The already fragile Seahawks were out of sorts Sunday in Tennessee, with 11 penalties and assorted errors. The Saturday meeting to discuss a response to Trump’s insults didn’t help.
Can’t run. Can’t stop the run.
Who thought that would describe a Pete Carroll-coached Seahawks team?
Tennessee’s 33-27 triumph in stifling Southern humidity Sunday was more complicated than that simple reduction, especially on a day that was a benchmark in the history of the intersection of American sports and politics.
But there’s no getting around the 195 yards pounded down Seahawks’ throats by the Titans’ quality offensive line and power backs Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry, nor the paltry 43 yards in 15 carries by Seahawks running backs.
At times the Titans looked a whole lot like the 2013 Seahawks. And the Seahawks looked a whole lot like their 2011 version, pre-Russell Wilson, pre-Marshawn Lynch, pre-success.
“I was really surprised to see uncharacteristic big plays (against us),” said coach Pete Carroll. “We had some last week and a few today. We gotta get right. We’re not there yet.
“Hopefully, we have enough time to get going. We gotta show we’re connected. Right now we’re kind of spotty.”
Part of the discombobulation was the heat and humidity of one of the warmest kickoff temperature (88 degrees) in the Titans’ history in Nashville. But perhaps a larger part was the distractions caused by a flurry of meetings that took place Saturday in the wake of President Trump’s reckless denigration of the anthem protesters among NFL players.
The Seahawks are unlikely to concede either point, but their play — 11 called penalties plus several others declined, numerous missed tackles, early wildness from QB Russell Wilson, whiffs by O-linemen and the bizarre episode in which the Seahawks’ most volatile player, CB Richard Sherman, drew three penalties on one play — suggested otherwise.
In a pregame radio interview with ESPN 710, general manager John Schneider described a series of unplanned meetings in the team hotel to devise a response to Trump as long and emotional.
“It’s been an interesting 48 hours here since we landed,” he said, referring to “trying to keep 53, really 70-some players, together, right?
“Pete had a long meeting with some guys, and we had a long team meeting last night that was pretty emotional.”
After the game, Sherman, Wilson and teammates Doug Baldwin and Michael Bennett described intense feelings in the Saturday meetings that discussed a variety of potential public responses among players.
Apparently, it became clear some did not want to kneel or sit during the anthem. So they devised an alternative all could accept — staying in the locker room during the anthem as a show of unity that put no pressure on individuals to do something counter to their beliefs.
“We didn’t want to put anyone in the position of being uncomfortable,” said Bennett, a leading national voice among African American players seeking awareness of, and action on, racial injustice and inequality.
“We wanted to do our best to not ostracize our guys,’’ Sherman said. “Allow them to feel welcomed and not really make them uncomfortable. That’s the worst thing you could do is put your teammate in an uncomfortable position.
“If the whole team doesn’t come out (for the anthem), then it’s easy for him to defend himself and say, ‘Hey, it’s a team decision. I just did what the team did.’ You’re a good teammate. Perfect. Fine.’’
Shortly before kickoff, Seahawks players released a statement. A similar one was issued by the Titans, who also remained in the locker room for the anthem.
“As a team, we have decided we will not participate in the national anthem. We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms. We remain committed in continuing to work towards equality and justice for all.
Respectfully, the players of the Seattle Seahawks.”
While it was likely that 31 other teams were going through some similar meetings and decisions, the Seahawks are thought leaders around the NFL because several of their best players are unabashedly outspoken and take their outside responsibilities seriously. It is hardly a stretch to imagine that the response to Trump created more distraction for this particular team.
“I’d be remiss to say it didn’t feel different,” said Baldwin, who had a career-high 10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown, but strained a groin muscle and sat out the final drive. “It’s hard to separate what we do in our daily lives from the game.
“Yes, this loss feels different. I think it was an opportunity to, again, unify.”
Instead of unity, the sides on the field diverged.
The offense, which punted after its first six possessions, gained some coherence for the first time this season. They had touchdown drives on either side of halftime, and scored again in the fourth quarter as the Titans defense sagged in the heat and could not catch up to Wilson. He threw for the second-highest total of his career with 373 yards on 29 of 49 passing.
In contrast, the defense faded. The Titans, who did not get a first down until the second quarter and that was on a penalty, scored on seven of their last eight possessions. The Seahawks defense gave up the most rushing yards since the Rams had 200 in 2013.
Sherman, one of the leaders, was in poor form.
In the second quarter of a scoreless game, Sherman’s tri-penalty eruption not only cost 19 yards, it nullified an interception by SS Kam Chancellor. Battling star WR Eric Decker, Sherman was called for pass interference, holding and unsportsmanlike conduct for removing his helmet while on the field.
During his intense argument with officials, teammates had to pull him away and tried to calm him down. The revived drive produced Tennessee’s first field goal of the game.
Carroll was notably irked.
“It was energy we didn’t need to be expending, that’s for sure,” he said. “Sherman was trying to get an explanation for the call and he got too hot. He made a mistake, we got a penalty (and lost) field position.
“We run pretty hot, but on a day that was challenging day for both teams with the temperature, he didn’t need to waste energy. We might have done some of that.”
In the third quarter, Sherman picked up his fourth penalty for a late hit as QB Marcus Mariota was going out of bounds after being grabbed by Bobby Wagner. Sherman said Mariota told him “good hit,” but numerous Titans players disagreed, surrounding Sherman in a large confrontation that resulted in two penalties for each side, nullifying punishments.
The source of Sherman’s unusually contentious play can only be speculated, but the Seahawks’ irregular apoplexy will likely mark this day in club chronicles as “the Trump game.”
That doesn’t mean their football problems, which are numerous, are going away when Trump fixes his eyes on another industry to pointlessly disrupt.