For the second straight year, a really good Seahawks team was convincingly beaten by a better team in the playoffs.
No insult there. If that’s where you’re aiming.
Five straight divisional-round appearances and five consecutive double-digit win seasons is a string of success this franchise has never known.
But for the past two seasons, the Seahawks have not been a Super Bowl-caliber team.
Top four in the conference, sure. Owners of their division, at least for now? Absolutely.
But by losing 36-20 to the Falcons, it’s clear the Seahawks have slipped a notch or two. And they’re going to need to change some things to step back up.
Based on gut feeling, I’d say the Seahawks who left the field as losers to Atlanta on Saturday were much further from making it to the Super Bowl than the surging Seahawks who lost to the Falcons in the divisional round after the 2012 season.
Coach Pete Carroll told his team after Saturday’s loss that they’re still in the middle of this streak. Nothing is over, he said.
Maybe. But they need to take a long look at how they’re doing things if they want to get back to the very top before the key talent ages out of contention.
Carroll’s right about the potential: They still have the high-end talent to contend. But not to the same depth in the roster, and not enough to overcome some areas of current weakness.
They still have plenty of the grit that Carroll and GM John Schneider look for. But are they as hungry as when they were on the way up? Not every week, that’s for sure.
How to rediscover that? Where to start? During the season, Carroll likes to have “Tell the Truth Monday,” when they’re honest about their shortcomings.
This whole offseason needs to be in that vein, with harsh critical self-examination.
First off, they’re not as good as they were. And if they deny that, they’re kidding themselves.
Key injuries played a role this season’s performance. Sure. You can’t lose safety Earl Thomas and stay at the same level.
But there were other lethal issues.
▪ When last season ended, Carroll promised that the No. 1 priority was to rebuild the offensive line. They tried, drafting three rookies and bringing on two marginal free agents.
It was asking too much to meld that much youth and inexperience. They improved as the season went on, but it was a difficult mismatch almost every game.
And unless significant improvement or player upgrades are made, it will continue to be a limiting factor.
▪ The defense was strong again, but the injury to Thomas, and other depth factors, made it obvious this unit was not up to the standard of its recent predecessors.
Was it as aggressive? Didn’t seem to be. The biggest issue was the absence of turnovers. They didn’t make an interception in their final six games.
They were minus-2 in turnovers against the Falcons, and that took them to minus-1 for the entire season. In 2013, they were plus-20.
Even if they were plus-10 this season, they’d likely be back in the conference title game.
How much of this statistical drop-off is the result of the players’ execution or coordinator Kris Richard’s approach? It’s a question they’ll need to examine and correct.
▪ A common contention has been that the team views every game as a championship opportunity.
It didn’t look as if the entire team believed that anymore.
There definitely were games this season where the Seahawks played down to their opponents.
The thing they must realize is that every team does its best to play “up” to them. They bring the “A” game out of their opponents. They don’t have the same margin to cover a lack of intensity.
Again, it’s timely to ask if the Seahawks are too convinced of their ability to recapture the magic when they need it.
You could hear it throughout the season: We’ll turn it on when we need to.
The critical importance of every game, even early in the season, must be reinforced to this team.
Yes, quarterback Russell Wilson was injured, but the 9-3 loss in the second week at the Rams was inexcusable. There’s plenty of time to overcome it. It’s something to learn from, they said.
But right now, when the pain of this loss is fresh, it’s a good time to recognize that if the Seahawks had taken care of business on that day, they’d have finished 11-4-1 and been the No. 2 seed. They’d have been playing the Falcons at home instead of on the road in this round.
Huge difference. Right?
Pete Carroll is a master motivator, one of the best in coaching. But some of the old messages aren’t getting through.
That happens. I have no doubt he’s going to continue to do what he has vowed to do: “Find ways to do it better than anybody ever has.”
He’ll know that some things need to be changed. And this very much feels like a fork in the road.
They can keep it up and be really good.
But I don’t think that’s enough for Carroll and most of the team.