December 26, 2018

Seahawks 38, Chiefs 31

I've been thinking a lot about what turned this season around and why. Even an optimist like myself thought that this season would probably look a lot like 2002 or 2011 - A season where we'd build the foundation for later success, but end up with 7 or 8 wins. I didn't buy into the Doomsday-End-of-All-Things apocalyptic narrative that was floating around in the offseason and into September, but I didn't expect an immediate return to the playoffs, either.

So what was it? Obviously it's reductive to narrow it down to just one thing, but one common narrative is that after starting 0-2, Pete Carroll demanded that Schottenheimer's offense focus on running the ball. And running the ball. And also, in addition, running the ball. That's certainly not WRONG, but I don't think that was the biggest factor in the team's turnaround, either.

The turning point of this season was Earl Thomas III getting injured in Glendale in week 4.

I'm not trying to shit on ETIII here. His Seattle legacy is untouchable. The second he retires, he'll merge directly onto the Ring-of-Honor-Number-Retired-Bust-in-Canton Highway. Also, he absolutely deserves to get PAID. I can see why he was pissed at the Hawks' organization. He had a legit beef.

However... I can also see why the Seahawks didn't jump at the chance to bury Earl in Walter White Storage Space-sized piles of money. The injuries were starting to accumulate. The locker room vibe was changing into something bitter and curdled. But, Thomas is still one of the best defensive players in the league, so why trade him away for less than what he was truly worth?

Y'all know what happened in Glendale back in September: Earl broke his leg, and gave the Seattle sideline the finger as he was getting carted off the field. It was one of the ugliest moments I can recall in 35 seasons of Twelving. I was on Seahawks twitter and the reaction was fairly unanimous there: Game lost. Season lost. Pete and John are morons for not trading Earl.

The team found a way to grind out an ugly win, and the Hawks stood at 2-2. But with Earl out for the year and the formidable Rams coming to town, another beatdown from Los Angeles seemed pre-ordained. One of the most shocking results of the season's first half was Seattle outplaying the Rams. Sure, they lost by two. But this WAS a moral victory. In fact, it was more than that. It was proof of concept that the 2018 Seahawks were not a lost cause. This was Adonis Creed losing at the end of the first movie - A disappointing result, but a sign that future victories awaited.

Maybe the first five games of the season were 2002 or 2011, just abbreviated? Because since that first Rams game, the Seahawks have been one of the most punishing and dangerous teams in football.

Long-time readers know that I'm not psyched about rooting for Frank Clark, given his history of domestic abuse. I'm a total hypocrite, yes I know. I won't buy his jersey, but obviously he's an incredibly important contributor to the team's success. I have to give him credit for voicing something that has nagged at me for a good long while: That many of the core defensive players never really let go of or got over the ending of Super Bowl XLIX. As Clark said:

"For so long, I feel like we've had this spirit over us -- that Super Bowl lingering from 2015. You know what I mean? I feel like for the longest (time) we had that cloud over us, like people wouldn't get over it. But I feel like there were some changes here."
It's one thing for fans to not get over XLIX - I haven't! - But for the leaders of the team in the locker room to not get over that game? That's corrosive. And I think that quote helps us all understand why the team moved on from a LOT of very talented and popular players this offseason. I think it's clear that on top of his contract angst, ETIII was carrying around some resentment about that game, too. 
Since Earl's injury, the Hawks are 7-4, and three of those losses were by a total 15 points to the Rams and Chargers. The defense isn't as dominant as it was the peak of the L.O.B. era, but it's had a knack for creating turnovers and getting stops in high-leverage spots. The offensive line is MASSIVELY improved, which has allowed Chris Carson to blast the ever-loving shit out of opposing defenses. With time to throw and a legitimate running game keeping enemy defenses honest, Russell Carrington Wilson has had the best season of his badly underrated career. No quarterback in the game is more efficient, and no one else throws a deadlier deep ball than the WolfBadger. The only reason RW3 isn't a more prominent MVP candidate is the fetishization of total passing yards over efficiency and TD-to-INT ratios. Tyler Lockett is earning every penny of his new contract, and a healthy Doug Baldwin is showing that he's one of the most lethal offensive talents in the NFL. 
I was lucky enough to be at the game Sunday night. I've been going to Seahawks games for 35 years, and that was one of the best game-day experiences I've ever had. There was a playoff-like atmosphere and the 12s were at something close to peak volume. I was there up in section 325 with one of my very best friends, the Seahawks played their best game of the season, and they cliched a playoff spot with an upset win over mighty Kansas City. When I think about regular-season wins in Seattle that I've attended, this was up there with being at the Largent-hitting-Harden in 1988, the MNF win over the Raiders the same year, the playoff-clinching win over New England in '83, the crazy shootout win over the Raiders in 1997, the final regular season game at the Kingdome in '99, and the Thursday night opener vs Green Bay in 2014. 
So now we find ourselves on a collision course with Dallas in the Wild Card round. I don't know about y'all, but I'm HANGRY for that game. What could be more fun than beating Jerry Jones' boys in their own house and mentally destroying Cowboys fans across the globe? The wins that come after that, of course. I don't think the party is stopping in JerryWorld, and it might not stop until a parade in Seattle next February. 
Would you like to know more?
At Seahawks games with my friend Kris in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2018. :)