BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 01/19/2016

Thiel: After a long run, Seahawks wore down

The Seahawks have had a four-year run of high-intensity playoff games. It seemed Sunday that the emotional toll left them vulnerable to a Carolina team on the ascent.

WR Tyler Lockett caught three passes for 75 yards Sunday and returned three kickoffs and a punt. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Talking to players in the Seahawks locker room in Carolina Sunday after the 31-24 defeat that ended the season, I was struck by how ordinary was the scene. Maybe that’s because the previous two seasons ended at Super Bowls with extreme outcomes: Jubilation over a conquest and shock at the loss of certain victory.

Players Sunday were mostly matter-of-fact. No anger, no weepiness, plenty of disappointment but no lamentations on a grand opportunity squandered. Even a few laughs.

Stunned by a poor start and proud of a credible finish, they knew they were beaten by a better team, and said so.

“You’re not the better team when you lose,” said DE Michael Bennett. “You can’t take anything away from (coach) Ron Rivera, can’t take anything away from Cam Newton.”

The NFC divisional was the 10th postseason game in four years, a remarkable collection of dramas in which they went 7-3. It was also a third consecutive road game, and the first one after the subzero fracas in Minnesota, which seemed to take a toll beyond an ordinary game.

Compared to the ferocity displayed by the Panthers, the Seahawks just didn’t have it at the beginning. That is no slight suggesting a lack of will. They simply played without the usual edge, as if worn down — until they became embarrassed.

It’s true that FS Earl Thomas slipped on the Panthers’ opening play, opening a hole that Jonathan Stewart took for 59 yards. It’s also true the rest of the Panthers’ 40 other rushing plays produced 85 yards.

And it’s true that QB Russell Wilson recovered smartly from his dismal first half to throw three touchdown passes, including one sublime (33 yards to Tyler Lockett) and one ridiculous (a three-yarder to Jermaine Kearse after escaping two sacks while falling down and backed up nearly to the Outer Banks).

So feats were accomplished.

But beyond parsing plays for individual mistakes, and knowing that the Panthers throttled back after their 31-0 lead that helped permit a rally from a proud team, it’s fair to wonder whether the intensity, hyperbole and money that swirls around the NFL’s most celebrated team the past three seasons does exact a toll.

Especially after the most devastating single-play loss in Super Bowl history, a loss so powerful it shot through much of the 2015 season and cost them a chance at the NFC West title.

In his final presser of the season Monday, coach Pete Carroll again said, despite the early season denials, the baggage was considerable.

“I was trying to not bring it to light any more than I had to,” Carroll said. “I was working with it the whole time. This was no surprise. I continue to remind you guys that it’s the same kind of bulk issue that you have to deal with when you win too. You still have problems and concerns that serve as distractions that you have to push aside. We’ve been through it.  We’ve learned from it, and our players know. We were actively working to clear our minds, it just took a while.

“We have to put it behind us. Otherwise, you’re distracted, and your performance comes out less than everything that you have.”

Few players will admit to distractions diminishing performances, but the first half Sunday spoke to a team not fully engaged.

I doubt any of them were thinking during the game about the Minnesota ordeal, much less four years ago when Atlanta knocked out Seattle at the same stage of the postseason. I also doubt they were concentrating sufficiently on the task at hand.

Batteries were low.

WR Doug Baldwin saw a modest silver lining.

“We get (part of) a January off, first time we’ve had a January off in four years,” he said. “It’s an extra amount of time for our bodies to recover, for our mental states to return to normal, to kind of balance out.

“I believe that will give us an edge coming into the off-season program, and getting ready for next year.”

Think about the most recent three playoff games: The NFC Championship against Green Bay started out with the Seahawks trailing 16-0, the Super Bowl had New England ahead  14-7, and a week ago the Vikings started 9-0. The last non cliff-hanger playoff win was 31-17 a year ago against Carolina.

Carroll was asked more specifically about the effect of the hangover, and responded with his caveat that it’s actually been two years in row.

“I’m going to keep saying, ‘after both Super Bowls,’ so you guys realize it’s not just because you lose, it’s when you win too,” he said. “It’s difficult.”

Some of the difficulty manifested Sunday. The fire went unlit.

The good news for the 12s: No hangover next fall.


YourThoughts

  • MrPrimeMinister

    Unfortunately, this is probably an indication that the downward slide has already begun. The Rams game was a big red flag. The Minnesota game sealed it. By the way, Zimmer and the Vikings are going to be around for awhile. To a certain degree, the team under achieved. While we in these parts will all remember this domination phase, there was a window in which they could have won three, most definitely should have won two, but only ended up with the one Super Bowl championship. Plenty of blame to go around, and can’t help but look back a little wistfully about the franchise not taking its place among the dynasties.

    • art thiel

      Hold onto that shovel full of dirt until after the draft.

      • MrPrimeMinister

        The team can go back to being a regular team, the sportswriters can go back to being normal sportswriters–although I don’t know what the heck you’re going to write about for 7 months. We fans can take a deep breath. The ride is over.

        • Tman

          There will be plenty of opportunity for humor when the cactus league opens for business.

        • Bruce McDermott

          Ok, Eeyore. Whatever you say.

          • MrPrimeMinister

            So you’re a stalker, punk?

          • Bruce McDermott

            Not hardly. Just a poster who, unlike you, can’t tell the future of this team with the evident certainty you have.

          • MrPrimeMinister

            So do you always become abusive whenever you encounter those who have a differing opinion from your own? You might want to get that checked out.

          • art thiel

            MrPM, you’re the name caller. Manners, please.

  • Tonic99

    The era of the Hawks enjoying star players on rookie contracts is officially over. The challenge now becomes how to annually stock the team with the best cast of characters to orbit around Russell Wilson. The NFL forces you to be successful this way, just look at the teams left in the playoffs, elite QB with supporting cast. I love our chances going forward, Russell Wilson for MVP will be a major theme for years to come.

    • art thiel

      Biggest asset of 2013 season was depth that occurred because few were getting big money. Hard to do after stars get paid.

      • Tman

        What is it going to take to get rid of the salary cap? A lawsuit? When does the current union contract expire? Would the union insist on removing the salary cap?

        • 1coolguy

          The salary cap worked reasonably well until the Saints foolishly signed Brees to a then unfathomable $20M contract, which then became the standard for QB’S and gave a lift to all other positions. I’m sure that owner immediately became person non grata at the owner meetings.
          The cap creates an even playing field among all teams, eliminating the problem NBA basketball had for so many years, where the wealthy teams won the championships – Celtics & Lakers.

          • art thiel

            The cap is here to stay and the bedrock reason why the game is so popular. Every fan base believes its team is 2-3 moves away.

    • MrPrimeMinister

      There is no way Russ maintains his quickness, his ability to evade, and his penchant for running for that crucial first down. Does anyone see him doing this for 10 years? I am not even talking injury, I am talking general wear and tear on the body.

      • art thiel

        10 years? Jeezus. How about sticking to next September?

  • notaboomer

    carroll to rams. wheels turning already. reunite (cutty) sark with shaq thompson and marcus peters in seatown?

    • art thiel

      Stop the wheels.

      • 1coolguy

        Really. Jeff Fisher will be with the Rams until he doesn’t want to coach any more. Suggesting Pete to the Ram’s is incredibly remote.

  • Kevin Lynch

    The Hawks could get back to the Super Bowl next year. Another Carson Palmer injury and….who knows….you win those two games against Arizona. That’s an easy way to win the division. They need 12 wins during the season, minimum. Rebuild the O line and develop the ground game. C’est possible. You have an elite QB. Very strong defense. Elite coach. Anything is possible.

    • art thiel

      Possible? Always. Probable? That’s the question. I wouldn’t count on opponent injuries. But the window is not closed as long as Wilson stays healthy.

      • MrPrimeMinister

        Couple points on the 49ers. I am putting all my 49er gear in cold storage until the Chip era is over, hopefully after a merciful short couple of years. As to Wilson, he is no Joe Montana. Don’t get me started.

        • Tman

          How do you think Joe Montana would have done with this team since 2012?

          • MrPrimeMinister

            He would have defeated the patriots.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Joe would have spent a whole lot more time on his ass, in that game and others, too.

          • art thiel

            Agreed, Wilson’s speed and quickness allows an O-line to be half-bad. And Montana didn’t have to deal with the free agency of his teammates.

    • MrPrimeMinister

      Perennial playoff contender? Sure why not. But they’ve been passed by other teams.

      • art thiel

        Always happens. The key is not letting happen what happened to 49ers.

  • Drew Griffin

    There is precedence to support a Seattle return to glory next season. Dallas and New England both won consecutive SB’s and a third within 4 years. I am not suggesting Seattle is either of those legendary teams but their championship window is wide open right now and it is not impossible to see them back in the big game after reloading in the off season. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the sky is falling let’s be intelligent fans and realize it is just raining in Seattle.

    • MrPrimeMinister

      They are the 3rd best team in their division, with the bottom team probably rising. Then there are probably 3 other conference teams which are better than they are. That puts them at 5 or 6th best in the CONFERENCE. So, have to disagree there.

      • Bruce McDermott

        Dude, the Rams are repeatedly a 7-9 team. How many times do you have to see this to understand it? Their record against us, no matter how sterling, will not get them into the playoffs, and our record against them, no matter how disappointing, will not keep us out. The Niners are in deep, deep shit right now, and if Kelly does to them what he did to the Eagles, it will only get deeper. Arizona will remain a challenge so long as Palmer keeps healthy. We’re sitting just fine.

        • Henry Hansen

          Kelly took a 4-12 Eagles team to 10-6 in his 1st year. Getting a Top-5 offense out of the likes of Foles and Sanchez is an achievement in itself.

          • art thiel

            I think Kelly and the 49ers will be quickly competitive. Any guy following Harbaugh was doomed. The John Wooden Effect.

        • art thiel

          I share your conclusion, but may deviate from your route to it.

      • dingle

        The Rams are chronic underachievers (or maybe expected achievers? I’m not sure.) Even though they seem to have the ‘Chickens’ number, i don’t think they’re a better team.

        SF rising? Hoo boy. The ghost of Vince Lombardi’s and Bill Walsh’s love child couldn’t have coached the Niners to better than 6-10. They stunk on dry ice. Dumpster fire with a side of brie.

        • art thiel

          Chip Kelly is a whole lot better than Tomsula, and LA is a whole lot better than St. Louis. Things change. Fast.

          • dingle

            True statements. The Niners have a lot of question marks, though, particularly on the offensive line and quarterback. I think it’s a different situation than the one Harbaugh inherited when he arrived; there was a lot of talent on that team.

            I see the Niners as at least a two-year project to respectability, three years to competitive, unless the York family decides to open up the wallet, which doesn’t seem to be their nature. Then again, stranger things have happened. And things do change quickly.

      • art thiel

        That was 2015. The commenter was speaking of the future,

    • art thiel

      Also true. But the Dallas run was pre-free agency. NE is the one example of 3 in 4. It all starts with the QB-coach relationship. Carroll Wilson is as good as Belichick-Brady,

  • Gerald Turner

    Bills 4 straight super bowl appearances, will never happen again. Too much has changed. 2 in a row is outstanding.

    • art thiel

      True. After free agency in 1994, one year’s success begins to peel away talent. Seahawks got two steps away from three in a row, Helluva feat.