John McGrath

Spiritual and mental benefits of an NFL bye week are debatable

Seattle quarterback (3) Russell Wilson spent part of his bye week playing catch with Paul Richardson.
Seattle quarterback (3) Russell Wilson spent part of his bye week playing catch with Paul Richardson. The Associated Press

The Seahawks haven’t competed in a football game since Oct. 8, which is 14 days in actual time and about 14 years in Roger Goodell’s NFL.

Since the Seahawks survived a 16-10 slog at Los Angeles against the Rams, Green Bay lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone, Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch lost his cool, the NFL lost the latest round in its ongoing court battle against Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and we lost the sun.

Now it’s back to the grind for the Hawks, whose 10-week stretch to finish the regular season begins on the road Sunday against the Giants.

Bye dates became an annual occurrence in 1990, when the NFL expanded its schedule to 17 weeks. There’s a perception teams benefit from the opportunity to rest bodies and recharge their batteries.

“I think it always helps spiritually, mentally and physically to get away from the game a little bit and enjoy your family, watch games on TV and spend some time working on what you messed up during the season, and just reflecting,” Hawks defensive end Michael Bennett said last week.

Bennett’s points make sense, but the extent to which a bye is an advantage can be disputed. Over the five seasons preceding 2017, NFL teams were 83-75-2 — a .519 winning percentage — following their bye.

Because every Pete Carroll team seems to start slow before finding its groove in November, you’d figure the Hawks’ post-bye record under Carroll would be more impressive than a mixed-bag 4-3 that includes the ultimate mixed-bag contest last October 16.

Appearing refreshed and refocused, the Seahawks jumped to a 17-3 first-half lead over Atlanta at CenturyLink Field. Spiritually, mentally and physically, everybody was on the same page.

Then the Falcons showed why they’d go on to become NFC champs. Quarterback Matt Ryan shredded Seattle’s defense, completing three touchdown passes within an 11-minute span in the third quarter.

Although the Seahawks rallied for a 26-24 victory, the story of the afternoon — it became the story of the season — was cornerback Richard Sherman’s sideline tantrum following one of Ryan’s touchdown passes.

So much for the spiritual and mental benefits of the bye week.

What might rank as Carroll’s longest day with the Seahawks followed a 2011 bye date. They traveled to Cleveland, where the defense held the Browns to a pair of field goals.

Surrendering six points almost always translates into a victory, unless the offense answers with only three. Absent the injured Lynch in the backfield, backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst attempted 30 passes and completed 12, for 97 yards.

Whenever I hear groaning over Russell Wilson’s failure to identify a wide open target downfield, my retort contains two words. The first is “Charlie.” The second is “Whitehurst.”

Speaking of Wilson, he used the bye-week break to throw passes to wide receiver Paul Richardson.

“He was down in California and so was I,” Wilson said Wednesday. “Typically what happens is that everybody talks: ‘What are you doing during the bye week? What are you during the offseason?’ So you kind of know where guys are. We definitely connected and made sure we stayed fresh.”

Each to his own. As Bennett was enjoying a few days away from football with his family during the break, Wilson and Richardson worked on the synchronicity required to deliver precise passes on precise routes.

“A unique week, coming off the bye,” Carroll said Thursday. “I’m really pleased with how we worked. There’s a lot of energy, guys feel good. We were able to work really hard and maximize the rest part of it.”

They are ready for some football, determined to secure another bye date in January, the most precious of all.

It’s the one that spares an elite division champion from the first playoff round, and often separates Super Bowl participants from Super Bowl viewers.

John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath

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