The subtle benefit to having a crappy seasonal record in the NFL is it allows a team to get to the future more quickly.
The Seahawks arrived at their future Sunday in Glendale, AZ.
The rest of the NFL has moved on to the postseason party for the 2021 season. But by beating playoff-bound, 11-win Arizona, 38-30 (box), the Seahawks won their first game of the future.
The record book won’t reflect that. Nor does it mean that renewed success is inevitable. Nor that noteworthy changes won’t be made for a team that finished 7-10.
But the way they won, and the players they won with, indicates strongly that there will be no employment changes among the franchise cornerstones — Pete Carroll, John Schneider and Russell Wilson.
“We saw the future,” said the Seahawks coach. “It just doesn’t look like a team that has a record we have. You don’t have to throw for 400 yards to win football games. You got to be able to mix it, control the ball and be dominant at the line of scrimmage.
“Our guys were able to find that.”
The quarterback who passed Peyton Manning for the most wins in the first 10 years of an NFL career seemed to feel similarly.
“I think maybe you guys know something I don’t know,” said Wilson, smiling at the umpteenth question he’s been asked in the past three weeks about his future in Seattle. “The biggest thing is, is that, man, I love playing here. I love the city. I love being here.
“I also love to win. We also got to do whatever it takes to make sure that we’re doing that. I think that’s the standard here. That’s my hope. Of course, I’ll definitely talk to Pete and John and all that stuff. And we’ll chop it up and have some good times together.”
No seasoned, skeptical fan who follows pro sports will take the post-victory happy talk as a guarantee. But the results Sunday combine with developments over the last month to suggest that the first losing season in the Carroll-Wilson era was more aberration than trend.
That translates to the benefit of the doubt.
No rational team owner or critic can look at 51 and 38 points scored in two stakes-free games and suggest that the coach has lost command or respect. Nor can anyone suggest that a defense that has lost over the season Marquise Blair, Jamal Adams, Tre Brown and Bobby Wagner, and finished the game with persons identified as Josh Jones and Nigel Warrior at the safety positions, yet held the NFL’s eighth-ranked offense to 23 points (one Arizona touchdown was virtually a pick-six), is dissolute and decrepit.
Nor can it be said that Schneider. who spent a first-round draft pick on RB Rashaad Penny four years ago, is a moron. Same for him finding two substitute linemen, Phil Haynes and Jake Curhan, to help clear Penny’s path to the greatest back-to-back games by a Seahawks rusher since former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander — against the NFL’s 10th-ranked defense.
The collective upticks allowed the Seahawks to finish with a 3-3 record in the NFC West, where the three other teams advanced to the playoffs. And it knocked the Cardinals, 6.5-point favorites entering the game after beating Dallas 25-22 a week ago, from the potential second seed in the NFC tourney to No. 5.
It’s true that all of the foregoing could be rendered moot if team chair Jody Allen wants to be whimsical or reckless, or somewhere in between. We don’t know. No figure in the American public entertainments has said less since Harpo Marx.
All we can go on is Carroll’s occasional sermons after he descends from the mount. His latest Sunday:
“She’s very analytical, and she wants to make sure that we’re doing everything we can possibly do to to get everything right,” he said. “She’s a terrifically competitive person in that regard. She doesn’t want any stone unturned. That’s exactly the way I look at it. I just feel so connected to that. That’s what we do. But to have your owner talk that same way — that’s a competitive perspective. It goes back to the lineage — we’re in a relentless pursuit of finding the competitive edge in everything we’re doing.
“That’s it. I’m not talking any more about it. She can speak for herself. She’s been awesome. I’m not gonna give you any inside scoops, OK? So don’t ask.”
Well, then. We must take our football-business queries elsewhere. To Penny.
After gaining 190 yards on 23 carries, including a 62-yard blast for the decisive score with 4:34 remaining, he finished the season with 786 rushing yards on 119 tries. His 6.6 ypc is the best in the NFL.
Yes, he had an injury-limited season. Still, his work took the pressure off Wilson, and the Seahawks scored 30+ plus points in four of the final six games, five of which he started.
As suddenly one of the hottest free agents in the market that begins in mid-March, what are the chances of him staying?
“I’d love to be back home,” Penny said. “This is home to me. I would love to be back.”
The Seahawks have more than $70 million in space under the salary cap. Given how Carroll values the run game, the priority is obvious and the hope is for a hometown discount.
“You saw Rashaad take off this last month of the season and just be incredibly effective,” Carroll said. “I’m so fired up that they get to know that. Rush for a couple hundred yards in back-to-back games. When does that happen in our league? That doesn’t happen.”
Countering the upbeat mood was a serious injury to FS Quandre Diggs, who had a blocker fall on him in the fourth quarter. A broken fibula and dislocated ankle was immediately obvious to teammates, who gathered around him as a cart was summoned. He was to have spent the night in a Phoenix-area hospital, where WR Tyler Lockett and medical staff remained behind for support.
“Just a heartbreaker,” Carroll said. “Everybody loves this guy so much, because of who he is. He is such an embedded leader, character, the toughness, all of the stuff that he stands for. It crushed everybody, and it was ignored in the way that they finished.
“They finished for him.”
For the season against playoff teams, the Seahawks had three wins (two over 49ers, one over Cardinals) and five losses (Packers, Cardinals, Titans and two to Rams). Soul crushers were the five losses by three points or less (four to non-playoff teams — Steelers, Saints, Washington Football Team, Bears).
“I think we were 7-1 in similar-score situations at the end of the game last year,” Carroll said. “That’s the whole season. You can look at all the millions of things, criticize this and that. That’s where it really went.
“It’s clear, we just didn’t finish games when we needed to. It’s always been such a huge point of emphasis to show that we understand how to get that done. It was really frustrating this year.”
Too late for 2021, but the Seahawks did finally pull it together. Now that 2022 is underway, there’s reason to keep it together.