By the time the Seahawks kickoff versus Atlanta on Monday Night Football fans may have finally been able to get the bad taste out of their mouths from two games in five days that could come to define the overall success of the 2017 season.
On November 5th, the red-hot Renton Seabirds (winners of four straight) hosted a Washington team that had lost three of four games, had to travel across three time zones for the game and showed up with enough key players injured that a Seattle win seemed a foregone conclusion.
The loss the Seahawks suffered that day brought out a collective palms-up reaction from fans. How could the Seahawks lose a game that was so obviously there’s to win?
The game reminded me of a conversation I had with numerous callers during my years as a sports-talk radio host. I developed a default line I’d use whenever (particularly in the NFL) teams that should lose found a way to win.
“Sometimes in pro football,” I explained, “the guys on the other team decide to show up and try, too.”
Just a few days after the surprising home setback the Seahawks picked up a road win in Arizona but did so at the terrible price of losing Richard Sherman for the rest of the year (and maybe part of next year) after an Achilles injury.
Five days. One win. One loss. One devastating injury.
And now, seven games left that all look to be very tough.
Atlanta comes in off a huge win last week against Dallas. Philadelphia has emerged as the best team in the NFC that isn’t the Los Angeles Rams and the Hawks will see both teams in December. They’ve got road games at Jacksonville and Dallas. In short, this isn’t the best time to see what their defense looks like with Sherman.
All that said, the Seahawks still have three things going for them.
Thing one is Russell Wilson. He continues to find a way to get things done for a Seattle offense that has come to rely on him more than at any time in his career. His improvised scramble and pass to Doug Baldwin in the third quarter of the Arizona game will be talked about for years. From snap to pass launch almost 10 seconds elapsed. Pete Carroll called it “fantastic execution.”
OK. He’s the coach. More than “fantastic execution” I thought the play resembled legendary TV star Bullwinkle J. Moose attempting to pull a rabbit out of his hat. But somehow, someway, it worked.
Wilson gives this team a fighting chance in every game they play. Experienced fans will worry (with good reason) that if the offense continues to revolve almost completely around him running and passing on every play then it seems like only a matter of time until something goes wrong. But for now, continue to hope for fantastic execution.
Thing two is the NFL’s “next man up” philosophy. There’s no way to spin Sherman being out for the year as a positive. But don’t tell that to the men who will step into his job. Maybe it’s Jeremy Lane. Maybe it’s Byron Maxwell. Maybe it’s someone we’re not even thinking about. (This same idea can be applied to the latest bad news regarding Kam Chancellor being out for the year. Admittedly, this kind of thinking can only be stretched so far.)
But the one certain thing about the situation is that it creates an opportunity for someone to fill the void. Whoever ends up as Sherman’s primary replacement won’t spend a lot of time reflecting on the injury that opened this door. That guy will be too busy trying to make the most of the opportunity given.
The Seahawks defense still has a lot of high caliber talent on the field and while it would be silly to argue they are better without Sherman they can survive his loss. To do so, someone else is going to have to step up and make big plays. It will be interesting to see if anyone is up to that task.
Thing three is a bit of a double-edged argument. Since 2011 the Seahawks have historically been a better team in the second half of the season. They’ve gone 36-12 in the final eight games of the year during the past six seasons. During the same years in the first eight games of the year, they’ve been 27-22-1. Pete Carroll’s teams in Seattle traditionally play better in November and December than they do in September and October.
The other side of that argument is that the 36 wins in 48 games all came with Sherman in the lineup. So we’re back to the discussion of having to get things done without him.
The degree of difficulty for the Seahawks making the NFC playoffs has definitely gone up. But the inexplicable loss to Washington and the road win in Arizona that was blunted by Sherman’s injury don’t have to completely define the 2017 Seahawks.
They can begin writing a new narrative against Atlanta.