Red Bryant, a 323-pound Southern gentleman when there’s no offensive tackle in his way, appeared ornery last Sunday. After the Seahawks’ overtime victory against Tampa Bay, he ended an interview session mostly about the team’s flaws and shuffled to the shower.
“I’m done,” Bryant said, seemingly upset.
Later, it was revealed that Bryant had suffered a concussion in the game, so like most concerning things in this Seahawks’ season, you have to keep his uncharacteristic media moment in perspective. You have to wonder if it was real or imagined or the symptom of a head injury. But there is evidence that the Seahawks, for the first time in their rise to championship-contender status, are growing tired of being evaluated like a beauty-pageant contestant and not a football team.
For the first time, a team full of previously underrated talent is growing tired of being underappreciated. The Seahawks are 8-1, their best early November record in franchise history, but after consecutive lackluster victories against St. Louis and Tampa Bay, there is speculation that they aren’t as good as their win total.
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Talking heads everywhere are wondering whether to buy or sell them. The Seahawks were called “a flawed contender” in an ESPN.com story last week, as if the other contenders in this parity-driven league don’t have blemishes. It would be fair to call the Seahawks the least impressive contender the last few weeks, but are their issues, particularly in pass protection, greater than the concern about the Denver Broncos’ defense, or the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs’ lack of explosiveness on offense, or the San Francisco 49ers’ need to get more offensive weapons healthy?
There is no such thing as a flawless contender in today’s NFL. But because the Seahawks are a meat-and-potatoes team that plays an old-fashioned style of run the football and play defense, it’s easy to consider their woes more problematic than the Broncos, who employ a video-game offense. Substance versus style is a never-ending bout.
But perhaps being underappreciated is the new underrated for the Seahawks. Perhaps that is what will give this team a new edge. Early in their rise, they played like a group determined to get their respect. Now that they’re respected, life is different. They’re chasing a championship, which is plenty motivating, but where’s the chip on their shoulder? It’s hard to keep that chip when everyone believes in your hype. What about now, though, when good isn’t good enough anymore?
“We’re all right,” safety Earl Thomas said. “We’re 8-1. If people can’t see that, it’s not our problem.”
I asked Thomas why he thinks the Seahawks are OK even though their play has dipped as the season has progressed.
“We’re all right because our problems are correctable,” Thomas said. “Nobody is going out there and dominating us. If anything, we’re controlling the games. We just shoot ourselves in the foot from time to time. It’s still all about us, not the opponent.”
Thomas says “hello” with edge in his voice, and you can sense the irritation in the Seahawks. They’re winning games despite significant injury misfortune this season, but that point is often lost because they’re so deep and talented. Not many teams can keep winning without their two starting offensive tackles and their $67 million new wide receiver, but the Seahawks are so good that they can be judged without them. They don’t need the excuse. But the reality is, they have played most of the season in a holding pattern, at least offensively.
The defense has been much healthier, and the results are impressive: No. 2 in the NFL in total defense. But with the run defense regressing (back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances by St. Louis and Tampa Bay), alarm bells are sounding.
“It’s frustrating that teams are running the ball on us,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We have to correct that. But we should also get credit for adjusting and finding ways to succeed. That speaks volumes about who we are.”
Ask strong safety Kam Chancellor about the need to be more impressive, and he says: “The only thing that would be more impressive is 9-0. And we would be right there if we hadn’t blown a double-figure lead in Indianapolis.”
So close to a perfect record — and so far from perfection. That’s the 2013 Seahawks.
Do they hate the nitpicking? Not really. They know they can play better. They know they must play better to reach their goals. But the more they win, and the more they are scrutinized for not doing so in a stylish manner, the more their chip will grow.
“We’re not done yet,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “We’re not going to stay the same and be happy with it. We’re perfectionists who are only halfway through the season.
“I hope everybody remembers that.”
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.