The great run of the Seattle Seahawks ended with the eerie quiet of an errant field goal in a silent stadium. The cacophony that seemed to swirl around the Pete Carroll Seahawks — regularly successful, always compelling and often controversial — was gone. The circus, it seemed in the twilight of New Year’s Eve, was pulling out of town.
Much rightly will be made of the miss by Blair Walsh as symbolic of the personnel misjudgments that brought about not only the 26-24, season-ending defeat to Arizona, but brought a 9-7 season that failed to make the NFL playoff field for the first time since 2011.
Walsh is a side note in a litany of problems that created a combined 54-0 deficit in the first halves of recent games against two NFC West rivals, setting aside the 99-yard touchdown on a kickoff return Sunday by Tyler Lockett.
That shocking discrepancy was created by shared failures in roster-building, coaching and player execution.
“I’m really just disappointed and pissed off about this game, to be honest with you,” said WR Doug Baldwin, who caught two touchdown passes. “We have so much talent. We should be in the playoffs.”
It’s true. The Seahawks, despite the injuries, despite the penalties, despite the youth, despite the age, were playoff caliber. Not championship caliber, but playoff caliber. Just as in the second half Sunday, they were capable of wondrous plays and uproarious rallies.
But it is emotionally and psychologically exhausting to play so inconsistently.
Unsettled and insecure, the once-imperious Seahawks became vulnerable to mediocre teams like Arizona and Washington. A proud defense deeply wounded can respond only so many times to having to rescue so many games. It’s a little like first-responder fatigue.
One, DE Michael Bennett, said post-game he was likely done with it.
“I probably won’t be back next year,” he told the Tacoma News Tribune. “Just seems like it’s a young man’s game. I can see them going younger, with younger players. That’s part of the game.”
Bennett is 32, worn down physically but more emotionally with the added responsibilities of being a national leader for social justice and a viewer of the wider world he can no longer ignore.
At least he managed to finish the season. Not so for his fellow defensive stalwarts DE Cliff Avril, SS Kam Chancellor and CB Richard Sherman.
Each man’s case is different, but they shared a common standard to play hard, well and together for a long while. So long, in fact, that had the Seahawks advanced to the playoffs, they would have been only the ninth team in NFL history to string together six seasons of double-digit wins.
But the cumulative strain of multiple shortcomings gave way, Sunday and for the season.
“This game today was almost a microcosm of the season,” Carroll said. “The slow starts, the getting in our own way. Making it hard on us at times, when it wasn’t about the opponent, it was about us.
“It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to change the narrative of the way the games went. I’m so surprised that we played like we did today, because we were so ready, and we practiced so well and prepared so well. It didn’t come out right until the end.”
The fact that Carroll is bewildered is telling. Perhaps it is his trademark relentless optimism that overrides a realistic appraisal of talent and circumstances. But events may outstrip his understanding.
It would surprise no one if Avril and Chancellor, because of the serious nature of their neck injuries, join Bennett in retirement. Sherman, recovering from serious Achilles tendon surgery, vows to be back, but he was almost traded last off-season.
FS Earl Thomas is healthy and says he wants to be back, but has embarrassed himself by honking his own horn about his potential availability in a trade or in free agency, if the Seahawks fail to extend his contract.
The potential departures of so many stars in a single off-season would have a profound impact on the Seahawks’ way of doing business under Carroll. Yes, there would be great salary-cap relief, but importing free agents is an expensive and volatile way to re-build a roster.
The smart way is always through the draft. But GM John Schneider’s choices since 2014 have produced few substantial players. To whiff completely on the top pick in 2017, DT Malik McDowell, was a major blow. It followed the dubious choice of first-rounder RT Germain Ifedi in 2016, the most penalized player in the NFL in 2017.
Then there is the erratic late season of QB Russell Wilson, who again made spectacular plays and threw no interceptions, yet made enough small errors in decision-making to help stymie the first-half offense.
It’s possible Wilson, another man of eternal sunshine at the top of the Seahawks pyramid, is oblivious to the consequences of his mistakes. Others are not.
“I thought this was going to be our best team, actually,” he said after the game, with a straight face. Wilson may be in for some awakenings if this becomes Tell the Truth Off-Season.
Along with other under-performers, notably on the perpetually tumultuous offensive line, it allowed the Seahawks, in a playoff-elimination game, to be beaten by a team missing its top two running backs while being led by 34-year-old backup QB who had a passer rating of 54.2 after completing 15 of 34 passes for 145 yards.
Supposedly playing with a torn knee ligament, Drew Stanton was sacked once for minus-2 yards.
Yes, the Seahawks would have missed the playoffs anyway Sunday, because Atlanta won the NFC’s sixth and final playoff spot by beating Carolina 22-10. The Falcons had the tiebreaker because of their 34-31 win over Seattle after Walsh was two feet short with the game-tying field goal.
But the failure to beat a broken Arizona team at home, where they finished the season 4-4, perhaps will have the consequence of further illuminating what ails the Seahawks. I asked Baldwin what changed in the 80-yard, 10-play touchdown drive that opened the second that was different from the horrid first half.
“We played better,” he said, “We played better.”
Knowing I knew he knew that answer was unhelpful, I kept staring at him. He glanced over at a Seahawks official, then re-worked his response.
“I would love to sit up here and tell you exactly what the problem is, but I’m not going to tell you that,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do. A lot of work to do. We have the ability to do it.”
By ending the season Sunday, they’ve given themselves more time to solve some of the problems. The task needs to start at the top, with a bewildered coach and an oblivious quarterback.