Michael Bennett makes it sound like none of this – not the last 15 games, not the Seahawks’ latest face plant that had their fans booing and leaving the stadium early – matters.
“It’s never an opportunity lost when you have a chance. The opportunity is when the playoffs start,” the Pro Bowl defensive end said Saturday after his Seahawks’ offense blew the first half and his NFC West-champion defense blew the second in the 34-31 loss to Arizona.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the Lombardi,” Bennett said of the Super Bowl trophy.
“To you, it’s something about ‘Home game this, away game that.’ It’s just about what you do in the playoffs, really.”
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Of course, that ignores how the regular season shapes how easy or difficult your team’s path will be once in the postseason. And, more basically, a team’s ability to make the playoffs to begin with.
The price of Saturday’s loss could be steep for a team that is 7-1 at home and 2-4-1 on the road. Seattle (9-5-1) squandered its inside track to the No. 2 seed in the NFC. That carries a first-round bye with only one home playoff win needed to reach the conference title game.
Now it will take NFC South-champion Atlanta losing next weekend to eliminated New Orleans plus Detroit losing either at Dallas Monday night or at home to hot Green Bay next Sunday in the NFC North championship game – plus the Seahawks winning at San Francisco (2-13) on New Year’s Day – for Seattle to get that second seed and a bye.
Bennett’s view also is full-blown faith in this team’s ability to suddenly flip the switch to “on.” To, with the snap of fingers in the postseason, summon their talent, experience and confidence and – presto! – Seattle will be Super Bowl bound for the third time in four years.
Doug Baldwin sounded a little less presto! Saturday.
About a half hour after the loss to the Cardinals ended on what was a career day for him, Baldwin took a step back from the podium and sighed before he began his postgame press conference. He looked like all of Western Washington felt about the game and his puzzling, maddening team.
Baldwin started off by comparing the offense’s three points and 94 total yards in the first half, with eight snaps inside the Arizona 10-yard line without a touchdown, to Seattle’s 28 points and 297 yards after halftime
“We definitely had more confidence in ourselves, and we executed at a much higher level,” he said.
“I don’t know what was going on with us in the first half. We had a lot of mistakes. We just couldn’t do anything right.”
I asked Baldwin how can a team this experienced and accomplished, on its way to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, have a confidence issue?
“I don’t know if it’s a lacking of confidence,” he said. “It’s just that we have a lot of young guys, especially up front.”
The two goal-line fiascos in Saturday’s first half further exposed the Seahawks’ offensive line with four new starters, two of them rookies, all five of them with three years of fewer of NFL experiences. On four plays from a half-yard away from the goal line, immediately after Tyler Lockett’s touchdown catch while he broke his leg got reversed upon replay review, the Seahawks’ five blockers got manhandled by Arizona’s front four. Undrafted rookie left tackle George Fant, left guard Mark Glowinski, center Justin Britt, rookie right guard Germain Ifedi, right tackle Garry Gilliam and even fullback Marcel Reece got zero push on Thomas Rawls’ dive play. The line got no push on Russell Wilson’s quarterback sneak. Wilson got hit on third down by free-rushing Cardinals defensive end Josh Mauro on an incomplete pass.
On fourth down, Wilson turned to sell a fake handoff to Rawls out of I formation. Arizona defensive tackle Rodney Gunter stormed through a void created when Glowinski crashed down to his right to join Britt on a double team of the Cardinals nose tackle and Fant went to his left to block the defensive end that Jimmy Graham was already chipping on his way to a pass route into the end zone. Gunter had a free path of crumple Wilson before he could even turn around from the fake handoff.
“We made a big mistake on the sack on the last play,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We airballed their defensive tackle.”
With left tackle Russell Okung, right guard J.R. Sweezy and center Patrick Lewis all gone because Seattle chose not to re-sign them, these division-champion Seahawks are not as experienced, deep or, to Baldwin’s point, experienced as the ones that went into last season’s playoffs as a wild-card team. That’s especially true along both the offensive and defensive lines.
Seattle is 27th in the NFL in converting red-zone opportunities inside the opponent’s 20-yard line into touchdowns, at just 48 percent. They are tied for 29th in scoring touchdowns in goal-to-go situations, just 57.1 percent of the time. Both figures are the lowest of any NFC playoff team.
“It’s a process to get to that point you have that confidence in you,” Baldwin said of the inexperience, and the offense’s scattered effectiveness. “Sometimes it takes a while to realize that you are as good as you are.”
Or, perhaps, not as good, as my colleague Dave Boling and I discussed following Saturday’s game:
The fact the Seahawks are going to get a home game this postseason, increasingly likely Jan. 7 or 8 in the first round against a wild-card team that right now is either Green Bay or the New York Giants, is more a statement of the rest of the conference being weak than Seattle being stronger than it was starting last season’s playoffs on the road.
Even before the loss to the Cardinals, I believed this team was not as equipped to go to the Super Bowl as last season’s was, even though last season’s was a wild card and this year’s is a division winner again. But this year’s Seahawks were on track to have an easier path to go farther than last year’s.
Now that path isn’t likely to be that much easier.