Marshawn Lynch, 29, just missed his second consecutive game, which may signal the beginning of the Seahawk running back’s decline.

Share story

You haven’t wanted to, you don’t enjoy doing so, but come on — you’ve at least thought about it.

At some point in the past few weeks, circumstances have forced you to imagine a Beast Mode-free backfield at CenturyLink Field.

The poll has expired. Thank you for your submissions.

The numbers tell you it’s pending. The injuries suggest it’s imminent. The contract indicates that the countdown has begun.

Defenders in the NFL have long braced themselves when Marshawn Lynch is coming their direction. Now fans have to brace themselves for the moment he goes away.

Regardless of Sunday’s result against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Seahawks’ running back will have compiled 128 rushing yards through the first five games of the season. He gained 3.4 yards per carry in the two games he was healthy, 2.7 yards in the game he was not, and will have missed the past two games due to a hampered hamstring.

Maybe Lynch will return by Week 6 and carry Seattle’s offense through the season the way he has for years. His track record justifies every ounce of the 12s’ unbridled optimism.

But you can’t ignore the man’s age or the pounding he has endured throughout his 116-game career. Lynch can still be very productive for the Seahawks this year, but if we’re talking about his role, Beast Mode may very well become Decreased Mode.

Here is what we know: Lynch is coming off his second-most prolific rushing season, but is also 29 years old. That isn’t quite senior-citizen level for a running back, but at this point, the AARP card is usually in the mail.

LaDainian Tomlinson averaged 5.2 yards at 27, 4.7 at 28, 3.8 at 29 and 3.3 at 30. Shaun Alexander averaged 5.1 yards in his MVP season at 28, but fell to 3.6 the following year.

True, Barry Sanders’ 2,053-yard season came one year before his 30th birthday, but he was a ballerina on that field. Lynch? He’s a battering ram.

It wouldn’t be a shock if No. 24 resumed his old form upon returning, but it shouldn’t be an expectation. Wear-and-tear has afflicted many an NFL superstar, and with running backs, decline tends to take place with top-fuel acceleration.

That said, the Seahawks shouldn’t view a receding Lynch as some kind of obstruction. They should see it as an opportunity.

For the past three seasons, Seattle’s offense has relied on Lynch the way a beehive does its queen. The team’s run game was its identity — a machine that, last year, gained 25 more rushing yards per game than any other team in the NFL.

But at some point — especially given the young talent on the roster — the personality of the offense has to change. And given Lynch’s potential regression, now might be the time to start the makeover.

The Seahawks would owe him $11.5 million next year, so 2015 is probably Lynch’s last season with the club. It makes sense for him to share the scepter with the likes of Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham — two inimitable talents that should be here for years to come.

Crazy as at may seem, unnatural as it may feel, the Seahawks will soon have to be a pass-first team if they plan to stay in the championship hunt. Wilson may already be the face of the franchise, but whether it’s next week or next year, he must become the focal point of the offense, too.

Hawks fans frequently harp on offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for his unimaginative play calling, but the criticism is misguided, given the results. There was no reason for Seattle to be anything but conservative with Lynch in the backfield, and it was 1 yard shy of back-to-back Super Bowl wins as a result.

Now coaches may have to get creative. Now players may have to alter their game. Now the organization may have to be bold enough to toss out the winning formula and adjust to its personnel.

Soon enough, Beast Mode will be gone for good. Doesn’t mean the Hawks can’t still be great.

Numbers taking a fall
Marshawn Lynch has only 38 carries in three games this season. A look at his past five seasons in the NFL:
Season Avg. rushing yards per game Avg. yards per carry
2011 80.2 4.2
2012 99.4 5.0
2013 78.6 4.2
2014 81.6 4.7
2015* 42.7 3.4
* In three games