After avoiding their usual slow start, Seahawks are clear Super Bowl contenders
SEATTLE – It seems like something similar happens every season with the Seahawks. The slow start. The offensive inconsistency. The big meeting. Some big meeting. The spark. The playoff run. That’s how the Seahawks operate. They discuss how they won’t start slow, then start slow, thus lowering expectations, only to resurface down the stretch. It’s the NFL’s rope-a-dope equivalent.
In October, every October, Seattle’s football juggernaut looks vulnerable, discombobulated, good but not necessarily great. Pundits seize on signs that their run under Coach Pete Carroll is over, and then it’s November and then Thanksgiving and then December, and everything begins to click. If the Seahawks put out a team calendar they could basically leave off September and October and jump straight from August to November.
Here’s the thing, though, about the Seahawks’ 2016 campaign: they didn’t play anything that resembled their best football until Week 10, at New England, in a 31–24 triumph. They didn’t beat potential playoff teams in back-to-back weeks until they topped the Eagles, 26–15, at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, a week after toppling the Patriots. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, has played through significant knee and ankle injuries; their running backs seem to get hurt every week (and again on Sunday) and their offensive line appeared to be a major issue until two weeks ago. And despite all of that, Seattle has only lost two games. The Seahawks are 7–2–1 in an NFC West division where no other team is even .500. They are 7–2–1 in a conference where it’s the Cowboys and them and then everybody else. There were a lot of reasons why they should have struggled over the last couple of months, and yet they’ve come out of those slow months in great shape.
“It feels like that time of year again,” center Justin Britt said in a quiet moment at his locker a half hour after the Hawks won the battle of the birds. “I don’t know why this always happens. But …”
And here’s another twist: the Seahawks haven’t needed their usual come-to-Jesus meeting to get on track. There hasn’t been any players-only confab. No heated argument (like last year) between receiver Doug Baldwin and Carroll. They haven’t needed it. They’ve even discussed how they haven’t needed a moment to regroup, with team leaders stressing the need to minimize dramatics in a season that has been steadier than they’re used to.
August feels like a million years ago. Remember then? That’s when all the pundits pointed to Seattle, Arizona and Carolina as three of the best teams in football, along with New England, who would start the season without quarterback Tom Brady after he was suspended for his role in Deflategate. Well, Arizona fell to 4–5–1 on Sunday. Carolina is 4–6. And the Seahawks, in this down-is-up season, have actually avoided a slow start. How un-Seahawkian of them.
In fact, Seattle’s offense appears primed for a postseason run. Everything worked in Sunday’s win over the Eagles, even though setbacks emerged. Rookie running back C.J. Prosise ripped off a 72-yard touchdown run, averaged 19 yards a carry and left the game with a scapula injury that may sideline him the rest of the season. Then, Thomas Rawls, who hadn’t played since Week 2, stepped in and gained 57 yards on 14 carries. The Seahawks’ maligned o-line cleared the way for 152 rushing yards at a 5.1-yard-per-carry clip. Eight receivers caught passes, as did Wilson, who hauled in a 15-yard touchdown thrown by Baldwin, his favorite target. Baldwin also caught four passes for 104 yards, after completing the first TD throw—of his life. “I’ve been lobbying for that pass for weeks now,” he said.
In the past two weeks, the Seahawks offense resembled the Seahawks offense from the end of the 2015 season, when it ranked among the top outfits in the league. One could argue, and fairly easily, that this version could be better. The biggest reason for that is Jimmy Graham, the former All Pro tight end who tore the patellar tendon in his right knee last November.
Graham looks healthy now. He looks more like the player who terrorized defenses in New Orleans each week. On Sunday, Wilson called Graham the “best tight end in the National Football League,” and while Rob Gronkowski and common sense would disagree with Wilson, Graham does add a different dimension to the Seahawks offense. It’s most noticeable in two places: how defenses can’t key on the run game and how often the Seahawks can incorporate the deep ball. Wilson-to-Baldwin-40-yards-down-field has become a staple of their 2016 offense, which takes defenders away from the line of scrimmage, which takes pressure off the line.
Because the Seahawks defense looks as formidable as ever, when the offense hums, when Graham is open and Baldwin is open and Tyler Lockett is open and even Wilson is open, the Seahawks look like a Super Bowl contender. They look like a team set to play the Cowboys for the right to represent the NFC in Houston. And while it’s early—undoubtedly, it’s early—this is the best the Seahawks have looked at this point in the season since they won the Super Bowl three years ago. This team is better on offense than that one was.
Yet the Seahawks hardly celebrated Sunday when they finished off the Eagles in a game they dominated by a far greater margin than the final score. There were no shouts coming from the showers, no high-five bonanzas, nothing beyond a quiet confidence as the players dressed and headed into the night. It was business as unusual, and for Seattle that marked a positive development, still peaking, still time to improve, and in far better shape compared to recent seasons.