With a one-man band on offense and a portfolio of injuries, the Seahawks, even at 6-3 have reached a pivot point under coach Pete Carroll.
At 6-3, the Seahawks sport the second-best record in the NFC West (Rams are 7-3 after a Sunday loss) and if the playoffs began before the weekend, would own the conference’s sixth and final playoff spot. But for the first time since Russell Wilson became the franchise’s starting quarterback in 2012, a Super Bowl run suddenly seems far-fetched, even though the Seahawks have won five of their past six.
Apart from Wilson’s scrambles, the Seahawks can’t run the ball (22nd out of 32 in yards, 30th in TDs), rank 18th in points per drive and next-to-last in 3-and-outs. Without two or three jaw-droppers a week by Wilson, without Wilson leading the NFC in passing yards (2,503), and without Wilson leading the NFL in fourth-quarter passer rating (135.1 on 12 TDs and one pick), the Seahawks would be nowhere close to earning a playoff seed.
Here’s what anyone needs to know about Seattle’s one-man offensive band: According to NFL research, Wilson has accounted (passed or rushed) for 81.2 percent of the Seahawks’ scrimmage yards this season. That’s the highest percentage by any player in any season in the Super Bowl era. Good luck getting to, or going anywhere in, the playoffs with that.
The Seahawks have to play the remainder of the year without All-Pro CB Richard Sherman, who ruptured his Achilles tendon Nov. 9 in Arizona and had it surgically repaired Tuesday. Sherman is the fifth Week 1 starter sidelined for the season. In addition, LT Duane Brown (ankle) and DT Jarran Reed (hamstring) are game-time decisions, and LB Michael Wilhoite (calf) is out.
Although FS Earl Thomas is probable after recovering from a strained hamstring, the Seahawks face QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and the rest of the Atlanta Falcons Monday with a diminished Legion of Boom, just as they did in January. Then missing Thomas, Seattle was gashed for 338 yards and three TDs by Ryan and were cashiered from the divisional playoffs.
Now they are missing Sherman and SS Kam Chancellor, whose neck stinger will keep him out Monday. While the Seahawks have yet confirm it, credible reports over the weekend say his season is done and his career may be in jeopardy.
The larger question is whether the heyday of the Legion of Boom has passed.
“Yeah, slowly but surely,” Thomas said Friday. “We are getting thin as far as that group. You can’t control that. It’s the nature of the game. It’s a violent game and guys play 100 percent every play, so it happens. But the younger guys, you know it is going to be a culture, because we have set the standard. They see it, the way we practice. Even when we are gone, they are still going to be good.
“We are going to miss Sherm and Kam (Chancellor). You can’t replace those guys. But the good thing about those two guys, they’ve taught the younger guys that are going to be in their spots. I think we are going to be very prepared and I like our chances.”
All of this jarring news comes as the Seahawks confront the most difficult stretch in their schedule. Over the next six weeks, they play three division leaders (9-1 Eagles, 7-3 Jaguars, 7-3 Rams) among five winning teams. Games against the Jaguars and Dallas (5-5) are on the road, and the Cowboys’ star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, will be back after a six-game suspension for the Dec. 24 game.
Given no running game and many injuries, the Seahawks will be hard-pressed to win any of these games, including the Nov. 26 date at 1-9 San Francisco. Recall that the Niners nearly knocked off Seattle in week 2 at CenturyLink Field, losing 12-9, and by the rematch probably will have former Tom Brady understudy Jimmy Garoppolo playing quarterback.
In jeopardy is one of the more remarkable runs in modern NFL history: five consecutive years with at least one playoff win, coinciding with Wilson’s time. Since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, these are the teams with the most consecutive years of winning at least one playoff game:
|1991-96||Cowboys||2 coaches||T. Aikman||6||Won 1992, 1993, 1995|
|2011-16||Patriots||B. Belichick||T. Brady||6||Won ’14, ’16, lost ’11|
|1973-77||Raiders||J. Madden||K. Stabler||5||Won 1976|
|1993-97||Packers||M. Holmgren||B. Favre||5||Won 1996, lost 1997|
|2000-04||Eagles||A. Reid||D. McNabb||5||Lost 2004|
|2003-07||Patriots||B. Belichick||T. Brady||5||Won ’03, ’04, lost ’07|
|2008-12||Ravens||J. Harbaugh||J. Flacco||5||Won 2012|
|2012-16||Seahawks||P. Carroll||R. Wilson||5||Won 2013, lost 2014|
Only seven franchises, including New England twice, have managed similar postseason runs in the past 47 years. By contrast, five franchises, led by Buffalo at 18 years and Cleveland at 15, haven’t appeared in the postseason in at least a decade.
Remarkable about the above compilation is who’s missing, starting with two dynasty teams.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls between 1974-79 and made the playoffs every year from 1972-79. But by failing to win playoff games in 1973 and 1977, the “Steel Curtain” Steelers managed a streak of only three consecutive years – 1974, 1975, 1976 – of posting at least one playoff win.
The Joe Montana-Jerry Rice San Francisco 49ers won four Super Bowls in the 1980s, but lost in the first round of the playoffs three times in that decade, leaving them, like the Steelers, with a streak of three consecutive years – 1988, 1989, 1990 – of posting at least one playoff win.
Even with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback for eight seasons, Green Bay has won playoff games in three consecutive years (2014, 2015, 2016) just once. Peyton Manning spent 17 seasons in the NFL and won playoff games in back-to-back (2003, 2004) years only once. Drew Brees, also a 17-year veteran, hasn’t done two in a row at all.
The Cincinnati Bengals joined the NFL in 1968, two years before the NFL-AFL merger. In all the years since, the Bengals have never won playoff games in consecutive years. The New Orleans Saints have been in the league since 1967, and also have never won playoff games in back-to-back years.
Seattle’s Monday night foe, Atlanta, has been in the NFL since 1966. Not only have the Falcons never won playoff games in consecutive years, they have only one stretch in their 51-year history – 2010-12 – in which they reached the playoffs in consecutive years.
The Detroit Lions also haven’t won playoff games in consecutive years in the post-merger era and in their long history (since 1930) have only done it once, from 1952-54. The Chicago Bears haven’t won in consecutive years since 1984-85 and the New York Giants since 1984-86.
During their five consecutive years, the Seahawks have eight postseason wins. The Cardinals, who have represented Chicago, St. Louis and Arizona, have seven playoff wins — since 1920.
For the past five years, the Seahawks have combined superior performance with good luck and management to win playoff games each season, an astonishing feat rarely seen in the NFL.
But with the foundation of those teams – Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor – either out or ailing, and with the offense entirely dependent on Wilson’s ability to improvise under pressure, this collection of Seahawks may have reached a pivot point in their time under Pete Carroll. Monday night, and the four weeks after, will tell whether their time in the NFL spotlight is over.