno Smith throwing a 5-yard TD to Colby Parkinson with 57 seconds remaining.

MORE MASON

Longtime backup quarterback Mason Rudolph will likely get a second straight start after throwing for 290 yards and a pair of long touchdowns to George Pickens last week.

While starter Kenny Pickett’s surgically repaired right ankle felt good enough for him to practice this week, Rudolph’s ability to generate the kind of big plays that have been lacking for long stretches this season made Tomlin inclined to stick with the hot hand. Not bad for someone who hadn’t started a game in more than two years.

“Performing (in practice) and performing in stadiums are two different things,” Tomlin said. “And so, it was good to see it show up in the stadium, but I don’t think any of us were shocked by it. We’ve all seen it in stadiums with him before.”

FAMILIAR FACE

The Steelers could see a familiar face playing a prominent role for Seattle’s defense on Sunday. Former first-round pick Devin Bush could be in line for his first start since signing with the Seahawks in the offseason. Seattle is uncertain whether starting linebacker Jordyn Brooks will be able to play after he aggravated an ankle injury last week against Tennessee.

Bush played 40 defensive snaps against the Titans. It was the second time in a month he got extensive playing time after after Brooks was initially hurt in Week 13 at Dallas. Bush has not started a game since Week 15 of last season while still with the Steelers.

“You have to balance the emotions of playing your former team, but also locking in and knowing what you have to do and what you have to get done,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “I feel like he’ll be good.”

PATCHWORK UNITS

The Steelers have endured plenty of roster churn at inside linebacker this season after opting not to keep Bush. Free agent signees Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander are both out for the season with injuries, and Elandon Roberts is also likely done for the year after sustaining a pectoral injury last week.

Enter Mychal Walker, Myles Jack and Blake Martinez. Walker and Martinez joined Pittsburgh’s practice squad in October, and the Steelers lured Jack out of retirement a couple of days before Thanksgiving.

There are also issues at safety, with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee all unavailable due to injury or suspension. Eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson moved from cornerback to safety full-time last week, helping the Steelers generate three interceptions against Cincinnati’s Jake Browning.

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