The cautious will shudder. The superstitious fear jinx. The standard-issue Seattle sports fan is bewildered, after having been a many-time frog-kisser with only one prince (from the Sonics in 1979) to show for it. But having none of those particular conditions, let me offer up a declarative for the record:
On the eve of the playoffs Saturday, the best team in the NFL took a needed leap to a championship with the return of Percy Harvin. Please, someone find a ticker tape machine. Seattle will need it.
If you don’t trust my judgment, please listen to RB Marshawn Lynch. Ordered by the NFL to get his thumb off his personal mute button, Lynch immediately spoke the truth Thursday.
While reporters at his locker were amused and bemused by his minimal answers to minimal questions, someone asked him about Harvin’s return. He suddenly became The Accidental Oracle of Occidental Avenue with this statement:
“It opens up a lot of stuff for us.”
By itself, the statement sounds like another tablespoon of oatmeal that Lynch is trying to force-feed the media so they will leave him alone. But in his time in Seattle before this season, Lynch was sometimes a willing conversationalist who could be counted on for honesty. Which is enough, around the NFL, to draw an admonishment from the powers to mind one’s mouth.
Perhaps Lynch figured if he can’t be honest, he best shut up.
But by being honest, Lynch described in eight words why Seattle fans can feel free to enjoy the ride.
He addressed what his teammates and Pete Carroll have avoided saying during Harvin’s absence — the lack of a deep passing threat is limiting the offense to the point where it is the weakness that could cost a title.
Over the past four games the Seahawks averaged 263 yards of offense and 19.3 points per game. Yes, it’s true that in that time, they have faced some of the NFL’s best defenses (San Francisco, NY Giants, Arizona and St Louis). It’s also true they were 2-2 in those games, and there is this: Teams playing ball this late in the season all have good defenses.
At some point, the Seahawks defense could falter, by as little as a single play (we’ve all seen it), and 19.3 points isn’t going to cut it.
The remaining Seahawks receivers are NFL average, plus or minus, which is hardly bad, but no one in Seattle colors wants to impugn them. Nevertheless, defenses have become smarter about defending Lynch and QB Russell Wilson. In the injury absences of Harvin and fellow WR Sidney Rice, defensive coordinators can take greater risks with man-to-man coverage on receivers to devote manpower to stopping Seattle’s two biggest assets.
So the return of Harvin is not the luxury that some may perceive: It’s a necessity for championship ambitions. Remember that even with Rice, the Seahawks bosses thought Harvin was worth three draft picks and a guaranteed $26.5 million because he was a rarity in the NFL talent pool: A genuine game-breaker.
It might be a dead heat between Lynch and Wilson as to who is happiest about Harvin’s return. Certainly, Wilson is more loquacious about it.
“If we can get him out there, that’s a great thing for us,” Wilson said this week. “He’s an explosive football player, that’s for sure. He looks unbelievable so far.
“He’s one of the best players in the National Football League. He’s just been itching to play. He’s got a lot of speed, he’s got a lot of quickness, got great hands, he’s very physical, loves to block, and loves to do things the right way.”
Sure, they’re teammates and pals, and even if they weren’t, the next bad thing Wilson says about anyone in the world will be a personal first for him. Still, the gushing is genuine from anyone who has seen the guy practice in Seattle, and for the tantalizing glimpse he gave everyone Nov. 17 against Minnesota.
Publicly, Carroll has been ultra-cautious about creating expectations around Harvin because of the false starts since his Aug. 1 hip surgery. Similarly, many fans have lowered expectations because Harvin’s multiple physical problems, here and in Minnesota, have given him, at 5-11 and an alleged 200 pounds, a porcelain-doll image.
The injury history means no teammate, coach or fan wants to get amped about the possibilities, because the first hit may knock Harvin from the game. But here’s a little secret: It’s the same for every player on the field.
Harvin hasn’t played a full NFL game in 14 months, but the plan is to have him return kickoffs, catch passes, maybe have a rushing play, and also block downfield. So, a full game. Purely out of respect for the attributes Wilson describes, New Orleans coach Sean Payton, one of the game’s brightest, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will have to adjust on the fly to Seahawks options that they haven’t seen on video.
Just when Payton hoped to design a game plan to be better than the Seahawks of Dec. 2, the Seahawks became better. As Lynch said, Harvin opens up a lot of stuff.
“It was frustrating for a lot of people,” Harvin said Thursday. “My hat’s off to this organization just for staying patient for me. So I’m just ready to make it all pay off.”
Harvin’s hat is off. Be prepared to toss yours.