MINNEAPOLIS — Can a team reach a crisis point just three weeks into the NFL season?
Pete Carroll, the man famous for pointing out that games aren’t won in the first, second or third quarter, would no doubt answer with an emphatic “no.” Indeed, with a drawn face and low tone, Carroll said as much on another gloomy Sunday for the Seahawks.
“It’s a really long season, and there’s a lot of games to be played,” he said. “You don’t know how the story is going to be written.”
For the past two weeks, it has been a horror story for the Seahawks that could have been written by Stephen King while in a particularly macabre mood.
It’s true, a 1-2 record with 14 games still to play is not a crisis point. But the Seahawks have indisputably arrived at a moment of reckoning for a team that suddenly looks broken, in myriad ways.
Simply put, their 30-17 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium — which was as raucous and deafening as Lumen Field on a good day — was an unmitigated butt-whipping.
It was a defeat with ominous undertones. More than one defensive player afterward mentioned how the Seahawks were out-schemed en route to giving up 453 yards to the Vikings; that doesn’t reflect well on defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
And the Seahawks once again were bogged down offensively in the second half, getting shut out after intermission. That doesn’t reflect well on offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who so far has gotten the Seahawks rolling early in games but has had trouble sustaining the attack. The Seahawks have yet to score a single point in the third quarter this season, which is partly a function of their defense not getting off the field but also speaks to an inability to adjust.
The Seahawks need to turn things around, immediately, or this season is in danger of slipping away. The aforementioned crisis is lurking right around the corner, because they play in such an unforgiving division. Seattle already is two games behind the unbeaten Rams and Cardinals, with upcoming divisional games against the 49ers and Rams. It could get away from them in a hurry if they don’t figure some things out.
Asked to characterize the locker room mood after the game, defensive end Carlos Dunlap said, “Frustrated. Disappointed. We got out-executed this game and the second half of last game. Nobody loves to see that happen, because we know we have way more ability than we have shown. But we have to go do it.”
The Seahawks somehow made Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins look like vintage Joe Montana. He completed 30 of 38 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings burned the Seahawks numerous times with screens that they were unable to sniff out (a specialty of departed linebacker K.J. Wright). The Seahawks’ pass rush did little to deter Cousins, who simply had to wait for his receivers to get open. And too often, they were shockingly wide open.
It looked like the Seahawks had caught a break when dangerous Dalvin Cook was scratched with an ankle injury. But his replacement, Alexander Mattison, rushed for 112 yards, proving that last week’s problems weren’t just a function of facing Derrick Henry.
As Carroll said, there is a synergy to the struggles of the offense and defense.
“We have to get off the field on defense so the offense can have their shots. It all works together.”
The Seahawks scored on their first three possessions — touchdown, field goal, touchdown — but then screeched to a halt. And when the Seattle defense was victimized by long, methodic drives, the Seahawks not only fell out of rhythm on offense but found themselves playing catchup. That, in turn, threw them further out of sync than Carroll felt it should have.
“It doesn’t feel right to be in a race to score to keep up with the other team, and it kind of felt like it in this game,” he said. “Both teams were moving it, and we kind of got quiet and they didn’t.”
A distinct turning point came when the Seahawks, leading 17-7, seemingly had the Vikings stopped deep in their own territory for a three-and-out after a Rasheem Green sack. But Ugo Amadi was called for holding away from the play, prolonging a drive that resulted in a touchdown.
Carroll acknowledged that the penalty changed the momentum but added that it shouldn’t have.
“They’ve still got 70 yards to go. We had plenty of chances to stop them. … There’s statistics that show when you have a significant penalty in a drive, the scoring opportunity goes way up. But I don’t buy it. We should have been able to get off the field.”
Seattle never scored again, and in fact scarcely moved the ball except in hopeless situations with the clock ticking down at the end of each half. Chris Carson, who had 74 yards rushing after a 30-yard scoring romp early in the second quarter, had just 6 yards more in the game. DK Metcalf, who had caught five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown at the same point, added just one more catch for 19 yards the rest of the way. Quarterback Russell Wilson was unable to produce any second-half magic for the second consecutive week.
Carroll said afterward, when asked about possible personnel changes, “We’ll take a look at everything.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see some tweaks at cornerback, perhaps Sidney Jones finally getting a look. Certainly, the Seahawks need to replicate their defensive turnaround last year when they went from being on pace for one of the worst defenses in NFL history to being one of the best units in the league. The offense has to figure out a way to sustain the crispness of their early-game attack.
“I believe in this football team,” Wilson declared after the game. “I believe in what we can do and what we will do.”
Those are nice words, and the veteran quarterback has earned the right to say them with conviction by virtue of 10 years of proven success. That includes years with similar valleys they pulled out of. The Seahawks had an even worse start in 2018 (0-2) and made the playoffs.
But the margin for error in the rugged NFC West is razor thin, and the Seahawks can’t cut it much closer.
“I feel like we have the opportunity of a lifetime, one of the better ones that I’ve had an opportunity to suit up with,” Dunlap said. “But that doesn’t matter if we don’t go and do it. We can’t keep letting ones like this and the last game slip away when we have an opportunity in front of us. Opportunities don’t come twice, so we’ve got to take advantage of each and every one. They count. They matter.”
For the Seahawks, the moment of reckoning has arrived.