On their way to a different kind of defeat Sunday, the Seahawks stumbled upon a milestone: They reached the halfway point of the 2011 season.
This is a mixed bag of good news/bad news.
The good news is, hoo boy, there is a lot of football to play. The bad news? There is a lot of football to play, and none of it will mean squat for fans of a team virtually eliminated from the playoff chase.
With San Francisco destined to clinch the NFC West sometime around Thanksgiving, a 10-6 record figures to be the minimum for a wild-card berth. While it’s possible the 2-6 Seahawks could put together an eight-game winning streak, a more reasonable ambition is to put together an eight-minute drive without botching the snap count.
A few days ago, a writer who covers the Cowboys asked me if the problem with the Hawks’ offense was the inconsistent quarterback play of Tarvaris Jackson. Not really, I answered. Jackson was turning out to have a better passing touch than his reputation suggested; the problem with the Hawks’ offense was an inexperienced line and no real go-to running back.
Then Jackson threw three interceptions that were largely his fault – OK, 100 percent his fault – on a day Marshawn Lynch went Beast Mode, taking advantage of an offensive line that finally cleared some room.
Am I a sage, or what?
Anyway, presuming the second half of the season resembles the first half, here are some projections to ponder:
Jackson will complete 274-of-454 passes for 3012 yards, almost identical to Matt Hasselbeck’s 2010 performance of 274-of-454 for 3001 yards. It’s convenient to point out the folly of not re-signing Hasselbeck – the decision seemed particularly misguided on Sunday, when Hasselbeck threw for 272 yard and two touchdowns while Jackson was committing, in his words, “stupid mistakes” – but the numbers are irrefutable: Jackson’s passing for the Seahawks this season mirrors Hasselbeck’s passing for the Seahawks last season.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks are on pace to score 244 points and give up 370, a 126-point differential that draws an unfavorable comparison to 2010, when they scored 311 and gave up 407.
A defense adjusting to a youth-movement overhaul has improved a bit.
The offense has taken a step backward, which shouldn’t be a surprise: The starting linemen arrived at a truncated training camp barely knowing each other’s names, and were unfamiliar with both offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and line coach Tom Cable.
At 2-6, the Seahawks project to finish 4-12, tying them with Mike Holmgren’s last team (2008) and Jack Patera’s fifth team (1980) for third-worst winning percentage in franchise history. Only the inaugural-season Hawks (2-12) and Tom Flores’ woebegone 1992 Hawks (2-14) were worse.
The second-half schedule lightens up. There are two winnable games against the Rams, a rematch with the lowly Cardinals in Arizona, and a Christmas Eve game against the 49ers, who by then will be so ensconced in the driver’s seat they’ll regard the assignment as an exhibition.
Then again, the 49ers are coached by Jim Harbaugh, who doesn’t lose a game of solitaire without suffering heartburn and insomnia. Does Harbaugh give his starters a day of rest in preparation for the playoffs? Against Pete Carroll, his former college rival? Maybe not.
Carroll will extol the benefits of establishing a “culture of achievement” over the next eight weeks, and you can’t dispute the notion winning is more conducive to a positive culture than losing.
But the rest of us also know that draft slotting is paramount for a rebuilding project.
If the Seahawks check out at 4-12, they’ll get a Top 10 pick in a draft class blessed with premier quarterbacks. Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones will be hours off the board, but wait, this just in: there are some awful teams in the NFL, so awful that seven or eight clubs make selections before Seattle gets its turn – but USC’s Matt Barkley should be available.
Barkley has thrown for 28 touchdowns this season, and would be a Heisman Trophy front-runner were it not for Luck. The connection between Carroll and his former USC players is overrated – he cut running back LenDale White, traded defensive end Lawrence Jackson and showed no interest in drafting safety Taylor Mays – but if Barkley is still around when the Seahawks are on the clock, there’s no way he escapes.
If you’re a Seahawks fan intrigued by the idea of Matt Barkley someday starting at quarterback, a 4-12 record is tolerable – if you don’t mind a slow, two-month descent into the abyss of inconsequence.
The big-picture challenge is to care. The more immediate challenge is to stay awake.