By Brady Henderson
As the Seahawks were preparing for their wild-card game against Washington last week, coach Pete Carroll noted how fortunate they had been all season to have almost their entire starting lineup remain intact.
That luck ran out Monday when an MRI on defensive end Chris Clemons' left knee revealed what the Seahawks had feared – a torn ACL and meniscus.
The injury, sustained during the third quarter of Seattle's win over Washington, will end Clemons' season and force the Seahawks to move on without their best pass rusher as they prepare for Sunday's divisional-round matchup with top-seeded Atlanta.
"It's a big loss for us in a lot of ways," coach Pete Carroll told reporters. "Chris has been a great football player and just a symbol of consistency in the years that we've had him, but he's been a great leader for us too and a tough dude and a guy we've become very comfortable playing with and we'll miss the heck out of him."
Clemons, 31, led the Seahawks in sacks in each of the last three years. He followed up consecutive 11-sack seasons in 2010 and '11 with a career-high 11.5 this season. His 33.5 sacks over the last three seasons were tied for the fifth-most in the NFL during than span.
"I want to thank everyone for there [sic] prayers. I will be ready for next season. We still got a Super Bowl to win!" Clemons tweeted Monday.
Carroll was noncommittal when asked who would step in for Clemons, though he said "the logical thing" to do is elevate rookie Bruce Irvin into a starting role. Irvin led all rookies with eight sacks during the regular season as mainly a situational pass rusher opposite Clemons.
Clemons' role as the weakside defensive end – a position referred to as the leo in Seattle's defense – comes with more responsibilities in the run game.
"Those guys believe in me and I won't let them down. I'm going to go in and bust my butt the whole week in case Clem don't play, and I'll be ready and prepared next week," Irvin said Sunday when asked about potentially having to assume Clemons' role.
Irvin replaced Clemons on Sunday and recorded a sack.
"He did well. He chased the football well and he had a good active game for us," Carroll said. "He understands the position. he's been playing it all year, this is nothing new. He'll be called on to play more."
Carroll said the team began exploring free-agent options on Sunday and that any roster move will be made by Wednesday.
The the video below includes additional thoughts from Bob Stelton and Dave Grosby on how Clemons' injury will impact the Seahawks.
You can listen to Monday's podcast here.