BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 09/10/2020

Thiel: Falcons on road a tough lift for Seahawks

First games often are clumsy, but Seahawks have to fly cross-country in a pandemic to play an improved Falcons team that nearly stunned them in ’19. And don’t get cooties.

After hanging on to win 27-24 in Atlanta the past season, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll greeted his former assistant, Falcons coach Dan Quinn. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

First games in any pro football season often look like two clumsy guys taking an upright piano down five flights of stairs. They can plot how it should go, but once it gets going, holy crap.

Remember the Seahawks opener a year ago? At home and heavily favored over a Cincinnati Bengals team operating under a new coaching staff after a 4-12 season, Seattle won 21-20, saved only by recovering a late fumble.

“It wasn’t the game I hoped it would be,” said coach Pete Carroll, understating by a couple of octaves.

Which brings us to the Seahawks’ first game in the NFL’s oddest season — Sunday and a trip to Atlanta, one of COVID-19’s trendy hotspots. Not only is it their first road trip of the pandemic era, it’s first time they will tackle, and be tackled, since they walked off the frozen tundra at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field in mid-January.

In pro team sports, nine months between games is a long time. It’s even a long time between plane rides.

That it is happening at all is an audacious feat. That it is happening for the Seahawks on the road a long way away, in a state that wears a national dunce cap for its handling of the virus, against a good team, is not so salutary.

“It’s going to be a much different experience than we normally see on the road,” Carroll said Wednesday on a Zoom conference. “It’s going to be interesting. I’m not worried about the game part of it, it’s more like the transitions between stuff.”

Getting to and from planes, hotel and stadium are the points of max vulnerability for sports teams that choose to play outside a bubble. All NFL teams have reduced personnel that travel — “we’re way down,” he said — and so far have been diligent in the safety protocols of training camp.

The league and the players union reported that from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, 17,519 tests were administered to 2,641 players, producing a single new confirmed positive test. Four positive tests came from the Aug. 21 week. Six players are on the reserve/COVID-19 list, none of them Seahawks.

Those are hygiene feats of the first order.

“Our system and the guys’ compliance to it has been all but flawless,” Carroll said. “We know that we can create a bubble in our format. We know that our guys have set up effectively the structures of the way they’re living when they’re not here in the building. That’s really important.

“There’s always issues that can arise, so we have command of this.”

Besides dancing around the virus, the players danced around each other. The absence of the exhibition season meant no full-contact game action. In their their mock games, the Seahawks were forbidden from tackling to the ground.

“There’s always concern about going into the first game because you see stuff in preseason and you kind of don’t trust it, because you don’t ever know,” Carroll said. “This is just amplifying that . . . I don’t know what coach and what level isn’t
concerned about tackling on the first game. Are the guys going to hit them or are they not? It’s a concern.

“We try to practice at such a good tempo, and so much ones against ones during this whole camp, that our guys are used to the best speed that we can generate. Hopefully, we’ll be fine.”

Despite the obstacles and limitations due to a public-health burden unique in his experience, Carroll for 2020 saw, per usual, only raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

I’m very pleased with where we are right now,” he said. “I’m really excited about this team going out and finally getting a chance to show it. It really wouldn’t matter who we were playing or where we’re playing. We’ve just got to go play a football game and see what we need to adjust.”

Adjustments that include his own, at least from the 2019 matchup with the Falcons. The Seahawks led 24-0 at halftime before taking a massive siesta. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, the Seahawks’ former defensive coordinator, somehow coaxed 382 second-half yards out of seldom-used backup QB Matt Schaub before falling short and losing, 27-24.

Asked to explain what happened, Carroll said, “We haven’t been ahead 24-0 very many games since we’ve been around, and we might have not handled that very well. But they played really well, and we were scrambling to get a win.

“The truth of what happened is we got rolled up pretty good in the third quarter and they got rolling. I have to do a better job commanding the mentality coming out of that half. I don’t think it’s about (the Seahawks defense), I think it’s about me.

“I talk to myself quite regularly in that regard.”

Gallant of Carroll to fall on his sword on behalf of his maligned defense. But turning Schaub into Joe Montana, even for a half, requires many collaborators.

Winners of six of their final eight games, the Falcons added former Rams star RB Todd Gurley to an offense that in 2019 ranked fifth, averaging 379 yards a game. They welcome back a healthy star QB, Matt Ryan.

The Seahawks been given a tough opening draw that could well have Carroll talking to himself again.

Once more gallant, he declined to lament.

“Half the league is going on the road,” he said. “We have to be flexible about that. There’s no use complaining about it.”

Every piano-moving venture require a first flight.

 


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YourThoughts

  • Husky73

    I don’t know what to expect. I won’t be surprised if the Seahawks win by 20 or lose by 20.

    • Chris Alexander

      ESPN ran the 2020 season through a simulator (all 269 games) and the computer picked the Falcons by 20 this weekend, 26-6.

      Now, the very idea of Seattle only scoring 6 points would normally have me throwing out that result as completely unfathomable, but …. I’d also have to throw out the computer’s prediction that Seattle will beat the Niners in Week 8 by a 37-0 score and THAT would take away any pain caused by a loss in Atlanta this weekend.

      Link: https://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/29548083/simulating-entire-2020-nfl-season-scores-storylines-all-269-games-plus-super-bowl-champion

      • art thiel

        Beware the simulator. It also predicted the Seahawks beating the Eagles 17-9, the same score for a third time in a row.

        Clickbait. And we clicked.

  • Stephen Pitell

    The games will be sloppy, that’s for sure. Unavoidable. I am stoked. Let the games begin! I even watched soccer once I was so starved for sports.

    • Husky73

      You get a pass if the Sounders were playing….Otherwise, SMH…..

    • 1coolguy

      I almost watched an M’s game but my life wasn’t THAT desperate for filler.

      • art thiel

        C’mon. You weren’t going to break away from Hannity.

        • 1coolguy

          My Hannity, your Colbert, haha.
          RE: Baseball, what’s the latest on The King? Is he playing this year or taking his money again and sitting out?

    • art thiel

      A profile in courage.

  • Charlie W

    Two clumsy guys, piano, stairs, – holy crap, what an image! Thanks as always, Art. You’re a helluva writer.

    • art thiel

      I bow in your direction, Charlie.

  • jafabian

    A must-win for the Blue Wave if they want to keep pace with the Saints. (I’m practicing for the season since that’s going to be stated all while the season is going on.)Not to mention the SF Sherman’s. Looking forward to seeing the Wheedle, Ivar Haglund and Bernie Lomax among the 12s.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for the warning with your two forecasts.

      Bernie Lomax?

      • jafabian

        The dead guy in Weekend At Bernie’s played to excellence by Terry Kiser. His likeness was first spotted at a Royals game and I believe other venues since then.

  • Alan Harrison

    It reallllllllllly doesn’t feel like a football week. Maybe because of the tsimmes going on with Bob Woodward (Quick question: why would anyone, especially Tangerine Mussolini, do a set of interviews on the record with Bob “All the President’s Men” Woodward? The arrogance boggles the mind.). Maybe because it’s just too weird out there. Maybe because there are so many reasons not to be thinking about football. Maybe more people like me are engaging in dubious, potentially fruitless job searches during a pandemic and subsequent recession. And maybe that’s a good enough reason to take a look. They may play 3 games, 6 games, or a whole season (or not), but I suppose it’s a break from the White House freak show and the daily insult of the time.

    • woofer

      My feelings are similar. So far it’s been hard to take the watery flavor of Sports Lite seriously. The Mariners, of course, are hard to take seriously under any circumstances. Athletic contests flourished for decades as community social events. Professional leagues were created, resulting in bigger crowds and better quality of play. One day somebody had the bright idea to add a radio broadcast to the mix, then television entered the picture and its big money took over. Show biz arrived.

      Now the tail is completely wagging the dog. Sports events in the pandemic era are pure media confections, with fake crowd noise and fake cutouts of fans. They use the existing ballparks and arenas but could as easily perform in large studios. It just ain’t the same. Maybe the prospect of a full NFL schedule will make it all seem more genuine and improve the appeal. Let’s see what happens.

      • art thiel

        You’ve identified the wave of the future: Studio sports. The notion has been around since the first big TV contacts in the 80s. Now, we have a look and feel. You’re right about the media confection.

        But if gathering in large crowds is no longer acceptable, people may find themselves quite happy to stay at home with a 70 inch screen on the game and another screen loaded with friends on Zoom. The emergency is forcing a reckoning.

    • art thiel

      For those of us who enjoy civic engagement, the football season seems equal parts intrusion and gratification. We want it, but don’t quite feel it.

  • Chris Alexander

    I watched the Chiefs v Texans games on Thursday night, in part, to see how the quality of play compared to what I would expect in Week 1 of a “normal” season and, honestly, it wasn’t much different. The fan noise was weird – KC had limited fans in the stands and no piped-in sound but the on-field action and execution was about what I hoped it would be. It actually left me feeling pretty good about the “quality” of play for Seattle this weekend.

    Which is really just a long-winded way of saying that the game SHOULD come down to which team executes their game plan / enforces their will on the other team better.

    Coming back to the other thing I pointed out – the crowd noise / lack thereof …. that’s going to negate a lot of the home field advantage league-wide. The NFL has long wanted “parity”; who woulda thought that a pandemic might actually give it to them.

    • art thiel

      Extremely small sample sample size. And half the teams played poorly.

  • CHAZHX

    Arts wife, also a ‘tough lift’