Think back to that moment, just inside the goal line, at University of Phoenix Stadium. Think back to the shock over the play call and the head-jerking suddenness of the turn of events. Think back to the criticism and second-guessing that ensued.
What in heaven’s name were the Seattle Seahawks thinking by having Russell Wilson throw a short pass to try to win the Super Bowl last February when a short run by Marshawn Lynch was the blatantly obvious way to go? What would ever possess them to do something that effectively handed the game to the New England Patriots?
Those questions burned like a raging forest fire through the offseason and the preseason. And when the Seahawks lost their first two games of the regular season, the inferno was out of control.
More than a few media pundits wondered whether the players were quitting on coach Pete Carroll for allowing and/or collaborating with offensive coordinator Darren Bevell to select that fateful play that cost them so dearly.
“The truth is that that all happened, so that had an impact and it left an impression,” Carroll said, acknowledging the team’s fragile mindset in the aftermath of “The Call.”
The Seahawks have recovered nicely from that slow start. At 9-5, they own a wild-card playoff spot and are entering the postseason as one of the hotter teams in the NFL. They’ve won five games in a row and seven of their last eight.
The Seahawks are still mostly defined by strong defense. They rank second in the league in total yards allowed, third against the run, and fourth against the pass. But their offense has made a major contribution, ranking fifth in the NFL in total yards and second in rushing. Although they’re 20th in passing, they continue to make strides there.
But the biggest reason the Seahawks are positioned well to reach the Super Bowl for a third year in a row is the way Carroll got them to clear the mental hurdle of that crushing Super Bowl loss. The way he did it was, first and foremost, not to pretend that it didn’t happen – not to pretend that coaching didn’t screw up majorly.
Carroll owned the embarrassment. Then, he helped his players to get over it.
“Super Bowls are pretty significant events, obviously, so they do stick with you,” he said. “And there was a process that we had to go through, just like there was a process you had to go through when you win. It’s not any different in that regard. The impact of it is still significant, but it’s just painted in different colors.
“I think last year, and all that, is certainly still alive in our minds, but it’s not a factor to how we’re performing at all. And I don’t think any of us is going to forget it. We’re very mindful of what’s going on right here, right now, and our play has really lifted in the last month or so, and we’re executing much better than we were earlier in the year.
“And we’re much more confident in our ability to do things under game conditions. So we’ve just come a long ways. It’s an amazing process. But I would not want to say that” the manner in which the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl is “just something that we never think about again.”
The Seahawks have been helped by a schedule that had them face the lowly Baltimore Ravens and lowlier Cleveland Browns the past two weeks, teams they beat by a combined 65-19. On Sunday, the Seahawks face the 6-8 St. Louis Rams, who beat Seattle, 34-31, in Week One.
Much has changed since the season opener, especially with Wilson and a young, reshuffled offensive line that is playing much better than it did earlier in the year.
“There was a lot of work that needed to be done up front, for one,” Carroll said. “Our guys were young and” offensive line coach “Tom Cable did another fantastic job of bringing these guys together. We stayed with them for the most part. We had one switch in there with Patrick Lewis coming in at center,” from the Browns’ practice squad, “but other than that, the same guys that are now playing that were playing early. They’re just on their game. That’s part of it.
“And we needed to speed up our rhythm just in general, so at the” Week Nine “bye, we took a step back, evaluated some things and adjusted some things that allowed us to do that to help pass protection, but also to get the ball out. And we’ve done it at times throughout the year, but we just had to make a kind of call to arms there because we were going in the wrong direction. I think Russell just took full advantage of all of that growth.”
Wilson remains one of the best running quarterbacks in the game. His 502 yards on 92 carries is a large reason Seattle ranks second in the league in rushing behind the Buffalo Bills, who also have another highly productive runner behind center in Tyrod Taylor.
But Wilson has evolved into an exceptional passer as well. And with injuries to his top two running backs, Lynch and Thomas Rawls, Wilson has had to carry more of the offensive load. The weight is hardly a burden.
Consider Wilson’s quarterback rating in the last five games: 138.5, 147.9, 146, 139.6, and 128.3. And consider his completion percentage through the same stretch: 82.8, 70, 77.8, 71.9, and 70.
“I’ve always thought he’s been able to throw from in the pocket and make his plays and when we needed him to throw a lot, he could do it,” Carroll said. “But you can’t deny the fact that these numbers are so historic and documented by the records. I can’t tell you that you could see this coming at this level all along, but yet I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that Russell was going to complete 70 percent of his passes one of these seasons. In the last six weeks or so, he’s been pretty close to that.
“There’s no question he’s been better every year. That’s a natural growth. It’s just what happens with the experience and he works really hard at it, so he’s learning from his experiences. He takes care of the football beautifully,” with only seven interceptions. “He’s maximizing the opportunities by situations. Our red-zone stuff has just gone out of the roof and third downs have been as good as you can be.
“Those are areas that signify he’s doing things better than he did them in the past.”
Don’t be surprised if …
… there aren’t quite as many coaching/general manager changes as some NFL observers are predicting. I’ve heard the number could be as high as eight, but the firing is the easy part. The hard part is choosing the replacements, and there just doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of worthy ones out there. Put it this way, the two top coaching candidates figure to be a pair of recycled head coaches: Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator for the Patriots, and Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals.
… the NFL and NFL Players Association eventually agree to a process that handles off-field discipline the same way it does on-field issues such as the one-game suspension of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Panthers cornerback Josh Norman last week. An independent hearing officer that was jointly hired by the league and the NFLPA reviewed the case and quickly ruled to uphold the suspension after Beckham appealed it. The decision not only was swift, but fair and left little or no room for second-guessing. Now, the league needs to take a cue from that and pull the punishment for violation of the NFL’s personal-conduct policy out of the hands of the commissioner and put it into the hands of a truly independent person. As it stands now, practically every ruling by Roger Goodell is overwhelmingly criticized by players, fans, and media.