Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman leaves the field after the Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale Arizona, January 3, 2016. The Seahawks defeated the Cardinals 36-6. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The last time the Seattle Seahawks played a game at University of Phoenix Stadium, it ended in heartbreak and controversy, as a late interception at the goal line ruined their chance of winning Super Bowl XLIX and capturing their second straight championship.
In a game that meant next to nothing for the Seahawks on Sunday, they derailed the hottest team in the NFC with a 36-6 thrashing of the Arizona Cardinals, avoiding a sweep by the Cardinals and handing Arizona its first loss in 10 games.
Seattle (10-6) will open the playoffs with a wild-card visit to either Washington or Minnesota next weekend. The Cardinals (13-3) have a first-round bye and will open the divisional round of the playoff at home in two more weeks.
"I am grateful for the focus that we play with," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. "I am thankful for everybody putting in their dues during the week of our preparation. It is paying off."
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said his team lost the game because of poor practice and preparation.
"This was a valuable lesson today," he said. "You could see it coming all week. I think coaches, players, everybody fell into that press thing and anointed us Super Bowl champs. This was a nice wakeup call. We got beat in every phase of the game."
There was plenty at stake in this game for the Cardinals when the day began. With a win over Seattle and a loss by Carolina to Tampa Bay, the Cardinals could secure the No. 1 seed in the conference and with it, home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
By halftime, those hopes were pretty much completely dashed.
The Seahawks, thanks to three touchdown passes from Russell Wilson and a franchise-record 139 yards in punt returns by Tyler Lockette, had already built up a commanding 30-6 lead over the Cardinals. The Panthers, meanwhile, were well on their way to a convincing 38-10 victory over the Buccaneers.
Knowing the Cardinals' chances were virtually nil to improve upon the No.2 seed, Arians elected to sit starting quarterback Carson Palmer and let backup Drew Stanton play the entire second half. Defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson, each of whom have been nursing tender ankles, joined Palmer on the sideline.
Last week, Arians said he had no intent of resting any of his starters, but following Sunday's loss, he said sitting Palmer "was planned ahead of time."
Seattle drove 80 yards on each of its first two touchdowns -- a 1-yard run by Bryce Brown and a 7-yard catch by fullback Will Tukuafu -- and upon building a 17-6 lead with the help of a 52-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka, it was time for the Lockette show.
The rookie from Kansas State, who earlier had a 36-yard reception on Seattle's second scoring drive, reeled off a 66-yard punt return with 3:58 remaining in the first half to set up one touchdown -- an 8-yard pass from Wilson to tight end Chase Coffman. Then Lockette returned a second Drew Butler punt for 42 yards with 2:59 remaining to help set up another score -- a 24-yard pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse.
Lockette wasn't done in the half, either, returning a third punt 31 yards that would have resulted in more points had Hauschka not missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.
Hauschka made good from 33 and 52 yards in the third quarter as the Seahawks padded their lead. With 14:10 left to play in the game, Carroll took Wilson out of the game and inserted Tarvaris Jackson to finish things up.
"We got back to what we do, which is playing fast and stopping them on defense," Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril said. "The offense is clicking, doing their thing and scoring. That's good for us as we get the momentum going into the playoffs."
Wilson was 19 of 28 for 197 yards in addition to his three passing TDs. His touchdown pass to Coffman gave him 33 for the season, eclipsing Dave Krieg's single-season franchise record of 32. Wilson also became the first Seattle quarterback to have a 4,000-yard passing season, besting Matt Hasselbeck's single-season record in the process. Hasselbeck threw for 3,966 yards in 2007. Wilson finishes the season with 4,024.
For the fourth consecutive season, the Seahawks also led the NFL in fewest points allowed.
"It means a lot," Thomas said. "I didn't know until (Richard) Sherman came and told me around the third quarter. When you are in it for a season, you don't know that it's happening. You just keep winning, keep having fun, keep overcoming and things will happen."
Palmer finished the game 12 of 25 for a season-low 129 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Christine Michael rushed for 102 yards on 17 carries for the Seahawks. The Cardinals finished with only 27 rushing yards on the day, including just 25 by rookie David Johnson.
The Cardinals did set a few franchise records despite the blowout loss. They finished with 6,577 yards in total offense on the season, eclipsing the team's 1948 record of 6,345 yards. Larry Fitzgerald finished 109 receptions, breaking his own record of 103 set in 2005. Palmer, meanwhile, finished with 4,671 passing yards to best Neil Lomax's single-season mark of 4,614 set in 1984.
Despite the loss, Palmer was upbeat afterward.
"You obviously don't play the game to lose," he said, "but we'll bounce back. We've done it numerous times with this group of guys we've had in the locker room for three years now. We'll bounce back from this one and be ready to roll."
NOTES: Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane left the game with a rib injury and did not return. ... Cardinals DT Cory Redding suffered a right ankle injury in the first half and did not return. ... Arizona played without starting OLB Markus Golden because of a knee injury.