Gastineau: Loss To Washington May Cast A Long Shadow

This is the one.

This is the one we’ll be talking about on New Year’s Eve when the regular season has ended. If the Seahawks are one game away from making the playoffs, or one game away from a home playoff game, or even (still possible but not as likely) one game away from the number one seed in the NFC playoffs, Sunday’s loss to Washington is the one we’ll be discussing.

Some will default to attacking Blair Walsh for missing three field goals in the Seahawks typically sluggish first half. Sunday was his worst day as a kicker since his other big miss in a Seahawks game a few years back when he played for the Vikings.

Some will wonder about Seattle’s buzzard luck when it comes to the running game. They committed this week to Eddie Lacy and he delivered. 20 yards on six carries and one catch for 14 yards in the first quarter. Lacy was on pace for a big day when he came up with a groin injury that sidelined him for the rest of the afternoon. Russell Wilson (again) led the Seahawks in rushing.

Others will point to the 16 Seattle penalties (just one shy of the club’s all-time record). At least five of those negated positive yardage plays for Seattle and two wiped out first downs effectively stalling drives. On defense, the Hawks had key penalties on two Washington scoring drives. His teams have always been among NFL leaders in penalties and after Sunday’s game, Pete Carroll admitted that on this day, at least, that stat rose up and bit Seattle. Repeatedly.

Some others may take less conventional paths to assessing the blame. It seems crazy to lay too much at Wilson’s feet but Carroll acknowledged (truthfully) the fact that Wilson never really looked like he was in any kind of rhythm (particularly in the first half). His fumble on Seattle’s first offensive play turned out to be a harbinger of a day full of missteps. And while it also seems wrong to go after a defense that was tough most of the day, they needed to be tough for one more drive. (For that matter, Michael Bennett jumping offside on the first play of the game wasn’t exactly a good sign, either.)

Let’s not forget about Seattle’s misfires on their pair of two-point attempts in the fourth quarter. Watching the ball slide through Jimmy Graham’s hands was yet another reminder of the inconsistencies that have plagued him as a Seahawk. As for the return of the goal-line slant pass? Look, even Old Yeller eventually died. Please, for the love of all of us pigskin fans let’s bury that play in the backyard.

This is the game we’ll look back at on New Year’s Eve as we sip our champagne with heads still shaking and fingers still pointing eight weeks after the fact. And that’s if this loss was an outlier, a speed bump on the way to another season in the playoffs. That’s still a possibility. The nature of the NFL makes it a fool’s errand to look too far down the road but the Seahawks could still find themselves playing meaningful games in January.

But if this game is an indicator of where things are heading the Hawks could find themselves on the outside of the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2011. The list of things to fix in the wake of this game is long and ranks something like this in terms of importance:

#1. The penalties. Carroll’s teams have always played right on the edge and that leads to a lot of yellow flags. The Seahawks lead the league in penalties right now. They’ve not only averaged 10 penalties per game this year (two more than any other team) but they’ve averaged 13 penalties per game in their past three games. To be fair the Hawks led the NFL in flags in each of their two Super Bowl seasons under Carroll. Those teams were good enough to overcome Barney Fifing yourself in the foot on a regular basis but this team is not. This is the easiest problem to fix because it comes down to personal accountability and discipline.

#2. The running game. What to do? For starters, you’ve got to hope Duane Brown’s arrival will lead to some improvement. The Seahawks have tried several guys at the running back position since Marshawn Lynch retired, moved to Oakland, and unretired. Lacy showed promise yesterday until he got hurt so it’s probably back to Thomas Rawls this week. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but here’s a chance for Rawls to get back to the emerging star he appeared to be before being waylaid by injuries in 2015 and 2016.

#3. Blair Walsh. Look, kickers miss kicks. Sometimes kickers miss multiple kicks. It’s interesting that the Seahawks will return to the scene of one of the ugliest field goal crimes ever perpetrated on fans for this week’s game. In October of last year, Stephen Hauschka missed a 27-yard field goal in the final seconds of a 6-6 tie versus Arizona. Hauschka’s attempt was only possible because Chris Catanzaro had missed a 24-yard field goal minutes earlier for the Cards. Coincidentally (?) both guys are getting their mail at new addresses in 2017. Such is the life of a kicker. The Hawks will likely stick with Walsh for the time being but he’ll have an incredible amount of pressure on his next few kicks.

This becomes a good week to have a short week. The best thing possible for Seattle is what’s going to happen. Before they know it they’ll be on a plane to Arizona. Like a hack golfer giving himself a mulligan after a lousy drive, they’ll quickly re-tee and see if they can land a shot in the fairway. Half the schedule remains left to play and the Hawks could end up anywhere from 5 to 13 wins. Reducing penalties, mustering something on the ground, making field goals, and never calling another goal-line slant pass will all be keys towards ending up closer to the latter.

More from Mike Gastineau
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