On the threshold of the playoffs, I want to take a moment to bid farewell to the 2016 Seahawks’ regular-season.
It’s like Pete Carroll’s “Tell-the-Truth Monday,” except for the whole season — a time demanding a re-evaluation of what worked and what failed. Self-scouting, as they say.
So I go back to my season predictions. (“Pre” being the prefix meaning “before,” and “diction” from the Latin meaning: “Saying stupid stuff”).
And as I dive into the space between potential and reality, so often I find that gap stretched because of injuries to key players. Russell Wilson. Earl Thomas. Michael Bennett. Kam Chancellor. Thomas Rawls. Tyler Lockett.
When you’re looking ahead to an NFL season, it’s 100 percent certain that every team will be diminished at some point by injuries.
But when you have players like quarterback Wilson and free safety Thomas, who had never missed a game in their careers, you expect them to be available and at top form all season.
Given their status as the two most important players/leaders of the offense and defense, respectively, the impact of their injuries was dramatically compounded — and totally unexpected.
And although the offensive line turned into the problematic issue everybody predicted, it was the steady deleterious effects of injuries — worse than they’ve had in recent seasons — that left this regular season from becoming the 13-3 march toward the title game I expected.
Given the absurd second half of the season Wilson put together in 2015 (25 TD passes/2 interceptions), I saw 2016 as a chance for him to complete 70 percent of his passes and be the NFL MVP.
But early injuries not only forced him to change his style, they destabilized the entire offense. His passer rating (92.6) for the season was the worst of his career.
Seemingly indestructible through his first four seasons, Wilson fought ankle, knee and shoulder injuries that actually caused him to miss a few snaps and end up on the team’s injury reports.
He never missed a start, though, and in the long run, this display of resilience and toughness might be proof of deeper qualities we’d never seen.
On the other side of the ball, the safety tandem of Thomas (broken leg) and Chancellor (groin) played together only 5 1/2 games this season.
And from the point when Thomas first suffered a hamstring injury (Nov. 20), the Seahawks never won two consecutive games.
Receiver Doug Baldwin had the kind of season I foresaw (94 catches, 1,128 yards), but Wilson’s limitations affected everybody on the offense.
I expected Rawls’ return from a late-season broken ankle would mitigate the Marshawn Lynch retirement. But he couldn’t stay healthy himself, finishing with a sparse 109 carries for 349 yards, and a 3.2-yard average well below his league-leading 5.6 average in 2015.
I predicted that defenders would need to focus more heavily on Baldwin, allowing second-year receiver/returner Tyler Lockett to become a huge playmaker. He was slowed much of the season by an early knee injury, and just when he started returning to form, he suffered a season-ending broken leg on Christmas Eve against Arizona.
I wondered how well tight end Jimmy Graham could come back from his knee surgery, and suggested they didn’t need him to catch 80 passes, but “mostly to be a looming threat and towering target in the Red Zone.”
Graham at times seemed underutilized, but six of his 65 catches were for touchdowns, and he added blocking to his repertoire to increase his value to the team.
During camp, the 2016 draft class looked to have the most potential impact of any since 2012. But as coach Pete Carroll said on Monday, the rookies were “a great class that couldn’t stay healthy.”
Sound familiar? Totally valid, too.
A warning voiced in late August was a concern over the kind of key injuries that could derail even the best of teams, but also a reminder that “the Hawks have to take care of their business better this season than last, and not let wins slip away.”
That didn’t happen. Three losses and the tie came against teams with losing records.
So the regular season didn’t add up.
It makes the prediction of a title run more of a long shot. But it’s not over.