The Morning After: The Bough Breaks, Seahawks Fall 34-31 to Falcons

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My wife is even keel. She rarely gets too high or too low. Early in our relationship, I was able to get her into basketball. She enjoyed the rise of the Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith, Rasheed Wallace, and Arvydas Sabonis Trail Blazers. They were the best team in the NBA, so the wins were plentiful and often came easy. Then they ran into Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the playoffs. Even then, they were up 15 points in the fourth quarter of game seven. But it all fell apart. A season full of promise and hope was shredded in a matter of minutes. My wife never watched another game. She already hated the anxiety and stress of those fourth quarters, and now she knew what devastation felt like and that made the calculation simple. The rewards were not nearly enough to justify the risk.

As I dragged myself into bed last night angry, sulking, and sorrowful, for roughly the thousandth time following a loss by one of my favorite teams, I once again contemplated whether it was worth it. Unlike my wife, the emotional swings that come with fully investing in uncontrollable and unpredictable competition is what drew me into sports. I have learned that the cost of genuine thrilling moments is risking despair. Caring less can protect you on the downside, but robs you of the upside. Seahawks fans are grappling with that tradeoff this morning as the team looked nothing like a Super Bowl contender and is facing the real prospect of not making the playoffs for only the second time in the Pete Carroll era.

Already dealing with major injuries, the Seahawks graduated to the snakebitten category against the Falcons when Shaquill Griffin left the game on the second play, and sparkplug running back Mike Davis exited with a groin injury. Among the many things that tends to happen when the stars align for a championship run is good fortune with health. The 2013 and 2014 Seahawks biggest season-ending injuries were to players like Sidney Rice and Zach Miller. Important players for sure, but nowhere near the level of a Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, or even Cliff Avril. Consider that the Seahawks already have lost their starting left tackle, starting running back, starting strong safety, starting cornerback, second-best special teams player, and their top draft pick for the year. The only team that has been able to overcome injuries like that and still contend is the Patriots. Not every team can have the best player to ever play the game.


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This version of the Seahawks needed the offense to take over. The best case scenario I saw for the defense was to regress roughly 25% and allow 22-23 points per game instead of the 18.3 they entered with. There is simply no way this defense can be expected to be as good without the players they lost. They allowed 24 last night to a good Falcons offense, and that might have been less had the offense not surrendered field position with an interception early. The 279 yards of offense for Atlanta was a season-low, and despite all the injuries in the secondary, Seattle became the first team to hold Matt Ryan under 200 yards passing in the past 64 games.

Where Atlanta did their damage was on 3rd down, where they finished 9-14, including a number of 3rd and long backbreakers. They were also 2-3 in the red zone. Those critical situations are when experience and details matter the most. Bradley McDougald might be a better backup than Steven Terrell, but he was clearly having trouble with alignments and communication at various points in the game. It is completely reasonable to expect some rough spots in his first year with this team. Jeremy Lane has no such excuse. He hurts the team whenever he has to be on the field.

This game, though, was not decided by the defense. The offense and coaching simply was not good enough. Russell Wilson played a fantastic game for all but two plays. His interception was either a dreadful throw or a miscommunication on a route with Tyler Lockett. Wilson’s fumble that was returned for a touchdown was as much on the offensive line as it was on him, but he has to take responsibility for ball security if he is going to insist on spinning and scrambling as often as he has been.

The 14 points created by those two turnovers were huge, and created a deficit that was too big to overcome. Carroll did not help matters with what I would call his worst coaching decision with the Seahawks. And yes, I think it was even worse than that play. At least in the Super Bowl, there was some strategic logic that could be applied to why they called that pass even if I disagreed vehemently with it. There was no logic to calling a fake on a field goal before half.

Seattle needed every point they could get. They were going to open the second half with the football, and could have been down only four points. There was only 7 seconds left on the clock when they ran the fake from the 17-yard line. Unless Luke Willson would have scored a touchdown, time likely would have run out and they would have ended up with zero points anyway. It was a horrible, horrible, decision that may have ultimately cost his team the game and a lot more.

His other decision to challenge a clear dropped pass was not much better. If Seattle either had that extra timeout or the extra three points, they may have very well won that game. As much as Carroll brings to this team, his decision-making in the heat of the moment is his greatest weakness. He thinks he is being aggressive and bringing a certain mentality to his team, but he is really over thinking and over steering.

The refs also played an unfortunate role in this game. There were a series of questionable calls, but the biggest call was one they did not make. Paul Richardson made a tough catch over the middle on the final play before the missed field goal, and was popped by a Falcon who launched himself at Richardson’s head and neck area. That call is made nine times out of ten. I was sure a flag was coming, but none did. That would have been 15 yards and a much easier kick.

Many folks were calling for Blair Walsh’s job last night. Not me. Not yet. I have seen too many kickers from too many teams come up short on long field goals on that north end zone. He hit it dead center, but it fell short. Mariners fans may understand the kicker’s plight after seeing home runs turn into fly balls at Safeco Field for decades. The ball just doesn’t travel well down there, especially on damp days. It would have been amazing if he had made it, but there were a dozen bigger reasons the game was lost.

Other key moments were Doug Baldwin’s dropped third down pass that led to Carroll’s ill-advised challenge, and Jimmy Graham dropping a touchdown pass that went through his hands. Seattle finished an abysmal 2-6 in trips to the red zone.

The truth is that if the Seahawks had beaten the Redskins, this might not have been as crippling of a loss. Seattle is the only team to score more than 26 points against the Falcons. Tom Brady didn’t do it. Aaron Rodgers didn’t do it. Matthew Stafford didn’t do it. Six trips to the red zone was a season high for Seattle. They punted just once all night, and appeared to find something in Davis at running back. Luke Joeckel is set to come back, which will push the troublesome Oday Aboushi out of the lineup. Lockett and the return game finally looked dangerous again.

Four losses with games against the Eagles, Rams, and Jaguars ahead is a precarious position. They have been at this point in past years and found ways to finish with a flourish. Each time, I have reminded myself to never doubt this team’s ability to fight through adversity. And yet, I doubt. I doubt because I hope it will in some way make it hurt less when they lose. But it does not help. All my instincts were telling me the Seahawks were going to lose last night, but that did nothing to lessen the frustration and anger when the final kick fell short. Seattle will head down to San Francisco with the real possibility of sending me to bed punching pillows and grumbling to noone in particular yet again. I have no better chance to avoid the trap than Carroll does of eliminating his bravado-driven coaching decisions. It is who we are. You can envy the person next to you who has a lightness of being today that comes from having nothing tied to the outcome of a silly football game. They are riding the merry-go-round. You have chosen the roller coaster. Find community with the others on the ride with you, and make plans to celebrate like crazy with them when the thrills return.

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  1. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Dickens

    Bet most of us can identify with at least some part of that, eh? You can’t fix something if you don’t correctly identify the cause/problem. It may sound like a loser’s lament, but the Hawks lost last night’s game more than the Falcons won it. The Falcons were more efficient (better coached) but the Seahawks put up a hell of a fight, especially considering their injury circumstances.
    For all that that the team was labeled “doomed” without Sherm and Kam, they held Ryan below 200 yards passing (even the vaunted J. Jones held to 71 yards, 50% of his targets)………something 64 previous team combinations in a row failed to do. That with what was, in effect, two third string cornerbacks. However, via efficiency (meaning no turnovers, and timely third down conversions) it was enough. Russ, individually, outran the Falcon running backs, but the Falcons ran well enough.

    As for foolishness, much of the post game analysis qualifies. Blair Walsh didn’t hand Atlanta the victory by missing the final field goal attempt, as some contend, it shouldn’t have been in his lap. He gets no credit for stopping a likely kickoff return score, which for a guy his size is remarkable to me. Yes, he probably could have put more juice into that final kick and got that extra yard, but so much else tipped the scales against Seahawk victory.

    PC is getting fried for the fake field goal. The epitome of hindsight in many ways. I accept his contention that they had spotted an opportunity in the scouting for a gadget play to succeed. My criticism is to wonder why they don’t have a mechanism in play (or if they do, why it failed) to identify that Quinn changed his personnel alignment anticipating the gadget. Someone should have spotted that change and signaled the kicking unit to revert to the field goal. Taking a shot is the kind of creativity we often call for, but taking a measured risk is the key.

    Likewise with the “wasted” challenge/time out. Look, it was Baldwin’s first drop of the season (think about all the implications of THAT!), and who on the team is a more reliable performer/player. Of course Pete should pay attention when Doug pushes for a challenge……….BUT……….trust and verify would make sense too. With the huge number of coaching staff, SOMEONE must be responsible for looking at the same video feed the officials will use and be in the headset to verify the validity of a challenge. Pete doesn’t have a video screen in front of him, but somebody has to have that responsibility. In the end, both situations fall on PC because he’s the boss, but why did it happen? Figure that out and fix it.

    On the plus side, it appears, for the most part, the offensive scheming helped overcome some weaknesses of the O-line. Davis showed (much as Carson did), til injured, that we have a serious running back problem, not just blocking. I burned out on Lacy many games ago, but, given our injury pattern he’s probably still needed to some degree (save the gallows humor for later). Is the old Lockett on kick returns back? That would help a little…..

    I feel like reverting to how we looked at Seahawk teams at the beginning of the franchise history. Take pride/enthusiasm from the little things. This current team has a feisty personality. Wilson, et al, are sometimes very exciting when not being maddening (Sorry, but the loss last night is mostly on Russ making two major errors). It’s both very plausible this will end up an 8-8 season, or, through magic they might make the first round of playoffs…………………………..but don’t bet the mortgage payment. Just take what enjoyment you can…………………….but keep expectations modest. As for the configuration of the team going forward? It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times…………………….

    1. Don’t forget the clear block in the back on Justin Coleman on the opening kickoff which gave Atlanta good field position too.

    2. Every Monday or Friday, we come here and read Brian’s takes of the game. We can all sit here and nitpick about every little detail of a particular game, but that does not change the overall theme of this team. We can second guess or question a certain play or call or decision, but that does not indicate the true diagnosis of a problem. They are symptoms. From a strategic view, IMHO, this team is at the crossroad where older players are becoming less productive, declining in skills, injury-prone, and consume the majority of the salary, no up and coming young talents for replacement in critical positions, and last but not least, what kind of an identity (this will determine the structure, formation, and system of this team in the future.) On the operational level, the team is undisciplined, coaches do not recognize or make the necessary adjustments. Just to name a few. For example, Gruden kept harping about Atlanta’s big formation and personnel, which they used to kill us last year in the playoffs. Gruden said they ran 13 times w/ that formation. When they showed it and we still got beat. That is BAD coaching.

      At the moment, I believe Seattle is USC redux. PC does not know what to do when he does not have the horses. Now, a majority of the horses are getting older and declining in skills, stuck w/ big contracts w/ no wiggle room, not enough young talents on the horizon for replacement. I believe those ill-advised decisions from last night was more indication of desperation than anything else.

      I disagree with you about RW costing us the game. It is easy to say he “gave” up 14 points, but we also have another unit calls a defense (how about limit them to the field goal attempts.) The dude got beaten up like a ragged doll since his arrival. I believe he is second in the league in getting hits behind Andrew Luck. Don’t know how he does it with a smaller body frame. Even though this defensive unit is not as good as they used to be, but Atlanta seemed to make critical plays when needed as mentioned by Brian. We are horrible at situational football. Btw, this elite unit gave up the most 4th quarter leads since 2012, 19 times, 21 percent of the games. In the end, we still have a chance, but didn’t make enough plays w/ bad decisions or play callings. We can blame a player or players, but it comes down to the person who is in charge. He/she makes the decision about the personnel, scheme and design, and ultimately create the optimal conditions for the players to succeed.

      1. In a broad sense we’re in agreement to a significant degree, and while I agree we don’t have championship coaching at this juncture, we also don’t have awful coaching as many commenters across the marketplace contend. Try an exercise like taking a list of all 32 head coaches and ask the most negative Hawk fan whom they’d rather have; Pagano, Lynn, Ariens, and so on? PC would likely still be in at least the top 10. And while we’re disappointed would we rather be Denver, Indy, Phoenix, or others corresponding to that coaches list? Not likely, (didn’t even have to dip as low as two certain Ohio teams).

        There are a few articles that could, and likely will, be written that could make very rational arguments for making unpopular trade offs that would also make eminent sense. For one example; would you rather have one of the best tight ends of recent history that’s being productive on a team that is almost “there”, or use his salary (cap constraints) to have another nearly comparable receiver AND a bell cow runner (as just one option scenario) who would exceed his net production (yes, there are no absolute probabilities, but a broader talent base increases the odds of success). I can hear the gut shot panthers wailing now…….

    3. The biggest problem on this team has been , is and will be The O-line, probably until someone steps up and figures out that after the QB on offense the O-line is the most important unit!. Sure Davis had a few good runs but so has Rawls ! But no consistency especially on the right side , where Ifiedi is a blow up BUST ! Tom Cable cannot have anymore input on choosing who gets picked or picked up for the O-line and maybe should be replaced period ! Let’s learn from the mistakes , which obviously Pete Carrol hasn’t done ,since he did the same stupid thing in 2012 against the same team that cost a chance in both games of winning !

  2. 9 injured starters:

    RB Chris Carson
    LT George Fant
    LG Luke Joekel

    DE Cliff Avril
    T Jarran Reed
    LB Michael Wilhoite
    CB Richard Sherman
    CB Shaquille Griffin
    SS Cam Chancelor

    Its Almost half the starters.

    1. And that’s only the ones not playing. Duane Brown may have played but was at sub 50% effectiveness

  3. Coaching, coaching, coaching, and coaching…..we don’t have an O-line problem, a running back problem, a offense scheme problem, a defensive 3rd down problem, a play calling problem, a slow start problem, a kicker problem, an injury problem, a penalties problem, a preparation problem…..these are all just symptoms……We have a coaching problem.

    We have an incredible amount of talent on this team (I’d argue pound for pound as good or better than any team in the league) and yet as banged up and sidelined as much as we are, that isn’t our problem. We almost gave the wood to DQ and his Falcons last pm running on 60% thrusters..We should be great, we should threaten every opponent here and away, we should dance in every super bowl.

    I was hypnotized by Pete since the first time he addressed the media with the Hawks and have given him every excuse since. But the smelling salts of missed opportunities is to powerful Not to wake up and realize that the faithful and loyal Captain has oversold the wares. I doubt change will come as soon as is needs to. For that matter the rest of our season is still unwritten, but I’ve read this book before, and while there will be more great moments, there will also be greater heartbreak before its through.

    My greatest hope is we make it not only into the playoffs- but through to the Super Bowl and get one more dance….
    …but short of that, the Redskins should by all accounts hold up the Lombardi come February …because besides ourselves, they single handedly showed our greatest opportunity missed, perhaps the greatest era of opportunity.

  4. This team will never get back to glory until they learn that on Offense after the QB the o-line is the most important unit! Tom Cable needs to not be a part of any choosing of O-linemen and maybe should be replaced. Jeremy Lane CAN’T Cover ! and Pete Carrol has learned nothing since making the same exact STUPID mistake in 2012 against the same team that cost an opportunity in both games to win !!!!!

  5. Uncle Bob,

    Regarding PC, I don’t think I’ve said that he is comparable to those coaches that you referenced. The narrative for past years is he is close to BB than anyone aforementioned. I have always believed PC is a good coach, but not a great one. Btw, he still has a losing record on the road when RW has a winning one. I have seen this picture before from the USC days and seeing the same thing happening here in Seattle. PC has done a lot for the city and deserves all the accolades and praises, but IMHO, the time is passing him. Seattle can still win, but not an SB contender.

    Regarding those trades, it is a hindsight at the moment. I was for it when they first got JG, but then after the first year, I changed my mind and thought it was a mistake due to the philosophy and system that PC is running. JG does not fit. Having great talent is all and well, but if you don’t utilize it properly, then it is a moot point. Looking back I believe they made the decision due to our poor efficiency within the red zone. After all these years, with him, we still have an issue with the red zone. So, is it JG’s fault or the coaching staff? Don’t know but I am a strong believer in great coaches create conditions for players to succeed, not the other way around. NE seems to do that very well. Why can’t we if PC is comparable to BB? If you compare the roster between the two teams over the years, outside of the QB (RW is one peg below TB) and TE position (slightly below), I think we have an overall better roster than NE. NE is just a better-coached team with lesser talents, which include the entire coaching staff, not just the head coach. But of course, the head coach hired his staff.

  6. Everyone saying oh RW gave up 14 points. Ok you can look at it that way, but the fumble was a fluke. Wrong place, wrong time sort of thing. You can’t criticize the spin move one week and high five your buddies over it next week when it works for the zillionth time.
    Also don’t forget we got the benefit of the very unlikely pooch kick that went thru their guys hands.
    And what about the 7 points we gave them when Lane and 2 other hawks dropped the easiest possible INT on the second drive. So Russ is saddled with giving up 7 cuz of the pick their guy tipped in the air and hauled in, but no mention of us havi6the same opportunity but not making the play?
    Lastly where is the pass rush??? Either ATL’s OL is all world, or we have bigger problems than the decimated LOB. If you’re going to have 3 replacement DB’s out there against Ryan, Jones and Sanu and you can develop next to no pressure, you are in for one long night indeed.

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