John McGrath

John McGrath: Panthers shovel the dirt on Legion of Boom’s grave

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen catches the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday as Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor looks on. Seahawks defenders admitted after the game that they were playing different cover schemes.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen catches the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday as Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor looks on. Seahawks defenders admitted after the game that they were playing different cover schemes. Staff photographer

Like the rest of the Seattle Seahawks, the “Legion of Boom” is a force no more.

Says who?

The Carolina Panthers, that’s who. Trailing by three points, they had the ball at the Seahawks’ 26-yard line Sunday with 36 seconds remaining. A year or two ago, Carolina coach Ron Rivera is happy to settle for a game-tying, field-goal attempt of 43 yards, setting up overtime.

A year or two ago, the Boomers strut off the field with 36 seconds remaining, knowing there’s no way an offense would dare put the ball in the air and risk a turnover.

But this is not a year or two ago, when the essence of the Seahawks’ NFC championship teams was a hard-hitting, ball-hawking, don’t-even-think-about-challenging-us secondary. This is 2015, when the difference between a 2-4 record and a 4-2 record has been consecutive fourth-quarter breakdowns by the former Pro Bowlers once collectively known as the Legion of Boom.

They used to wag their fingers in opponents’ faces. Now they point their fingers at each other, asking the questions that are inevitably posed when a receiver is left uncovered in the end zone: Whose guy was that? Yours? His? Mine?

A week after miscommunication issues enabled Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert to torch them on a simple seam route, the Seahawks were torched Sunday on a simple seam-route pass from Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen.

“We made a mistake on the calls,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of the last-minute touchdown pass that turned what appeared to be a certain victory into a 27-23 defeat. “Guys got confused on the signal.”

While Carroll declined to elaborate — “I know enough to know they weren’t on the same page,” he said — cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas pointed out that they were in different coverage formations.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Thomas, “especially when you know we had them. We don’t suck. We know who we are.”

And we know who they aren’t.

They aren’t the intimidators who gave the league’s best defense a swashbuckling identity. They aren’t the guys who didn’t so much keep up with receivers as smother them.

Most of all, they aren’t to be feared. Refusing to settle for the tie that would extend the game into overtime wasn’t really a decision by Rivera, because decisions imply either/or options.

A field goal? That was never in the mix.

“We didn’t really talk about it. We weren’t going to predetermine what our attitude was,” Olsen said of the scoring drive that began at the Carolina 20 with 2:20 left on the clock.

“We knew we had to go a long way,” Olsen continued, “but we weren’t panicking. We had a lot of composure. We didn’t say a lot in the huddle, because we had been there before. From there, we just kind of rolled.”

Imagine that. A team with a reputation for its plodding offense, coached by an ex-defensive coordinator who’s convinced that the key to winning football games is to minimize mistakes, “just kind of rolled” on the Seahawks, needing all of one minute and 48 seconds to advance 80 yards.

During what seemed like an eternal break before the Hawks’ final, desperate possession, Sherman faced his fellow defensive backs on the bench. Neither Carroll nor any of the assistant coaches came by to offer solace.

They were against the world, a condition well familiar to the Hawks’ secondary when it was the best in the business.

But the world doesn’t stand still. The world evolves, as do players, and the world now regards the Legion of Boom as just another unit on just another football team.

“With all of the history that we’ve had,” Carroll insisted, “there isn’t anything that’s over.”

The Carolina Panthers appeared to disagree with that assessment. By challenging the Hawks with a pass instead of a playing things safe with a kick, they announced the end of an era: The Legion of Boom is dead.

May it rest in pieces.

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