2nd Update: Well, Fuck.
UPDATE: Okung appears to only be out 2-4 weeks, so I'm feeling a bit better about things.. but the basic thesis of this post stands: For Seattle to compete for the NFC West title, we need a full, proficient season from our #1 draft choice.
I am well-known as an optimistic Seahawks fan. Even last year, when Mare's FG beat the Niners, I thought the 5-7 Hawks still had a shot at post season play. I'm not known to be a purveyor of gloom and doom...
The Okung injury REALLY casts a dark pall over the Seahawks prospects this season. If he truly does have a high ankle sprain, and could miss two months, our chances of competing for the NFC West title just took a massive hit. Why?
I think it's pretty clear that Seattle's main hope of contending this year largely rested upon a Pro Bowl-level Renaissance for Matthew Hasselbeck. Without Okung there to protect Beck, it's not hard to imagine Patrick Willis fucking up ANOTHER Seahawks season with a blind-side hit in the opener... Even if Beck survives a few weeks of abuse from opposing defenses in Okung's absence, #76's rookie season will likely be stunted and sub-optimal from a developmental standpoint.
The short version of all this? I just went from being CONFIDENT that the Seahawks could win 9 games to HOPING they MIGHT win 9 games. As Liz Lemon might say: Blerg.
In the big picture though, I hope that Seahawks management doesn't succumb to the urge to rush Okung back. It would be idiotic to push one of our franchise's cornerstones back on the field too quickly, particularly in a season where A) the head coach has some degree of job security and B) the franchise QB is 35 and a free agent after this season.
I would never wish ill upon Beck, who is one of my all-time favorite players, but if he goes down we will at least definitively see if Whitehurst can play, and then make a decision about going after a QB in the '11 draft.
Those ESPN bobbleheads like to talk about how NFL coaches break seasons up into "quarters." I think the first quarter of this season will be a fulcrum upon which the future of this franchise pivots... let's look at the realistic best and worst case scenarios:
Best: Hawks take care of SF, Denver and STL and start 3-1. Hasselbeck is protected well, Young Nastyman and Leon: The Professional get the ground game going, and our WR corps plays up to its potential. Even in this rosy (but plausible) scenario, there is no incentive to rush Okung back into action.
Worst: Brutal home loss to the Niners. Road and home beatings from our old AFC West foes. A squeaker of a win at STL. Beck is hurt and/or ineffective. 1-3. Whitehurst takes over under center and starts at Chicago after the bye. With a season already spiraling out of control, it makes sense to wait for Okung's ankle to heal completely.
The bottom line? I'm still hopeful, but I can't shake the fact that my expectations just took a big, crippling blow. Maybe, just maybe, the Seahawks will EXCEED expectations for once?