Reputations aren’t always fair. Sometimes you get smacked with a label early in your career and can do little, if anything, to shake it.
Sometimes you can be punished for your own success — such as consistently losing in the finals, whereas an earlier-round loss would have spared you the scrutiny.
But fair or not, Pete Carroll-coached Seahawks teams are developing a rep for being unable to make a deep playoff run. And it might, just might, be the difference between him making the Hall of Fame or not.
For five straight appearances, the Seahawks have failed to get past the second round of the playoffs. Ever since that infamous interception in the final minute of the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, they has been relatively stagnant in the postseason.
Again, the fact that they’ve been in the postseason every year but one since that defeat is an achievement unto itself. But given their talent levels over the years — with players such as Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright and DK Metcalf to name a few — you’d think they would have been able to re-crack the final four. But they haven’t. In fact, they haven’t gotten all that close.
In January 2016, the Seahawks fell behind 31-0 to the Panthers in their second-round matchup. Yes, they cut the deficit to seven via a Stephen Hauschka field goal with 1:12 to go, but they never stood much of a chance. In January 2017, the Seahawks lost to the Falcons in their second-round matchup, scoring on their opening drive before giving up 36 of the game’s next 49 points.
In January 2019 — after missing the playoffs the previous season — the Seahawks lost to the Cowboys 24-22 in their first-round matchup. In that one, Carroll faced criticism for his failure to abandon the run despite Dallas holding Seattle to 73 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Last January, the Seahawks lost to the Packers 28-23 in their second-round matchup. This was the closest they have come to reaching the conference championship game since that Super Bowl loss, but they were still outplayed. Green Bay led 28-10 at one point in the second half, and a last-ditch effort to take the lead fell apart when the Seahawks were forced to punt on fourth-and-11 with 2:41 to go.
It’s hard to characterize as any of the aforementioned losses as choke jobs considering all were on the road. But the Seahawks did look ill-prepared against the Panthers and the Falcons, and had a self-stifling offensive game plan vs. the Cowboys.
Then, of course, there was last Saturday’s 30-20 loss to the sixth-seeded Rams, which may have been the Seahawks’ most underwhelming playoff game since Carroll took over. Wilson was off and the Rams’ pass rush overwhelmed the Seahawks’ offensive line, but there was also a crucial clock mismanagement in the fourth quarter that led to a false start and a Seahawks punt. That falls on the coach.
Let’s be clear: Pete Carroll is not Marty Schottenheimer, the wildly successful regular-season coach who never reached the Super Bowl in any of his 13th playoff appearances. He is a Super Bowl champ, a Super Bowl runner-up and a threat to go back again.
But if we’re talking about playoff reputations — one that started with that blunder vs. New England — Carroll is gaining one.
It’s possible that Carroll reaches the Hall of Fame regardless of future postseason success. In addition to that Lombardi Trophy, he has five division titles and eight 11-win seasons. Only New England’s Bill Belichick has been more consistent in the regular season among active coaches, and with Tom Brady gone, he may cede that title to Carroll.
But make no mistake — these early-round losses are adding up for Carroll. And fair or not, they are subtracting from his status.