What long snapper Nick Sundberg remembers most about the Washington Redskins' 2012 wild-card game against the Seattle Seahawks was the gusting wind, the patchy field and how well the Redskins started that day at FedEx Field. And then, how dramatically fortunes shifted once rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III couldn't continue on a badly injured knee.
"Catastrophe happened with the injury," Sundberg recalled this week, the images still vivid in his mind of Seattle's rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, making one crazy play with his legs after another as the Redskins' lead slipped away.
When the teams meet Sunday, with the 5-2 Seahawks hosting the 3-4 Redskins at CenturyLink Field, it will be the 20th installment of a series that has been marked by high-stakes games.
Though the Redskins hold an 11-5 regular season advantage, the Seahawks have won all three of their postseason games — after the 2005, 2007 and 2012 seasons — playing better when it matters most.
Though it's only Week 9, Sunday's game is yet another high-stakes affair for the Redskins, who are on the verge of playing their way out of the 2017 postseason with each defeat, having lost their last two and still winless in the NFC East as they embark on a three-game stretch against division leaders Seattle, Minnesota and New Orleans.
"Everybody's a little disappointed," Redskins Coach Jay Gruden acknowledged this week. "It's a long, long season with a lot of games left. [There's] a lot of good things we can still accomplish."
But launching a turnaround at Seattle is a tall order, given the ranks of ailing Redskins. Thursday's injury list was made up of 21 players — including all five starting offensive linemen and Washington's most productive wide receiver (Jamison Crowder) and most productive tight end (Jordan Reed).
And Sunday's setting, CenturyLink Field, known for its earsplitting din and the flurry of false starts that it coaxes from visitors, only adds to the Redskins' challenge.
"We'll be ready for it the best we can," said quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has never played at the venue and faces the task of communicating over the noise with linemen he barely knows. "We understand what we're walking into from that standpoint, and we know we have to communicate very well — verbally and visually — and be ready to go, from the first snap to the last."
CenturyLink was the scene of the first of Seattle's three playoff victories over the Redskins, a 20-10 triumph in the divisional round of the playoffs, on Jan. 14, 2006.
The teams had met earlier that season, with the Redskins handing Seattle a 20-17 loss in overtime. Seattle went on to finish 13-3 and unbeaten at home.
When they met again in the playoffs, what former Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck remembers most was the look in the eyes of the former Seahawks greats — Steve Largent, Kenny Easley and Jacob Green, among them — during the national anthem. It wasn't exactly tears, but their eyes were welling up, they wanted the victory so badly, having suffered through what was then the NFL's longest streak without a playoff victory.
And their hopes felt like a massive weight on his shoulders.
"You knew how much they cared, how much it mattered to them," Hasselbeck recalled in a telephone interview. "And it was actually quite shocking, to be honest."
Back then, the Seahawks regarded the Redskins as a fierce rival, along with Green Bay and Chicago. Hasselbeck himself was particularly aware of the Redskins' terrific defense, which included linebacker LaVar Arrington, cornerback Shawn Springs and safety Sean Taylor.
Over a 17-year NFL career, nothing was as sweet to Hasselbeck as the 20-10 victory that followed, which snapped the 21-year postseason drought and spoiled a homecoming of sorts for Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell, who'd played his college career at Washington.
Regarded as a running team, Seattle lost its NFL MVP running back Shaun Alexander to a concussion early in the game. Hasselbeck went on to pass for one touchdown and run for another — outpacing Springs for the rushing score — to carry his team to the NFC title game.
He considers that rushing touchdown the signature play of his career.
"Given 100 tries, I could probably do it one time!" said Hasselbeck, now an analyst for ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown." "It was a great game."
Two years later, with Hasselbeck again at quarterback, Seattle knocked the Redskins out of the playoffs once more with a 35-14 wild-card game victory.
The advent of the 2012 NFL season signaled a renewal for both teams, with each drafting a promising quarterback. The Redskins traded a king's ransom to move up to second overall and acquired Griffin, a Heisman Trophy winner hailed as the most physically gifted and talent-rich quarterback prospect in that year's class.
The Seahawks weathered some criticism for taking Wisconsin's Wilson in the third round (75th overall). Though Wilson was regarded as a savvy and gifted passer, skeptics doubted he could outplay his 5-foot-11 height in the NFL.
When the teams met in the 2012 wild-card game at FedEx Field, it was viewed as a showdown between two franchises on the rise.
The 10-6 Redskins were the NFC East champions and led by a pair of sensational rookies — the dynamic Griffin and hard-nosed running back Alfred Morris.
The 11-5 Seahawks, who'd finished second in the NFC West, were led by the surprising Wilson and beastly running back Marshawn Lynch.
The Redskins jumped to a 14-0 lead but stalled after Griffin's right knee, injured earlier in the season, buckled beneath him amid catastrophic damage to his anterior cruciate ligament.
"They made some plays," Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall recalled this week. "Just Russ with his feet, doing what he's been doing these past couple of years."
From that season on, the fortunes of the Redskins and Seahawks diverged.
Over the five seasons that followed, the Redskins have gone 27-43-1 with one division championship and no playoff wins while replacing Coach Mike Shanahan with Gruden and benching Griffin in favor of Cousins.
In that same span, Seattle has gone 50-20-1, winning three division championships, seven playoff games, two NFC titles and one Super Bowl championship.
Rick Maese contributed to this report.
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