The worst defeat of the Carroll era was more than just being overpowered by the Rams. It was the collision of age, injuries and contracts/egos bringing down a once-great team.
For a town that has had four mayors in one year, we should be a little used to institutional shock. But watching the Seahawks in two weeks go from darlings to derelicts is mind-bending. When such a trajectory happens to meteors, they burn up in the atmosphere.
Maybe we need another explanation from Neil deGrasse Tyson, this one about the physics of spontaneous immolation. The Galilean Dissolution?
If Tyson knows anything, he should text Pete Carroll, because the Seahawks coach has no clue.
“It’s really hard for me to explain to you, because this is something that I haven’t seen us do — play that far off,” said Carroll, genuinely bewildered for perhaps the first time in his Seattle tenure. He had the look of a man expecting a sports car for Christmas and getting a wheelbarrow.
Two weeks ago, the same Seahawks that beat the Philadelphia Eagles, the team with the NFL’s best record, lost Sunday to the Los Angeles Rams 42-7 in a game that was over before breakfast, much less the 34-0 halftime score. Numbers to know: 11 first downs, nine punts, nine penalties.
Seattle’s Super Bowl loss to New England was one bad play. This was a wall-to-wall walloping unique in Carroll’s tenure. Since it all but killed the 8-6 Seahawks’ playoff chances, the bruise on the franchise ego was visible from space.
“That wasn’t anything like it’s been since I got here,” said C Justin Britt, a four-year veteran. In fact, finding a worse Seattle margin of defeat requires going back to 2009, a 48-10 loss at Green Bay in the single lamentable year of coach Jim Mora.
But at least that was at Lambeau Field. This was at the formerly impenetrable fortress of the Clink, where Sunday boos boomed readily across a stadium half empty late in the third quarter in the gray gloom of December.
Is this how it feels in Cleveland?
Many hallmarks of Carroll’s time were shattered — the home field advantage, the great December record, the ability to stay in every game, excellence in games with stakes.
Even the quaint, albeit fanciful, notion of team harmony took a hit. After the game FS Earl Thomas said that LB Bobby Wagner, who missed the week of practice to rest a strained hamstring, was sufficiently limited that he should not have played.
“To be totally honest,” Thomas said, “I think the guys that played, you’ve got to give your hats off to Wags and a couple guys that played. But my personal opinion, I don’t think they should have played.
“We’re used to Bobby going sideline to sideline. I think the backups would have did just as good.”
Wagner responded in a tweet later deleted: “E keep my name out yo mouth. Stop being jealous of other people success. I still hope you keep ballin bro.”
The defeat was sufficiently profound to not only disrupt the natural order of the NFC West — the 10-4 Rams looked every bit the formidable playoff force the Seahawks once were — it could break the Seahawks.
They have to play Christmas Eve in Dallas against a Cowboys teams revived with the return of RB Ezekiel Elliott, then conclude the regular season at home against often gnarly Arizona. But Thomas wasn’t offering up the usual blather about a quick emotional recovery.
“It depends,” he said, “as far as the veteran leadership, we gotta lead these young guys right. We can’t clique off in sections, go this way and go that way. I don’t think (we will), but we’ll see.”
Indeed, we shall see. The issue is whether the leaders and coaching staff can convince themselves and each other that Sunday was a one-off, rather than a seismic event the emotional opposite of the BeastQuake of yore.
Almost certainly the drama was bigger than missed tackles, 19 yards from the lead running back, and a punt-coverage unit that gave up 128 yards in returns. What happened Sunday was the culmination of three debilitating facts of NFL life — age, injuries and huge contracts/egos — simultaneously undercutting a once-great team in a single game.
Wagner should have joined LB K.J. Wright on the sideline, despite a defense that was already missing CB Richard Sherman, SS Kam Chancellor and DE Cliff Avril.
And QB Russell Wilson, the franchise foundation, should have come out of the game late in the third quarter to protect him from the ferocious Rams pass rush (seven sacks, nine hits) and his own dubious play: He had a backward pass for a loss of 23 yards and another called intentional grounding, and because it was thrown from the end zone, was scored as a safety, the Rams’ final points of the game.
But those tough personnel decisions weren’t made. Carroll said a curious thing about Wilson’s continued play in a cause lost well beyond even his remarkable powers to rally.
“You probably all were thinking that too,” he said. “I thought (to myself), why is he still out there? I agree with you. But he wants to keep battling, and I gave him one more series. It’s just who he is.”
That prompts a question: Who is in charge? There is no way that Wilson’s body should be left on the tracks for the freight train of DT Aaron Donald, who had three sacks and four hits on Wilson.
It was another mistake in a year pickled with them. Going back to free agency (Luke Joeckel, Eddie Lacy and Blair Walsh) through the draft of knucklehead DE Malik McDowell and the cut of RB Alex Collins, the Seahawks created a misshapen roster that put them in such a tight financial corner that they had no room under the salary cap for decent emergency hires beyond LT Duane Brown, who cost premium draft picks.
Ask any player if he understands why former all-pro Dwight Freeney is not still on the team, and you will see a back-lit, six-foot question mark and exclamation point above his head.
Injuries contributed much to the Seahawks woes, but not everything. All the misdeeds climaxed into something described well, in a bewildered tone, by Wilson:
“It stayed away from us the whole game.”
That has never happened in the Carroll/Wilson era.
He also said something else worthwhile:
“There’s no panic, by any means.”
That is normally a good thing. But at this moment in Seahawks history, it might worth a try. Many other compensations and workarounds reached their expiration dates Sunday.