What if they gave a Super Bowl, and nobody good won it?
So much bad football has been played in the NFL this season.
The latest episode was the Monday Night Game, Pittsburgh beating Cleveland in a tedious 26-14 gumming polluted by the hagiography surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, in his final Heinz Field game as the most overrated good quarterback in NFL history.
He’s the lone active vestigial remnant of the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl, a 21-10 loss in 2006 to the Steelers in Detroit featuring felonious officiating and bilious bloviating over Steelers RB Jerome Bettis (“Did you know Jerome is from Detroit?”).
But let’s avoid ancient bitterness bleeding into today’s discussion. There’s plenty of fresh stuff to complain about.
Specifically how the endurance of COVID-19 and its protocols have depleted rosters and upended schedules to make a hash of things. And that the NFL is a whole lot better off than than the NHL and NBA. And all of them are better off than every health-care professional in the country.
I have no empirical evidence for the compromise to sports. But I know what I’ve been seeing in the NFL. I mean, the Giants had minus-25 yards passing Sunday.
Then again, scar tissue is a factor in my observations. Seahawks followers are among the relative few who witnessed games in this season against the Detroit Lions (2-13-1), Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14) and Houston Texans (4-12), arguably the NFL’s three worst teams.
Collectively against the Stooges, the Seahawks won 115-49. And the Seahawks are 6-10 heading into the regular season finale at Arizona.
It’s been an unusually messy year, although the NFL is determined to preserve schedule sanctity, even if the NFC is represented in the Super Bowl by the Tampa Bay Bucs, whose sole remaining representative is Antonio Brown, re-hired because he was not on the COVID-19 list (“See, I have this card that says . . .”).
The NFL has a weakened field, ready to be taken.
If the Seahawks beat the Cardinals to finish 7-10, it perversely increases the anguish among fans because the Seahawks aren’t a bad team, at least as the frontier of badness is currently defined. They just missed their shot by a little.
A win means a split of the six NFC West games, still the toughest division because, if San Fransisco qualifies Sunday, the Seahawks would finish last behind three playoff teams.
The Seahawks lost by one to the Bears, two to the Washington Football Team and three to the Titans, Steelers and Saints (two in overtime).
Win any three of those close games, and the Seahawks likely are playing on in January.
“The games were so close throughout the season,” Pete Carroll said at his videoconference Monday. “Those games have flipped in the past, often in our favor. We have won a lot of games that were close, a lot of games at the end, and a lot of games in OT.
“That’s a normal NFL football season, and to have a good year, you’ve got to own those situations. That didn’t happen.”
The prime cause was, of course, the finger injury to Russell Wilson, who needed to stay out longer than the month after surgery, but believed he was the Wolverine character in the Marvel Universe. Thinking he was blessed with superhuman healing powers, Wilson was mistaken.
In those close contests, a fully healthy Wilson would have drawn the Seahawks coach’s gambling money.
“Whether Russell could’ve affected those, I’d like to think he could,” he said. “I like that he’s been a big factor over so many games over the years, I would like to think that our chances would be better when he’s out there. As far as once he got back, those opportunities were still there.
“It’s a really frustrating part of this year. This is not a year that’s that far off other years that we’ve had, in that there’s been those close opportunities, and normally we’ve been able to win those.”
Wilson’s absence and halting return are the overarching reasons for the weak offensive production that crippled the season and made for the first last-place division finish since 1996.
But even before the injury, the Seahawks with a healthy Wilson have a 3-5 postseason record since the Game That Cannot Be Unseen, largely because the bosses haven’t supported him with enough top-tier talent.
That record became relevant because Wilson declared at his Thursday presser that his goal is to win three more Super Bowls, believed to be the first time he made such a specific declaration publicly. Asked whether he thought that could be done in Seattle, he said, “I hope so,” adding that while it’s possible Sunday was his last home game as a Seahawk, “I also know that the reality is that I know it won’t be my last game in the NFL.”
As always, the responses re-ignited national media speculation that feeds on matching Wilson with other teams in trades.
Asked about it Monday on ESPN 710, Carroll dismissed the latest story, saying, “I don’t mess with them. I know what’s going on, and I don’t need to follow what the agenda (is) that somebody has out there to try and create and stir stuff up. That stuff really doesn’t affect me.”
In his Monday video conference with reporters, Carroll was asked how he can be so dismissive.
“The kind of conversations that we have behind the scenes are not in line with the rumors,” he said with a smile. “OK, there you go, they are not at all.
“We have been talking, we have been together and connected throughout this whole season. That’s why it’s easy to dismiss those at this time.”
Whether you believe Carroll, or you believe Wilson, in his passive-aggressive way, was setting the table for a trade, here’s a couple of questions to think about heading into the Cardinals game.
If Wilson almost a year ago complained publicly about his situation after a 12-4 season that won the NFL’s toughest division, what will he think about management’s previous personnel upgrades, at least some of which were designed to help the quarterback, producing a 10-loss season? Shall it always be up to the health of Wilson, 33, to keep the Seahawks good enough, yet never great enough?
The five close losses, the Carroll/Wilson rhetoric, and the 51-29 blowout of the Lions behind long-lost Rashaad Penny’s 170 rushing yards, suddenly have changed the potential value of the Cardinals game for the future of keeping Wilson with the Seahawks.
Consider this post-game quote from Dan Campbell, who played in the NFL for 11 seasons and coached for 11 seasons before taking his first head coaching job with the Lions a year ago:
“Penny is a hell of a player. He is. But when you let him get going, then you’re making that quarterback 10 times better than he already is, and that’s tough.”
A win over the Cardinals can help make Carroll’s argument that the season was more of an injury/covid-induced aberration than a statement about direction, and that achieving run-pass balance with the re-found Penny permits Wilson to be the 3-SB swashbuckler he fancies himself.
It might be a great contest too, for which NFL fans will bow in supplication.