If you believe it will take 10 wins to reach the playoffs, and if you assume a sweep of the 49ers and Cardinals, it means the Seahawks must win three of five from the Rams, Packers, Panthers, Vikings and Chiefs.
For the Seahawks, it was a loss that stung, for obvious reasons.
They felt the outcome could, and should, have been different if they had cut down on mistakes. And it was punctuated by an excruciating final play when a miracle victory was still in their grasp – until the ball fell out of David Moore’s grasp.
On a micro level, their 25-17 loss to the Chargers on Sunday at CenturyLink Field felt to them like one that got away. Or, more accurately, like one they let get away through misplays, penalties, too many chunk plays allowed, a missed field-goal attempt and a huge pick-six interception thrown by Russell Wilson.
“The game just felt sloppy,” coach Pete Carroll said.
But this is one for which the macro ramifications may well be even more painful. In the calculus for a path to the playoffs by Seattle, a win over the Chargers – at home – seemed to be a crucial element. At the very least, their task just got considerably more difficult.
It’s foolish, of course, to write them off with half the season remaining, especially with three games against NFC bottom-feeders – San Francisco (twice) and Arizona. But surrounding those games is a brutal gauntlet of teams, including the next three in a row – the powerhouse Rams in Los Angeles next week, then Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at home, and then the red-hot Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C.
It sure would have been nice to head into that stretch with a 5-3 record rather than 4-4 – especially with the Vikings and Chiefs still lurking later in the season. Fortunately for Seattle, both those games are at home. But with two losses at CenturyLink Field already this season, on top of four home losses last year, the Clink isn’t quite as impenetrable as it once was.
If you believe it will take 10 wins to reach the playoffs, and even if you assume a sweep of the 49ers and Cardinals, it means the Seahawks would have to win three of five from the Rams, Packers, Panthers, Vikings and Chiefs. In other words, their margin for error just became minuscule.
To their credit, the Seahawks weren’t dwelling on any of that after Sunday’s game. The pain of the loss was too fresh, and besides, the mantra of focusing only on the next game has been drilled into them.
“There’s always hope,” defensive end Frank Clark said. “We can’t control that. You’ve got to keep your head down. You start looking at stuff like the playoffs when you’ve got another eight games in the regular season, that’s when you get ahead of yourself. You got to keep on chopping wood.”
For much of the season, the Seahawks’ story for 2018 has been a feel-good one, built around exceeding expectations, retooling around a new crop of young players, and re-gaining an identity as a team built around its running game and defense.
The challenge now is to make sure that narrative isn’t slowly erased over the course of so many rugged games. In the wake of the loss Sunday, the players expressed strong belief that they have built enough equity and camaraderie to power through.
“There’s no better opportunity to grow than when you go through the fire,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “I think this will be beneficial to us in the long run. Obviously, we want to get the win, but we have some lessons we can learn from this tape, and we’ll get better.”
Wilson put it even more strongly.
“I’m fortunate to have been able to win a lot of football games, and I’ve been to the Super Bowl twice,” he said. “I’ve never been around a team quite like this one in the sense of belief.”
Of course, belief can be tested when it’s not rewarded with victory. Baldwin termed the defeat “heartbreaking,” and Wilson said that if not for a few plays that went awry, “we feel like we’d be celebrating in the locker room right now.”
If that had happened, it would have been a validating win for the Seahawks against a legitimate playoff contender. The Seahawks now must regroup and not just win the games they should, but a few in which they most likely won’t be favored.
“We haven’t had to deal with much adversity over the last few weeks, and we had to deal with some (Sunday),” offensive lineman Duane Brown said. “Guys responded, and we almost had a chance to win at the end. We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, see what we can fix. We still have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We have a lot of football to play this season. No bigger game than next week. Looking forward to it.”
The last time the Seahawks played the Rams, it bordered on a transformational game, even though they suffered a tough 33-31 loss. Even in defeat, they came away convinced they were on the right track – a sense that only grew with convincing victories over the Raiders and Lions. But it’s also true the Seahawks still don’t have a win over a team that’s currently .500 or better.
“I like how much we’ve grown, especially with a lot of the young guys stepping in and playing for us,” veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “I definitely feel our chemistry has grown a lot since the first game. It’s going to be really important to bring that and continue that growth. We need to make plays, we need to start stacking these wins. I feel we have the confidence to do so, we have the team to do so, but we have to execute. If we don’t execute, none of that confidence means anything.”
Clark added that the first half has been about the Seahawks establishing their identity.
“We’re a tough team,” he said. “We’re great when we want to be. We just can’t be lax. Those are the keys. We’re in a good place. We just have to believe in ourselves and believe in each other. I feel when we play for each other, that’s when nobody can stop us. That’s when we have the most fun. We have to keep on having fun and keep on getting better.”
If not, the fun might stop sooner than the Seahawks had planned.