The Seahawks have been a confusing squad all season and Saturday’s home loss to the Cardinals did nothing to answer the questions that have followed them the entire season.
It could have been a rousing, inspiring, even transformational victory, of course. That’s how close the Seahawks were to turning all the red flags, all the warning signs and troubling plays on Saturday at CenturyLink, into a mere footnote.
Then we’d be talking about Russell Wilson’s latest comeback, Doug Baldwin’s career day and the resiliency and heart of a team that looked totally discombobulated for much of the game before roaring back in the fourth quarter.
But in the glaring spotlight of a crushing 34-31 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals, all the Seahawks’ warts and blemishes re-emerged in vivid detail. And with just one more game until it becomes single elimination, when the margin for error disappears and the Seahawks can’t talk any more about searching for solutions and consistency, they remain a conundrum.
Simply put, the Seahawks don’t look like a team poised for a Super Bowl run. That’s subject to change, of course. Teams have been known to rise to the moment, particularly ones with the championship pedigree of Seattle.
“When the playoffs start, that’s your opportunity to be great,’’ Michael Bennett said.
But Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was blunt in his assessment of the Seahawks’ first-half deficiencies, which they ultimately couldn’t overcome despite coming from 13 points down to tie the game with a minute left.
“We got nothing done in the first half,’’ Carroll said. “We just didn’t look like ourselves in the first half. This wasn’t good football. This wasn’t anywhere like we wanted to play.”
It’s troubling that they came out so poorly in a game with so much at stake. Seattle’s final safety net, an undefeated record at home and the accompanying feeling of invincibility, was ripped apart by a going-nowhere Cardinals team. In the process, Seattle’s No. 2 seed was greatly endangered.
That’s not deadly — “It doesn’t matter if you go 8-0 at home if you don’t win the Super Bowl,’’ Bennett said — but if the Seahawks lose the first-round bye that seemed there for the taking, the road to the Super Bowl becomes significantly more difficult.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Before they can entertain championship aspirations, the Seahawks have some deep digging to do.
They must find the consistency on offense that has been so elusive all season, particularly with the ongoing struggles of the offensive line. Those might have reached DEFCON 1 in the first half when Wilson was sacked five times and battered continuously while the running game stalled.
“I know we have it,’’ Wilson said. “It’s not like we have to go find it somewhere else. You don’t have to go find new players or coaches or new things and all that kind of stuff. I think at the end of the day, it comes down to execution. It comes down to us doing right longer than the other team.”
It’s hard to blast a defense that was contending to allow the fewest points in the NFL for a fifth straight year (though that’s probably not going to happen now). But the Seahawks gave up far too many chunk plays (seven over 20 yards) on Saturday, including an 80-yard touchdown pass, a key scoring drive in which Carson Palmer went 75 yards on just four plays immediately after a Seattle TD and a 50-yard march by Arizona into field-goal territory in the final minute to set up Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winner as time expired.
Special teams were a mess for the Seahawks as well, with a blocked field goal, blocked punt and missed extra point.
That’s a lot of fixing for the Seahawks to do — and they have to do it with another key player, Tyler Lockett, joining Earl Thomas on the sideline after a gruesome season-ending leg injury. Thomas’ absence was accentuated on the 80-yard TD pass from Palmer to J.J. Nelson in the second quarter when Nelson slipped behind Thomas’ replacement, Stephen Terrell.
“When you give up a post route, you don’t play very well,’’ Carroll said bluntly of Terrell. “That’s not good enough. … That’s pretty fundamental for us.”
Running back Thomas Rawls, furthermore, missed the entire second half with a bruised shoulder, casting a further shadow on a running game that has struggled through much of the season.
The Seahawks can take comfort in their offensive turnaround in the second half, especially three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, when they were a Stephen Hauschka missed PAT away from taking the lead with a minute to go.
“We have to look in the mirror and realize who we are,’’ Baldwin said.
The problem is, we’re 15 games into the season, and still no one quite knows for sure.