The most intriguing story of the NFL’s offseason figured to hinge on the aftermath of a catastrophic Super Bowl defeat.
How would the losers regroup? For that matter, could they regroup? The Lombardi Trophy was there for the taking, attainable with common-sense play calling.
The Atlanta Falcons, it turns out, apparently have moved on from the 34-28 defeat that found them blowing a 28-3 lead in the fourth quarter. Their historic breakdown required the coaches to make a succession of boneheaded decisions, but the story of The Super Bowl That Got Away is not about the Falcons.
It’s about the Seahawks, more than two years removed from a moment that has split the locker room into factions. Hawks fans could tell something was awry in 2016 — sideline rants don’t lie — but the depth of the unrest wasn’t revealed until last week, when ESPN’s Seth Wickersham provided details of a team in turmoil.
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Relying on anonymous sources, as well as a few former assistant coaches willing to go on the record, Wickersham assembled evidence of how the fallout from Super Bowl 49 is threatening to undermine the dynasty envisioned after Super Bowl 48.
“Few have taken it harder than Richard Sherman,” wrote Wickersham, referring to the All-Pro cornerback who has been unable, and unwilling, to put Russell Wilson’s intercepted goal-line pass against the Patriots in the past tense. “He has told teammates and friends he believes the Seahawks should have won multiple Super Bowls by now, and with just one trophy and the window closing fast, he has placed responsibility for that failing on the two faces of the franchise: Wilson and Pete Carroll.”
Wickersham’s story is well-researched and quite long. If you weren’t able to invest several minutes in reading it from start to finish, here are some bullet-point takeaways:
▪ Sherman has a problem with the way Carroll seems to coddle Wilson, giving the quarterback more props than due the leader of an offense held to 13 points or fewer five times last season.
▪ Sherman’s anger extends to the offense in general. When he noticed offensive lineman Germain Ifedi sitting at a desk for a team meeting, Sherman informed the rookie that desks are reserved for veterans — rookies are expected to sit on the floor.
Ifedi complied, but only after turning over the desk and nearly instigating a brawl.
▪ Wilson’s inclination to accentuate the positive, when positives are not obvious, tends to polarize an already polarized team.
The defense is convinced its talented core is being wasting away by an offense that can’t stay on the field. The offense sees the blown coverage on elementary tight end routes and wonders: We’re the problem?
Debunking the credibility of a story is easier than dealing with the reality it exposes, of course. Sherman called it “a bunch of nonsense from anonymous sources. Can never put gravity of things like that.”
Defensive end Michael Bennett had a more explicit description: “Trash.”
Sherman’s hostile sideline behavior last season — he had to be restrained on two occasions — suggests the only nonsense is denying what we all saw.
He was mad about the pass Wilson never should have thrown in the Super Bowl, mad that Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevill were reluctant to hold themselves accountable, and he said so.
Minicamp workouts this week will give Sherman and the Seahawks another opportunity for liberation. Instead of handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch at the goal line, Wilson threw a bad pass to a backup receiver.
Let it go. Please, just let it go.
The Falcons let it go. Their mismanagement of the fourth-quarter clock was more egregious than one dumb, doomed play call, but there’s a culture of professionalism in Atlanta the Seahawks would be wise to emulate.
“People aren’t complaining about the loss and that’s honest as I can be about it,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said last week on an MMQB Podcast. “There’s no other way to get over it unless you take it head-on.”
The window may be closing on the Seahawks’ chance to win at least one more Super Bowl, but at least there’s a window. Wiping it clean should be priority No. 1.