The conclusions drawn from Sunday’s game won’t be any more satisfying for Seahawks fans than the conclusion of Sunday’s game in Carolina. Not only that, but it will take months to answer the questions spawned from Seattle’s 31-24 loss.
With all that said, here’s an attempt to sort through what we saw on the field.
Three things we learned:
1. The Seahawks have a champion’s pride.
Yes, it sounds corny. In fact, it is corny, but it’s true considering how Seattle found a way to take what looked like was going to be a historically lopsided playoff loss and make it respectable. Seattle’s 24-point comeback in the second half wasn’t enough to overcome the hole the Seahawks found themselves in, but it did provide dignity in defeat. This isn’t about moral victories or anything like that, but showing that Seattle’s roster isn’t going to concede a game even when it’s down 31 points at halftime on the road against a team that had an extra week of rest. “There wasn’t a guy in the locker room that didn’t think we were going to win the football game,” coach Pete Carroll said. “There wasn’t a word in that direction for a moment. The demonstration of what happened in the second half proves it. These guys totally believe that they can do whatever they’ve got to do. They believe in one another. They love each other. They care about each other so much that they would do stuff like that.”
2. Marshawn Lynch was not this team’s magic bullet.
Throughout August, even as Seattle’s offensive line was first shuffled and then struggled, Carroll mentioned the difference Lynch made in the rushing attack. Then the regular season started, and Seattle was still getting squished up front. On Sunday in Carolina, the biggest question was the impact Lynch would make as he returned from abdominal surgery. The truth is that Lynch never had a chance. Not on the first play when Star Lotulelei was eye-to-eye with him in the backfield. Not in the game as a whole as Lynch carried the ball six times for 20 yards. Retooling the running game in Seattle will be about more than swapping out the running back. Seattle has to control the line of scrimmage more than it did this year if it wants to remain the bruising team it was from 2012 to 2014.
3. Russell Wilson will be the most important factor in determining the outcome of Seahawks games for the next decade.
He won’t be the only factor. Not with the way Seattle wants to run the ball and the type of defense it continues to play. But Wilson is going to have the largest individual impact of anyone on the team. You saw that Sunday in Carolina. His two turnovers were responsible for 10 of the 31 points Seattle allowed in the first half. His passing was the reason Seattle made a run in the second half as he threw for 255 yards in the final two quarters, passing for three touchdowns not to mention a couple of timely scrambles. As the salary-cap impact of his contract extension begins in earnest in 2016, there’s no longer any question or debate about who the most valuable Seahawk is. It’s a role Wilson stepped into this season, and the second half of both the regular season and Sunday’s playoff game shows he’s ready for that role.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. What causes Seattle’s first-half struggles in the playoffs?
The trend is unmistakable. The Seahawks have been outscored a combined 156-103 in the first halves of the 12 playoff games under Carroll. They’ve failed to score in the first half in five of those 12 games. Is it due to the start time? Four of those five times in which Seattle was shut out through two quarters have come on the road in games that kicked off at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. Is it due to rest? Three of those five games in which Seattle failed to score in the first half came in the divisional round of the playoffs against a team that was coming off its bye. For as much as Seattle deserves praise for the finishing touch it shows in the second half, the question of why the Seahawks tend to stumble through the first half of playoff games is totally puzzling.
2. Why didn’t the Seahawks create more turnovers?
The fact that Seattle failed to take the ball away from Carolina on Sunday underscored a bigger problem with the team this season. The Seahawks didn’t force turnovers, at least not as many as they used to. That’s a surprise not just because of the talent Seattle had in the secondary, but because the Seahawks’ pass rush wasn’t bad this year. It wasn’t all that good, either. The team’s 37 regular-season sacks were tied for a mediocre 17th in the league, but it seemed like Seattle was good at affecting the opposing quarterback even when pressure didn’t result in a sack. The Seahawks finished with 23 takeaways, their fewest in any season since 2010. That’s a total Seattle will seek to increase – dramatically – next season.
3. Is Seattle a team in decline?
The Seahawks announced their arrival as contenders to be reckoned with in 2012. They won the franchise’s first Super Bowl the following season, lost the Super Bowl last year and were just beaten in the divisional round of the playoffs. On the one hand, the nucleus of the team that won the title is aging and has already eroded. On the other, Wilson has shown himself to be one of the very best quarterbacks in the league, a statement that can be delivered without equivocation. Seattle can expect to contend for a playoff spot every season he’s healthy. The bigger question is where the next tier of stars comes from. In Seattle’s first three drafts under Carroll and general manager John Schneider, the Seahawks drafted a total of six players who have been chosen to a Pro Bowl: left tackle Russell Okung, free safety Earl Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Richard Sherman, linebacker Bobby Wagner and of course Wilson. The Seahawks have drafted one Pro Bowler over the past three years and that was rookie wide receiver/kick returner Tyler Lockett. There may be a younger group of stars ripening on the Seahawks’ roster, but one way or another, Seattle needs some young difference makers.