Pete Carroll’s postgame message to his team Sunday in Los Angeles after one of the Seahawks’ most troubling losses of the season was, fully on brand, centered on belief.
As he related it to the media, Carroll told his players, “I believe that we’re going to start making the plays in the games, early on, that we’ve been making in practice. … And I believe that we’re going to take care of the football. … I believe these guys will hang together, and they’re going to keep working because they’re great people. … I really believe we have plenty of time to get this thing going.”
Yet this Seahawks team has been systematically shedding the justification for believing in its championship pedigree, beyond pure faith. For the second straight week, Carroll said he didn’t recognize elements of his team, yet they are becoming painfully recurrent.
A historically bad defense has been a season-long albatross for Seattle, yet it wasn’t the defense for which the preponderance of blame hung for the Seahawks’ third loss in four games. From a 5-0 start, they now sit with the No. 7 seed in the NFC, with another tough game against Arizona looming in just four days.
On Sunday, two more elements emerged as culprits in a 23-16 loss to the Rams that sent them tumbling to a three-way tie for first place in the NFC West, a division that does not suit playing standings catch-up. And they came from areas that have been the cornerstone of their success not just this year, but this era.
One was Russell Wilson, the very epitome of a standard that has almost always been beyond reproach. It should go without saying that the Seahawks don’t achieve the victories they have so far this year — five straight to start the year — without Wilson’s brilliance; nor do they achieve what they still hope to without his reversion to the MVP form that marked the early going. To my mind, Wilson remains the least of their worries.
Yet Sunday’s performance by Wilson was so far out of character as to be startling. He threw two interceptions, one of them in the end zone on a particularly galling decision from the Rams 22 that caused Carroll, the quarterback’s staunchest defender, to say, “He does miraculous things often. That wasn’t one of them.”
The alarming part is that it continued a trend of uncharacteristic turnovers for Wilson, whose care with the ball has been a hallmark from virtually Day 1. He threw another, backbreaking interception in the fourth quarter — right after taking a delay-of-game penalty that turned a third-and-four into third-and-nine. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Wilson abetted another critical turnover when he couldn’t field a low snap by fill-in center Kyle Fuller, and the Rams pounced on the muffed ball.
That’s 10 official turnovers credited to Wilson in the past four games. He now has 10 interceptions for the season through nine games. In his career, he’s never had more than 11 in a full season.
Seahawks’ defensive back Jamal Adams said he told Wilson right after the game, “You’re the Chosen One. I don’t want anyone else as a quarterback.”
Nor should anyone else. But something is going on here. Maybe Wilson’s trying to do too much, unwisely forcing the issue in an attempt to spark a struggling team (he says that’s not the case). Maybe the loss of running back Chris Carson for the third straight game has thrown the rhythm of the offense out of whack (very plausible).
Or maybe Wilson is just in a slump, which happens even to superstars. The former minor-league infielder used a baseball analogy to characterize his plight: “Sometimes you go up to the plate and you don’t have your way. That’s what it was today.”
And that was right after Wilson said, “I know who I am. I know that I’m a great football player. I know I’ve been great. I know I will be great. And I’ll continue to be great. I know there are better days ahead.”
It all might have been a moot point if not for a decision by Carroll on Seattle’s first possession of the second half, trailing 17-13, to punt on fourth-and-inches from its own 42.
Afterward, Carroll staunchly defended the call, even knowing what (predictably) resulted. Starting from their own 12, the Rams marched methodically down the field to a touchdown, converting a third-and-13 en route, as teams have been wont to do all year.
Carroll’s reasoning was that it was too early, and the score too close, to risk a fourth-down stop by the Rams that would have left them in prime scoring territory. That would have been tantamount to a turnover, Carroll said, and if the Rams went down and scored after such an exchange, “Then the game feels like it’s lopsided and you’re way behind it.”
Yet what it came down to was this: Carroll trusted his defense, which had barely stopped anyone all year, and which is on the way to giving up more yards than any team in NFL history, to stop the Rams, instead of trusting his offense, which ranks first in the NFL, to move the ball eight inches.
It turned out to be the turning point of the game. The lopsided feeling Carroll had feared occurred anyway. The Seattle defense played stout the rest of the game, but the damage was done. It was a situation that begged for Carroll to go against his coaching instincts and take into consideration what he — and the rest of us — have seen all year. Not to mention the analytics that unanimously favor going for it there.
“You know the players would love to go for it,’’ he said. “I know that. And I would love to go for it too, so I have to work against my nature to go ahead and kick that ball right there. But, I would probably do it same way again.”
No doubt, the absence of Carson played a role in Carroll’s decision. And it can be construed as admirable — and certainly characteristic — that his faith in the Seahawks defense remains steadfast even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
But there’s belief, and there’s reality. And on Sunday, reality bit Carroll and the Seahawks.