Despite missing nearly a dozen key players Sunday and barely beating a winless team because of it, Pete
Carroll thinks his team has turned the corner at the right time and is ready to finish strong in the second half of the season.
You might question the wisdom of saying your team accomplished something by beating the Oakland Raiders, but Carroll’s optimism is understandable considering his team’s situation.
“Under the circumstances of this game, where so many guys played that haven’t played before, I take maybe more out of it because of that,” he said. “Offense played tough, special teams played tough; we just didn’t play well all the time. The kind of effort that we need to be a good football team was there, and so that’s a good sign for us.”
It might be fool’s gold considering the opponents, but Carroll thinks the defense has flipped the switch — even without several starters.
“The defense has really played well the last few weeks,” he said, perhaps forgetting that the Rams, Panthers and Raiders are three of the bottom seven offenses in the league. “And we’ve had some turnovers in the last few games, too; that just changes us. It’s really exciting to see that and turn at the half. We wanted to see if we could make a little move here, and it feels like we have.”
The Hawks have clawed their way to 5-3, with just two easy wins among the bunch — and none of them coming in the last four weeks. But Carroll doesn’t care how they do it. After the game Sunday, he pointed out that nearly every game is a battle.
“We had eight games last year that could have gone either way. Everybody forgets that,” he said. “Three of them we lost, and five of them we won. We could have been 8-8 just like that last year. People forget that. I’ve harped on that more than I should with our team so that they realize how tough it is. What was the score today? 30-24? We’re not going to worry about that. It’s a great win at home; we’re fortunate to get it.”
Then he finished with a hilarious zinger to reporters and fans alike: “I know you all like it easier and smoother and cleaner and all that, but it’s a battle. So, suck it up.”
Bottom line: Carroll is not apologizing for the way the Hawks have climbed up to two games over .500 and kept pace with division leader Arizona, which is cruising along at 7-1.
“I think we’re making progress,” he said. “We’ve survived some really hard games and we’ve won some really hard games. We’re battle-tested and we’re ready to go. The fact that we can make this turn with young guys prepared to play and with some guys coming back to their health — and we will get a second wave of that as well — I’m feeling pretty good about our chances to go out and win this game this week.”
Carroll said they should get back at least four injured players this week for their game against the slumping New York Giants (3-5): cornerback Jeremy Lane, safety Jeron Johnson, center Max Unger and defensive tackle Jordan Hill. Safety Kam Chancellor and left tackle Russell Okung both could return as well.
Cornerback Byron Maxwell could be back next week, linebacker Bobby Wagner could return in the next couple of weeks and tight end Zach Miller soon after that.
The Hawks should head to Kansas City with a 6-3 record. Five of the final six games are against NFC West foes, and the division obviously will be decided in those six weeks.
“I really like the scheduling the way it comes down like that,” Carroll said. “I think it really adds to the buildup at the finish for everybody. I think it’s cool. It also leaves everything out there as late as possible, which is great for us in our particular situation.”
This season is shaping up much like 2012, when the Hawks started 4-4 before winning seven of the last eight and then playing on the road in both playoff games — winning at Washington and losing at Atlanta.
The Hawks have a tougher schedule to finish this time, though — New York and St. Louis are the only sub-.500 teams right now. So, the Hawks are going to have to hit their stride in the next two weeks.
“This week is really what’s at hand, and we’re going to focus in on that like we always do,” Carroll said. “And then we will just keep cranking, see if we can keep going.”