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.
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.