For a solid month, we watched the Seahawks systematically break down all the doubts, worries and concerns that had tempered initial expectations for the 2022 season. It was a season that had seemed doomed from the beginning — and the pessimism festered during a 2-3 start — until Seattle pulled off an astonishing sleight of hand.
The porous defense was miraculously tightened. Geno Smith flipped the perception of him as a mere quarterback space holder on its ear, instead playing like an All-Pro, if not an MVP. The running game exploded even after the loss of Rashaad Penny with the dynamic emergence of rookie Kenneth Walker III. In the course of a four-game winning streak, the Seahawks seemed to have the momentum, the spirit, the scheme and the unearthed talent to pull off a stunning run to the playoffs.
But after two consecutive losses to teams that on paper the Seahawks should have handled, one 5,000 miles and a continent away in Germany and the other right on their home field Sunday, they now must answer a fundamental question: Could it be that the midseason hot streak was actually a mirage, and the early struggles was their true selves?
The Seahawks’ stretch drive once appeared to be greased for a rousing finish, with five of their final seven games at home, including a slew of (ostensibly) beatable teams. But after losing one of those home games to one of those beatable teams Sunday, a thoroughly disheartening 40-34 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on the heels of their loss to the previously struggling Buccaneers in Germany, all those preconceived notions are on hold.
The defense has reverted to its early form, when it was the worst in the league for a five-game stretch. As safety Quandre Diggs said postgame, speaking quietly but firmly, “I mean I thought we fixed it. … It’s not a lack of effort. I think we just have to figure it out again, and figure out that niche that we had for a while there, and get it fixed fast.”
Can the Seahawks execute another in-season defensive repair job? Their season depends on it. They gave up 576 yards to Vegas, the third-most in franchise history. The Seahawks are getting gashed in the running game, glaringly exposed on Josh Jacobs’ 86-yard run in overtime that sent Seattle to its shocking defeat Sunday.
But that was just the most damaging manifestation of a growing trend. In their past two games the Seahawks have allowed 444 yards on 84 carries (5.2 yards per attempt) that included allowing Tampa Bay, which entering the game as the NFL’s worst-rushing team, to gain 161 yards on 44 carries. Vegas had 283 rushing yards, which is obviously untenable for a contending team.
But the Seahawks also have to jump-start their running attack. In a five-game stretch Walker rushed eight times for 88 yards, 21 for 97, 23 for 167, 18 for 51 and 26 for 109. In his past two he had 10 carries for 17 yards against Tampa Bay and 14 carries for 26 yards against Las Vegas. That’s three out of four games with less than three yards per carry
“I’ve got to clean some stuff up,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I’ve got to make sure that things fit well and precisely. We get out of balance with how much we’re having to throw the football, how much we were playing for the throwing game.”
When the running game is so unproductive, it accentuates mistakes and breakdowns that otherwise could be overcome. Smith played a generally strong game, with a season-high 328 passing yards and a 106.6 quarterback rating. But an interception and fumbled exchange with Walker proved hugely damaging. And the Seahawks had possessions at the end of regulation and early in overtime in which they could have wrapped up the win, but they went nowhere.
That was what was so frustrating about this game for Seattle, a mantra that was repeated throughout the locker room — the game was right there for them to win. Had they avoided just one or two of the mistakes that thwarted them, or executed better on crucial drives, the shortcomings wouldn’t seem quite so daunting.
But now the Seahawks have put themselves in position where a turnaround is imperative. The loss dropped them out of a playoff spot with a road game against the Rams coming up. The Rams have lost five in a row and seven of their past eight, an astonishing fall from grace for the defending Super Bowl champions. But the past two weeks have shown the Seahawks that no game can be assumed to be a sure win.
“We can’t let it be a snowball effect,” Smith said. “Reality is that we’re going from the hunter to the hunted. People want to play us. As a young team we’ve got to learn to be able to go out there and win those games. That’s our next step in the evolution as a really young team. We’ve got to understand the moment, capture the moments, take advantage. I feel like we had plenty of opportunities to go out there and win that game, finish it late, and we just didn’t get it done.”
So now, over the final six games, we find out once and for all who the real Seahawks are — the ones that became the darlings of the football world with their overachievement and recalibrated our expectations, or the ones that have come crashing back down the past two games?
A playoff berth is still well within the realm of possibility, if they can re-repair their defense and rebalance their offense. But otherwise, the descent will continue, and that midseason surge will seem increasingly like a tease that lulled us into thinking the Seahawks were something they are not.
Asked if their struggles were discouraging, defensive lineman Shelby Harris replied, “Discouraging? We play in the NFL. If you get discouraged off of that, you might as well throw your pads in and give up on the season. Stuff is going to happen, teams are going to run the ball on you, teams are going to throw, but it’s about the adjustments you make week in and week out. That’s what makes this team this team. We go out there, we make our adjustments and win out the rest of the year, then it’s a whole different story.”
It’s one the Seahawks have to hurry up and rewrite, or else the feel-good tale that was in progress will wind up as a sob story.