I still suspect the Seahawks’ 14-5 loss to Tampa Bay may be only a hiccup on the way to a nice playoff run.
But it was another example of how risky is the approach of going with bargain-basement offensive linemen.
And maybe a longer-term question is whether it has and will continue to jeopardize the health of the team’s most valuable commodity, quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wilson was sacked six times, hit 11 times and had to scramble away from pressure so often he turned into the team’s leading rusher with 80 yards — mostly with unblocked defenders hot on his trail.
At times, the Buccaneers defensive front roared through as if the Seahawks line was trying to lure them into a screen pass. But they weren’t.
Wilson had his worst passer rating (38.8) since his rookie season. His two interceptions against Tampa Bay matched his season total in 335 season attempts in the first 10 games.
And aside from Wilson’s rushing, the Hawks picked up just 47 yards on 14 carries.
Finally, there’s this: They failed to convert on a single third down in their first 10 attempts, finally getting one just before the two-minute warning to end the game.
And while it seems like I’m trying to fault the linemen for sole culpability, I feel as if effort isn’t a problem. They’re trying. And in recent weeks, they seemed to be improving. But try as they might, this was awful — and dangerous.
Because they’re mostly raw recruits freshly arrived in the NFL, I feel as if I need to soften the criticism, as the elderly Southern women add “Bless their hearts” after their critiques.
Mostly, it’s a case of getting what you pay for.
By paying the least in O-line salaries in the NFL, they’re risking having their quarterback sacked six times.
“They outplayed us,” coach Pete Carroll said. “And they beat us up front.”
For most of the season, as the piecework line made incremental strides, the Seahawks have been able to scheme around mismatches and generate enough offense to win games.
But Sunday, they started three rookies on the line. They replaced the veteran right tackle early in the game with another spare part, and the starting tackle on the other side hardly played college football at all.
Justin Britt had been the keystone to whatever progress the offensive line had made this season, but he had to sit with an ankle injury, leaving his spot to rookie center Joey Hunt.
Hunt seemed to play pretty well given his lack of experience. Bless his heart.
A year ago, rookie left tackle George Fant was giving football his first try at Western Kentucky. Sunday, he was trying to block Noah Spence, a second-round draft pick. He couldn’t do it, bless his heart. How could anybody expect him to?
And rookie first-round pick Germain Ifedi, at right guard, should be the guy to excel — at least among the young kids, but he was facing three-time All-Pro Gerald McCoy.
Bless his heart, he can’t do it.
Maybe these kids have great potential. But what about now? Hunt was in the lineup because of Britt’s injury. But what about the rest of them?
How did it come to this?
So often in the past four-plus seasons, we’ve credited the front office for the way they built the roster, and praised Carroll for taking that talent and developing it.
But the line on Sunday was vastly subpar. And they had to know it was risky going into the season.
The only guy they spent money on as a potential upgrade was free agent tackle J’Marcus Webb — and they cut him last week.
They seemed certain that Garry Gilliam would continue his progress and take over at one of the tackles. But he was benched early in this game “to make that a competitive situation,” Carroll said.
Gilliam, a tight end at Penn State, was a project a couple years ago. Fant, a college basketball player, was a real project. Hunt, a seventh-round pick, was another project.
Ifedi was a college tackle now playing guard.
I can see why they need to save some money on the offensive line, given the high salaries elsewhere. But when you take on a project, do you have to reach so far? To players who played defense all their lives? To players who didn’t even play football?
They’ve been highly competitive without great offensive lines. But there were just too many question marks for this group coming into the season. And that was if everybody had stayed healthy.
The progress that had been made is now hard to recall in light of Sunday’s regression.
The elusive Wilson has masked deficiencies in the past.
But even Wilson couldn’t stay out of trouble on Sunday, not with the pressure he was under.
Bless his heart.