BY Art Thiel 12:28AM 12/24/2018

Thiel: Seahawks lost their way, then found it

Doug Baldwin said Richard Sherman was right — the Seahawks had lost their way. But ask the Kansas City Chiefs, after the 38-31 loss Sunday, if that’s still the case.

WR Doug Baldwin didn’t need two hands for this catch. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

After signing with the 49ers following his surprising firing in Seattle, Richard Sherman declared that the Seahawks had “lost their way.” It was a rebuke that stung because, despite a respectable 9-7 record, they did indeed miss the the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, and looked bad on occasion doing it.

Age, injuries, bad drafts, burdensome contracts, social-protest turmoil and internal divisions about Russell Wilson’s accountability collectively seemed to have smothered the ruthlessly creative spark that marked Pete Carroll’s teams. Decline into the great mediocre middle of the NFL seemed imminent.

Fast forward to Sunday night at the Clink, after the Seahawks beat a substantial Kansas City team 38-31 (box) to improve to 9-6 and lock up a berth in the playoffs with a week left in the regular season. A national TV audience was treated to an uproarious spectacle in which the Seahawks offense out-performed the Chiefs attack, while a wounded defense kept precocious QB Patrick Mahomes from flattening the countryside.

So, Doug Baldwin, your pal Sherman missed the mark, right?

No,” he said. “He didn’t miss that one. We did lose our way for a minute.”

After his most impactful game of an injury-filled season he called “hell” — his seven catches for 126 yards included a leaping one-hander that will be part of Seahawks lore for generations — Baldwin acknowledged that the Seahawks had been messed up.

“It was hard to hear the ugly truth about some things sometimes,” he said. “But sometimes the truth is also beautiful. It forces you to look at yourself.”

Baldwin suspected he was in trouble with club management for endorsing Sherman’s hot take — “they’re already mad about me for saying this, already trying to figure out how they’re going to fix this” — but he went on.

“Truth of the matter is, we had some questions we had to answer,” he said. “I think we have done an excellent job as players, coaches and staff, asking ourselves about the hard truths about who we want to be, what our identity is going to be.

“We’ve figured it out. Still work to be done, obviously, but I don’t think (Sherman) was off. I think he was spot on. But I think we answered the call.”

What was the biggest question answered?

“Who was going to step up?” he said. “What guys were going to fill the void of the guys who were missing — Cliff Avril, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman?

“You’ve seen time and time and time again, these guys (the 2018 roster) step up and make plays.”

Argument was not possible. The departed players were eminent talents and personalities, but they were not the only ones capable of helping the Seahawks win. It did, however, take two seasons to re-create the system and the belief that twice put the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

“The most powerful aspect is we know who we are,” Carroll said. “That’s such a powerful element. We know how to do it. I love that’s where we’ve arrived, because it was a long two years of not being able to get back to it.

“We just couldn’t get it right with all the guys that were coming through. We just couldn’t put it together properly.”

As Seahawks followers all know by now, it starts with the running game, and the 210 ground yards Sunday spoke volumes. The Chiefs knew exactly what to expect, and played a lot of cover-zero, dedicating personnel to stop the run. That meant Seahawks receivers were invited to win a lot of one-on-one matchups. They did.

As Baldwin put it, “The defense has to stop the run.”

That’s how Wilson’s modest 18 completions added up to 271 passing yards, which led to a season-high 464 yards of total offense.

It happened behind a mish-mash line. Because of injuries to RT Germain Ifedi and RG D.J. Fluker, George Fant had his first start of the the season at right tackle, and Ethan Pocic had his first start at right guard. Then LG J.R. Sweezy went down with a sprained ankle, so Fluker hobbled in on the right, bouncing Pocic to the left. It all worked.

And only three penalties for 20 yards, 11 and 128 fewer than a week earlier against the 49ers.

More pronounced has been the season-long growth of lesser-knowns stepping into the long shadow of a defense that gave up the fewest points in the NFL for four consecutive seasons. That had never happened before in the NFL, and perhaps will never again. But that doesn’t mean a younger defense can’t be good enough to win a game when the offense can carry its share of the load.

Frank Clark, Bradley McDougald, Jarran Reed, Tedric Thompson, Shaquill Griffin and Dion Jordan, among others, have been on steady upticks, complementing all-world LB Bobby Wagner. Sunday night, the Seahawks gave the potent Chiefs three long touchdown drives, but made them settle three times for field goals and twice ended drives by forcing fumbles.

The youngsters, the newbies and key holdovers have again made the Seahawks a playoff team.

“I don’t know they we’ve played any more complete than we did (tonight),” Carroll said. “It’s a fantastic night for us, and we’re going to the playoffs. There weren’t very many people that thought we would ever have a chance to be in this position. But the guys in the room did.

“They know who we are, and they’re ready to go. It’s thrilling.”

They found their way again. Sherman was right — until he wasn’t.

 


YourThoughts

  • ll9956

    Earlier I predicted that the Hawks didn’t have much of a chance to come away with a victory tonight and I stated that I would love to have to eat my words. So now I’m gobbling like mad and loving it. I pick this to be the Hawks’ best game of the season. To win over a now 11-4 team is an achievement that deserves high praise indeed.

    I wonder if there will be a letdown next week now that they have clinched a playoff birth. I also wonder if PC will rest a bunch of the starters.

    • Ron

      Can the Hawks defeat the Cardinals by resting starters? Would be really nice to win next week to ensure the #5 seed so we match up with the Cowboys. Would be nice if the Vikings-Bears game was an early game rather than at the same time as the Hawks’ game. That way if we knew the Vikings lost, our starters could rest without the consequence of losing and dropping to the 6 seed which would be a trip to Chicago.

      • art thiel

        Yes. Pete said Sunday and Monday there will be no rest beyond normal during the week. But borderline guys regarding health will probably get deference in playing time.

    • art thiel

      As always, Carroll says nothing changes in preparation for AZ. He doesn’t want to change anything. Which doesn’t mean he won’t pull guys once the game outcome seems certain. But this is the first time in Carroll’s tenure that a playoff berth is no longer at stake.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art, and Merry Christmas!
    So this wasn’t all a dream?!
    Having only listened to Raible & Wyman’s broadcast (streamed middle of the night in Norway) it was hard not to snooze from time to time, so I might have missed a few plays. But overall, there were stark differences from any other game this season:
    – No disappointing great plays called back due to penalties
    – Added were Carson-like strives for extra yards, across the board
    – Injury depletions were supplemented by every sub, deep reserve, and the less injured stepping in and manning up – with little perceived fall off

    This team not only believes in each other, they believe in themselves. Across the board. The “way” all starts with Carroll, carried forward by his coaches & key veterans, and has permeated every last one of the players. They all should be so proud.

    GO HAWKS!!!

    • art thiel

      Norway? Skal!

      You win today’s long-distance award. Check your Christmas stocking, I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

      God Yul!

  • Tim

    Where are the Wilson haters now? Looking forward to a deep playoff run led by our future Hall-of Fame qb.

    • art thiel

      One of the haters was thrown out of his game in San Francisco for . . . well, hating.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Extraordinary. How many amazing games have been played on this one field. In a fairly short period of time. The synergy of the fans and the team is not the usual home town edge. It’s something else.

    • art thiel

      Good of you to appreciate the long-term quality and intensity of the Seahawks under Carroll. Helluva run.

    • disqus_awzIQaqe4W I agree

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    What . A . Game !!

    That was one of the best games they’ve played in ages . Really fun to watch them fly around on defense . You weren’t going to stop Patrick Mahomes completely ( that throw back across his body , perfect spiral on a clothesline – wow ! ) , but I thought our banged up secondary had one of their best days . Delano Hill had his best game as a Seahawk , and young Mr. Griffin played well . Coach Carroll said it was the best he’s ever seen Baldwin play . Carson keeps riding roughshod thru defenses , Russell played a great game ( the breakaway run where he broke a couple of tackles – impressive ! ) ; just a really well rounded football game at the perfect time . Even if you weren’t a Seahawk or Chiefs fan , America got treated to one hell of great game last night .

    Merry Christmas everyone – Santa put the playoffs under our tree !

    • art thiel

      Since I have no rooting interest, I can confirm that it was a highly entertaining evening. Health willing, Mahomes is going to be a hoot to follow.

  • wabubba67

    A really nice interview with Baldwin, Art….and quite a compliment to you that he was willing to further risk the ire of management by talking. Baldwin is clearly intelligent, thoughtful, honest, and somewhat measured when he speaks….above all else, he is a team first guy whereas some that were jettisoned seemed to be me first guys (Sherman, Bennett, Thomas, Irvin). Lynch is a whole other enigmatic category.

    So glad to see that Kam continues to be on the sideline (home and away) with this team…it would be easy and understandable for him to be at home and just cash checks every once in awhile.

    KJ Wright makes this defense so much more fundamentally sound when he plays…. particularly against screen passes.

    • art thiel

      Baldwin met the media at the stadium’s interview room. I admit only to asking the the question.

      I think the others were team guys as well, but all of them are businessmen whose circumstances with the employer are unique unto themselves. They have to look out for their own interests in tandem with team, because the team isn’t going to put the player first.

      Fans are almost always on the side or the team because the team endures. Usually.

  • Will Ganschow

    Interesting footnote, Richard Sherman’s contribution to NFL news yesterday.

    • art thiel

      Hard to believe Sherm couldn’t control himself.

  • antirepug3

    Turned out to be a great game but I wasn’t so sure it started that way. On the Chief’s 2nd possession Kelce took off down the field and whoever was covering him stopped to watch the game (a big complaint I have had about pass defense) while Kelce kept on trucking to the end zone with no one but no one within 10 acres of him and I think it surprised Mahomes so much he lofted the ball right over Kelce’s head. The Hawks gave the Chiefs a big gift and the Chiefs dropped it big time. But the Hawks knuckled down and played a mostly tight defense of the type I like and it handled one of the top offenses in the League. GO HAWKS!

    • art thiel

      As I mentioned in the previous answer, that missed opportunity changed the game. Good that you kept track.

    • Kristafarian

      “Kelce kept on trucking to the end zone with no one but no one within 10 acres of him and I think it surprised Mahomes so much he lofted the ball right over Kelce’s head.”

      Yeah, we got Lucky there; and there was no momentum shift; but that’s a pretty great take on it: the ”No WAY!” Surprise! defense.

      He won’t be surprised next time.

  • jafabian

    I wish someone would ask Richard or even Doug to define “lost their way.” I do believe that certain players who were in a position of influence within the team no longer supported the philosophies that had been instituted by the coaches and had been systematically removed from the team the past couple seasons. Agendas and outside influences became more important to them. So what does that say when it’s Sherman who was released and it’s the Seahawks going to the playoffs while the Niners sit at home?

    Moving past that broken record yesterday’s game was a huge team effort. Baldwin, Wilson, Lockett, Carson, Sweezy, Pocic, Wagner, Clark, Jordan, Griffin…just can’t pick one for game MVP. And this team is tough. They suck it up and take the field even if they’re hurt. I saw Sweezy limp off the field holding his hamstring and he was back one play later. This is the only team currently in the playoffs where the opponents they played during the season have a combined winning record. This team reminds me of the 2012 club that was eliminated from the postseason in a close game against the Falcons. They’re that close to becoming a championship contender. If they aren’t already.

    • Stephen Pitell

      Removing Sherman was addition by subtraction. Not because Sherman is not a great CB, he is and there is no denying it, but it is more important to have everyone on the same wavelength than to allow a team to be divided. Lincoln said it best: A house divided cannot stand. Or something like that. No one wants to say it out loud, but I will. Sherman was the biggest reason the Hawks “lost their way.”

      • art thiel

        Sherman’s steady challenge to authority bordered on insubordination. He thought he knew better than Carroll and the coaches.

    • art thiel

      That stat about collective winning record is noteworthy. If you read that somewhere, please pass on the link.

      Sherman’s complaint rests largely with his claim that Wilson wasn’t held to the same account as the rest of the team. Sherman believe Carroll protected him from public criticism. That violated Carroll’s mantra that competition is the only decider for playing time.

      • wabubba67

        Get an artificial boost by playing the Rams twice.

  • Diamond Mask

    I didn’t realize until the game was over that the Chiefs were favored. That’s a jaw dropper for me. Given our home field advantage number is just over 3 points that’s giving the Chiefs a lot of credit. Personally I thought Mahones was going to have to get his head around December at Century Link with the playoffs on the line. No matter how much video you watch you can’t really prepare yourself. In fact I thought it did take him until the 2nd half to get comfortable enough to be effective. If he’d been on the whole game the outcome may have been different. I think we can all give the 12’s a lot of credit for this win.

    • art thiel

      Seahawks have lost quite a few home games the past two seasons, including two to the Rams.

      Mahomes started slowly. But if he had hit a wide open Kelce in the 1Q for a TD, the game would have changed dramatically.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    BTW , any 12’s going to next Sunday’s game vs. Arizona ; please stand and applaud for one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history , and one seriously class act of a man , Mr. Larry Fitzgerald !

    Happy to see him throw that touchdown . Fun stuff .

    • art thiel

      Excellent point. Fitzgerald is one of the great figures in the modern NFL.

  • Stephen Pitell

    Yea, we lost our way for a while, but that was LAST YEAR while we still had many of those players who now are gone. This years’ team took two games to realize they had to run the ball, and Carson has stepped up. Next man up is real, and it is Pete who holds this team together.

    We lost our way when the defense wanted to blame the offense instead of THE TEAM. Football is truly a team sport where the coach is the most important piece, and Pete stands above his peers as the best coach in the NFL.

    • art thiel

      A year ago after the 42-7 loss to the Rams, some said Carroll was done.

  • Tman

    It is a testament to the greatness of the coaching staff and players,.especially Messrs Carroll and Schottenheimer and
    the great Russell Wilson and his supporting cast that a team with the turnover that occurred prior to the season 1 any games it was miraculous and to be feared contender in the playoffs is extraordinary my hat is off to them and I love eating crow I’m like the other gentleman said it’s gobble gobble happily happily happily thank you gentlemen it’s been a great ride good luck in the next few week

    • art thiel

      You and many of us did not see this. At all. Including a lot of smart people in the NFL.

  • Husky73

    That was one of the most entertaining football games that I have watched in a long time. It is interesting to compare and contrast the tear downs between the Mariners and Seahawks and their two GM’s. The Seahawks started their roster rebuild at the end of the 2016 season (and in earnest last spring) and have since won 18 games. Somehow the Seahawks were able to replace aging veterans, gnarly attitudes and difficult contracts with game-ready players, while still keeping their centerpiece (Wilson). Carroll made staff changes, and has done a remarkable job in coaching up young talent. Meanwhile, the Mariners are taking a 2-3 year step back, or “re-imagining.”

    • wabubba67

      Guaranteed contracts don’t help the process in baseball.

    • art thiel

      Two different sets of business rules. The salary cap forces NFL teams to move talented, expensive veterans in favor or younger, cheaper players. Plus, the serious injury rate is far higher than baseball.

  • woofer

    “Lost their way” means having a bunch of big egos in the locker room who found Carroll’s team focus and relentless upbeat enthusiasm beneath their newfound celebrity sophistication. The new kids may not be as good — yet — but they all want to be part of the team and are grateful for the opportunity to play. And, let’s be honest, success may eventually go to their heads as well. But, right now, they are just running free and having fun. Enjoy it while you can. And for Carroll, of course, it’s a moment of sweet redemption.

    • art thiel

      I don’t agree with your definition. Every guy’s situation is unique, and to generalize about “big egos” isn’t accurate. Every good player on every successful team is going to want top dollar and lots of playing time. Nearly inevitably, that will piss off many fans, and the coaches. But players know they may have only one or two shots to make the only big money they’ll earn for the rest of their lives.

  • Kristafarian

    Great game; article; and questions posed to Doug (the Catch) Baldwin.

    Does the next game count?
    ‘Cause they seem to play much better against good teams.

    That was a Fun one, indeed.
    Plus we won!

    [From above: “I don’t know they we’ve played any more complete than we did (tonight),”]

  • Miguel Jonz

    Art, from now on I want you to spell your name with capital letters in the comment section! You’re one of the only sports writers in the country who’s articles I actually look forward to reading. Give yourself some credit man! And have a Happy New Year!