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He Said / She’s Depressed: Seattle Seahawks Season Wrap-Up

Saturday, January 23, 2016

 

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath review the Divisional playoff matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (11–7) and the Carolina Panthers (16–1).

Rogers: “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast.” The Carolina Panthers must have had the Eagles’ Hotel California playing in the background during halftime of the Divisional playoff matchup. Despite handily routing the Seahawks in the worst first half of football in the Pete Carroll era, the Panthers hung loosely for the next 30 game minutes as Seattle fought their way back into the game. It was a lop-sided hammering-for-the-ages turned into an almost-epic-comeback for the ages.

But it was for naught.

Despite 24 unanswered second-half points, the Seahawks proved their own mortality and could not overcome their 31-point first-half deficit. The Seahawks are the dynasty that wasn’t.

But enough doom and gloom. Even as I watched the game unfold and it became clear (then less clear) then certain the Seahawks would not be advancing in the playoffs, I pondered what the 2016 Seahawks will be like. The rest of the league is not going to like them: Russell Wilson is still peaking, the previously maligned receiving corps of Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett has grown formidable, and last but not least, a replacement for Beast Mode has been corralled in Thomas Rawls. Plus, they get a tight end back from injury.

Jess, is that enough good news to lift your college navy blue and action green spirits?

Ridpath: Sunday’s first half was so cringe worthy that I actually had to step away from the TV at times. It takes some seriously bad football to make me turn away from a game when there are so few left before the off-season drought. Sigh.…

But in classic Seahawks fashion, the blue birds mustered an electrifying rally that had the 12 in me grinning by the end of the game. Because the future looks bright, indeed. In a game that felt like a 60-minute replay of Seattle’s 2015 season, I fell in love with the Seahawks all over again — watching them fight their way back after being repeatedly punched in the mouth. Their guts, grit, and never-say-die mentality are a clear reminder that they’ll be back — and possibly better than ever.

Unlike several other teams in the league (the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, to name a couple), Seattle is heading into the offseason knowing they have much of their core structure intact. Pete Carroll is expressing a desire to “keep these guys together.” And by “these guys,” I assume he means all the key players minus Marshawn Lynch, whose exit seems almost certain. Without Lynch’s $9 million base salary in 2016, Carroll will have more cap room to make that wish come true.

He’ll need it. Wilson, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and Earl Thomas each have hefty long-term contracts, while Kearse, Bruce Irvin, and Russell Okung are all heading into free agency. Losing any one of those three guys leaves a gaping hole that would likely take big money to fill. Seattle’s better option is to do what it takes to keep them.

Julian, two years in a row the Seahawks fell just short of capturing a second NFL championship. What was different this season compared to their triumphant 2013 campaign?

Rogers: If you go by perception, the biggest change is that the defense took a step back — particularly the Legion of Boom. However, the Seahawks’ defense finished the regular season as the No. 1-ranked rushing defense, the second-ranked passing defense and the second-ranked overall (Denver Broncos) defense. How far did they fall, exactly?

For comparison, they were the first-ranked defense overall in 2013 and 2014, but ranked seventh and third in rush defense respectively. Really, it’s tough to say the defense is crumbling just yet.

In 2015, the Seahawks’ offense was transformed — or so it seemed. With the frequently unavailable Lynch not able to generate more than 3.8 yards-per-carry, the offense took flight under Wilson’s growing passing prowess. What was once an offense mired at 26th or 27th in passing (2013, 2014) now crept up to 20th. That’s better, but still in the land of mediocre.

However, the Seahawks’ season was one of two halves when it comes to offense. Since their week nine bye, the Seahawks averaged well over 30 points a game with the exception of their Dec. 27 clunker against the (formerly) St. Louis Rams at home. If you want to generously just grade the Seahawks on the second half of the season, you witnessed one of the top, high-flying aerial acts of the 2015 season. For the whole year, Wilson led the league in passer rating (full-time starters only) with 110.1. The no-longer-angry Doug Baldwin finished the year with career highs in targets (103), receptions (78) and touchdowns (14 — tied for league high).

Over the second half of the season, the Seahawks’ offense showed a never-seen-before spark through the air. Full-season, the improvement seems incremental, but if you focus on November and December (when the top dogs separate from the pack) the Seahawks were a different offense. Except …

… at running back. In a masterstroke of player acquisition, the Seahawks found themselves in the very unique position of replacing the franchise’s best running back (Lynch) with a player (Rawls) that produced at an even higher level than the legend he was replacing. Until he got hurt, that is. Before that, Rawls, the undrafted rookie pet project of Pete Carroll, delivered a scorching debut season with 830 rushing yards and 5.6 yards per carry in just seven games. That they were able to make do with the other players they grabbed off the scrap heap (DuJuan Harris, Bryce Brown, Christine Michael) and still rank third in the NFL in rushing is impressive.

If Rawls comes anywhere close to that kind of production next year, the 12s won’t even remember Lynch’s jersey number by mid-season 2016. So what’s different this year? The changes aren’t really that radical. The Seahawks are still a top running threat (thanks also in no small part to Wilson’s 553 yards) and now have a legitimately dangerous passing offense.

Jess, let’s switch gears here for a moment. What NFL developments surprised you most this season? The floor’s open to all teams.

Ridpath: Three words: the NFC East. The once formidable division fell to the bottom of the heap, with erratic and disappointing performances all around. Sure, the Redskins showed some life late in the season, and the Cowboys can chalk up their dismal year to the absence of Tony Romo. But the Giants’ and Eagles’ failing grades were a big surprise. I’ll be interested to see what new blood in the coach’s chair does for them next year.

I was also surprised by the late-season implosion of the Cincinnati Bengals. Sure it was a huge blow to lose Andy Dalton just a few weeks before the playoffs. But Dalton’s absence seemed to have very little to do with the wheels coming off. Instead, it was simply bad on-field behavior and an outright lack of discipline that were the culprits. No wonder Bengals fans were sobbing in the stands after their disappointing loss to the Steelers in the Wild Card round.

The Green Bay Packers were another team that seemed destined for great things early in the season. I recall reading over and over again in the pre-season that Aaron Rodgers was the best quarterback in the league. Superman, some called him. But it’s hard to be Superman when your offensive line is crumbly and your receivers have butterfingers. It seems Jordy Nelson (lost to injury in the preseason) was more of a key ingredient in the Packers’ secret sauce than anyone could have imagined.

In terms of individual performances, Brock Osweiler seemed to come from nowhere to save the Broncos’ season after Peyton Manning’s mid-season exit. I had no idea who this guy was until he was suddenly making headlines each week. Even more surprising? That Peyton came back to lead Denver to the first seed in the AFC. (However, I fear his NFL journey will end this Sunday when he faces Tom Brady and the Patriots.)

The other surprising breakout performers that deserve mention (again) are Tyler Lockett and Thomas Rawls. I’m counting the days until I get to see these rising young stars take the field again. Only two-hundred and thirty-some days to go. Sigh.…

And that’s why I’m depressed. So depressed, in fact, that I can’t talk about football anymore. Julian, it’s rare that I don’t fight for the last word in any debate. But, in this case, I’m leaving it to you to wrap up while I go cry in my beer and pretend September is just around the corner.

Rogers: It must be September somewhere, right? I agree with the surprises you listed. I’ll also add that I didn’t have the Detroit Lions stumbling to an untenable 1–7 start. They finished strong, and seem to have save head coach Jim Caldwell’s job, but the season was lost at that point. I figured them to be fighting for a playoff spot with the Minnesota Vikings and the Packers.

In the NFC West, at the outset I underestimated the Arizona Cardinals. While I thought they would be contenders, I didn’t predict they would win the West this year. It was no surprise that the San Francisco 49ers were a train wreck (given their offseason from hell) and that the St. Louis Rams were again mediocre.

The implosion of the Indianapolis Colts also was a surprise. Last May, I picked them as a possible Super Bowl entrant. Unfortunately, the health problems of quarterback Andrew Luck proved to be too much to overcome and the rest of the team’s flaws were magnified.

I was surprised to see Lovie Smith given the heave-ho after only two seasons in Tampa. The Buccaneers won six games with a rookie quarterback and a still-rebuilding roster. I wonder how many games they expected to win?

Also color me surprised that the New England Patriots are still marauding through the league. That’s got to end at some point, doesn’t it?

On a Seattle note, the Seahawks were a surprise in the way that they struggled to find wins in the first half of the season. Ultimately, their September-October-early November struggles cost them the division and any chance of playing a playoff game or more at CenturyLink Field. The exited the season away from home on the East coast.

--------------------

Owning up

Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: The game winner. I finished 12–6 for the season. I was correct in thinking that Pete Carroll’s lucky horseshoe had run out of magic. I said it would go down to the wire. I was really wrong … at first. Then I was proven right.

What he got wrong: I said the Panthers’ defense was inferior to the Seahawks. On this day that wasn’t the case. The Panthers’ first-half smiting of the Seahawks, including a defensive touchdown and another turnover run back deep into Seahawks territory, made the game a laugher.

What she got right: I said it was impossible to predict which version of the Seahawks would show up. In chameleon-like fashion, they transformed from the worst incarnation of themselves to the best right before our eyes. But by that time, the fat lady had already started to sing.

What she got wrong: The game winner, leaving me at 12–5 for the season. While I rightly expressed little confidence in Seattle’s ability to play consistently for 60 minutes, I was wrong to think that the luck that got them to the Divisional round would follow them to Carolina.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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