Last week I was watching the television sports talk show Pardon the Interruption on ESPN when co-host Michael Wilbon, speaking to fellow co-host Tony Kornheiser, uttered some strong words about the Seattle Seahawks.
Wilbon was responding to former Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman’s comments that the Seahawks have “lost their way,” and Wilbon was in emphatic agreement.
“They’re going to wind up being the 4-12 team Tony, you watch,” Wilbon said. “We’re going to wind up seeing them just fall off a cliff.”
Wilbon and Sherman aren’t alone in their assessment of the Seahawks. Three days later USA Today’s Nate Davis released his predicted records for every NFL team, and he too pegged Seattle at 4-12, describing the Seahawks’ roster as “crumbling.”
These are bold predictions about a team that hasn’t won fewer than nine games in any of the past six seasons. Yet they’re understandable, given Seattle’s gradual downward trajectory since winning the Super Bowl in the 2013 season, a process that seems set to accelerate following the offseason conveyor belt of core players whisked away to the exit doors.
But amid all this negative speculation comes opportunity. This is a chance for the Seahawks to get the chip back on their shoulders.
Seattle opens its training camp this week, with the players reporting to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton on Wednesday and taking the field for practice for the first time Thursday, and they do so in the aftermath of an offseason of upheaval. The Seahawks are coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012, and the organization responded by performing offseason surgery on both the roster and the coaching staff. Stalwarts like Sherman, Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor have departed, while both coordinators have been replaced. And now there’s the spectre of star free safety Earl Thomas not showing up.
All of this could very well result in the doubters being correct. But it could also provide the kick in the pants the Seahawks need.
When Seattle was at its peak it was fueled by the doubters. The Seahawks’ roster was filled by players like Sherman and Russell Wilson who no one expected to succeed in the NFL. When the team began winning games the narrative was that the Seahawks were too lax, the players were too brash. Seattle would never have the discipline needed to be a champion.
But the doubters only served as motivation to the Seahawks. Sherman fed off the negative energy. So did Marshawn Lynch. Doug Baldwin was so incensed by the constant skepticism that he ended up with the nickname “Angry Doug.”
These players and others gave Seattle the attitude that personified their ascension to the top tier of NFL franchises.
But as the Seahawks maintained their greatness, the doubters melted away. Seattle no longer had that voice in its ear chirping a constant stream of criticism. Baldwin got better and better as a player, but was no longer angry. With no one doubting him anymore, Sherman seemed determined to manufacture doubters on his own accord through his sideline antics and confrontations with the press.
So the Seahawks were busy defending their turf, the chip slipped off their shoulders and was lost amongst the ground clutter. The doubt now being expressed about Seattle nationally is a divining rod the Seahawks can use to relocate the chip and get it back in its rightful place.
The question for Seattle is whether the team still has the personalities who can use that negative energy and channel it into raising their play to another level.
For the most part, the players who were renown for being motivated by the doubters are gone. Sherman is in San Francisco, Lynch is in Oakland, Bennett is in Philadelphia, and who knows where Thomas will be. While Wilson has dealt with his share of doubters, his whole mantra is about emphasizing the positive rather than feeding off the negative. And as good as linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are, stewing on criticism isn’t really their personalities.
So while the chip is once again within the Seahawks’ grasp, they may no longer be equipped to get that chip back onto their shoulders and make it stay in place.
Nevertheless, it behooves Seattle to figure it out. Otherwise, the 4-12 doubters may just be proven right.