RENTON — An unfamiliar situation played out inside the Seattle Seahawks headquarters on Monday with packing boxes being filled and memorabilia getting autographed far earlier than any season in recent memory.
For five straight seasons, the Seahawks didn’t just play in January. They won at least one playoff game in each of those seasons.
It made Monday’s site of clearing out lockers at the conclusion of the regular season jarring for those who became accustomed of only knowing playoff football during Seattle’s five straight years in the postseason.
“At the end of the day it’s just disappointing. I think everybody is disappointed,” Seattle tight end Luke Willson said. “The locker room we thought we had was pretty special. But it didn’t work out and I think everyone is at a loss for words.”
Just five Seattle players on the active roster from Sunday’s finale were around the previous time the Seahawks didn’t make the postseason in 2011. At that time, Seattle was an ascending franchise.
The tweaks and changes made by Pete Carroll and John Schneider were starting to take form by the end of the 2011 season, and the drafting of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner before the start of the 2012 season was a catalyst in Seattle’s rise to being a mainstay in the postseason.
So is this 9-7 season and missing the playoffs the start of a backslide and the first step in a major rebuild?
“We want to obviously get better because the trend that we are on right now is not good,” Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said.
Universally the Seahawks believe they’re not that far away from still being among the elite in the NFC. Three of their losses were by a combined eight points and in part were due to kicking woes from Blair Walsh, including his missed 48-yarder in the final minute on Sunday in the 26-24 loss to Arizona.
The 42-7 blowout loss to the division champion Rams was the only game Seattle lost by more than one possession.
Seattle also dealt with injuries to critical pieces unlike any season in the past, most notably Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor being lost for the season because of injuries suffered in Week 9.
“This just feels bad because we’re a quality team and we’ve got experienced guys, we’ve got tons of Pro Bowlers, a great franchise quarterback and so we don’t want to be in this position when you’re team is so talented,” said Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright, one of the few holdovers on that 2011 team. “It feels much, much worse this time because in 2011 we had no business being in the playoffs.”
The occasional struggles on defense this season could be explained in part due to injuries. The offensive inefficiency — especially in the first half of games — was a puzzling issue that clouded Seattle all season.
Russell Wilson led the NFL in touchdown passes with 34, including 19 in the fourth quarter, but in many games was awful in the first half. Wilson’s first-half passer rating was 78.1 — compared to 111.9 in the second half — and in 10 games this season Seattle scored seven or fewer points in the first half.
Much of the blame for the first-half problems has fallen on offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Baldwin launched into an impassioned defense of Bevell on Monday. While not dropping any names, Baldwin made clear the issues with Seattle’s offensive were not on the play caller.
“It’s not play calling. It’s not play calling. We go into a game knowing what the defense is going to give us, situations we’re going to be in. We don’t execute as a team,” Baldwin said.
“Offensively that’s what we’ve seen time and time again is we do not execute the way that we should. That’s on us as players. You guys can blame (Bevell) as much as you want to. Truth is (Bevell) is not the problem. Yeah, (I) probably already said too much.”
Schneider and Carroll will be facing difficult choices moving forward because some of Seattle’s older stars are also among the more expensive on the roster. Seattle was open about possibly trading Sherman last offseason.
Earl Thomas will be going into the final year of his contract. Michael Bennett signed an extension before the end of last season, but is 32 and played most of this season with a foot injury.
“It’s always tough to play with injuries but I had injuries I could play through. You just do what you can when you can,” Bennett said. “Every year you have some kind of injury, nobody in the NFL is 100 percent and it’s those who can play with those injuries who can play the longest.”