SEATTLE – Nothing lasts forever. Not life, not luck and not football glory.
The Seattle Seahawks five-year run as a playoff team and a championship contender has ended, at least for now. It’s been a hell of a party.
The Seahawks lost 26-24 Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals after Blair Walsh was wide right on a 48-yard field attempt in the final seconds, a somewhat predictable demise for a kicker who missed eight times this season from outside the 30-yard-line.
It left the Seahawks 9-7, the first time Seattle failed to reach double-figure victories since 2011. A few minutes before that ugly boot, the Seahawks learned they also would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Atlanta’s 22-10 home victory over Carolina sealed that fate.
When time ran out, the scoreboards at CenturyLink Field read Happy New Year. Maybe saying A Better New Year would feel more appropriate to the deflated New Year’s Eve crowd.
Fans become spoiled by success and the Seahawks have enjoyed so many wonderful moments under coach Pete Carroll, including a Super Bowl victory and back-to-back appearances in the final game.
Five consecutive playoff seasons, Beastmode with Marshawn Lynch, the Legion of Boom with the talented Seattle secondary, and Pro Bowlers galore on both sides of the ball.
It was a five-year run of fun, so falling short after such a remarkable stretch is hard to accept.
“Painful,’’ said Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin on how he feels. “Honestly, before the game I was preparing myself because there were a lot of things we couldn’t control. I prepared myself for the worst-case scenario, but I didn’t realize how painful it would be.”
Baldwin had two touchdown catches in the second half as the Seahawks came back from a 20-7 halftime deficit and led 24-23 late in the game. But it was a game like so many others this year when the offense was virtually non-existent at the start.
Seattle had 24 yards of offense and only one first down in the first half. The only TD was a spectacular 99-yard kickoff return by Tyler Lockett.
The Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde offense finally got going in the second half, but the pattern of horrible starts, stupid penalties and senseless mistakes were a death knell long before Walsh’s inevitable missed kick.
“The first thing I want to say is this has been a really challenging season for us,’’ Carroll said. “The game today almost was a microcosm for the season, getting in our own way.”
Russell Wilson led the NFL this year in TD passes with 34, incredible considering the team had no running game, a porous offensive line and was all but dormant for a lot of quarters in 2017.
“I think we had all the pieces at the beginning of the year,’’ Wilson said. “I thought this was going to be our best team, honestly. Then we had a lot of injuries. But there still is no excuse for losing because I believe we have a lot of winners.”
The Seattle defense lost cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor to season-ending injuries. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner played the entire second half of the year on a bad hamstring that limited his effectiveness and defensive end Michael Bennett basically played all year on one good leg.
But injuries alone don’t come close to explaining the team’s downfall. This is a group that has lost its identity. These Seahawks are no longer a power-running team. They no longer have that intimidation factor on either side of the ball. And they are an aging group of stars that leave the team with enormous salary-cap issues moving forward.
Things must change and they will change.
“For it to end this way is really just so disappointing,’’ Baldwin said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for all the years we’ve had getting in the playoffs, but there definitely is more out there for us.”
Is there? Possibly, if the right moves are made in the offseason. It’s still a team loaded with talent, along with some promising young starts like cornerback Shaquill Griffin, defensive tackle Naz Jones and defensive back Justin Coleman.
The offense, however, needs a complete overhaul, and maybe, a new assistant coach or two to give a new perspective. Some of the beloved stars will be gone in 2018, but with Wilson and Wagner as the anchors, the Seahawks can rebound quickly.
“The most important thing we can do now is self-reflection,’’ Baldwin said. “I hope all the players and coaches do some soul searching.”
It’s a new experience for many of the Seahawks. This is the first time Wagner and Wilson have missed the playoffs.
“It’s part of the journey,’’ Wilson said. “It’s not easy to be great. You have to do all the little things right. A few times this season we missed the mark, for whatever reason. I have no regrets. We laid it on the line every day.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers should be celebrating a big victory today, not trying to make sense of the senseless catch rule in the NFL.
By almost any reasonable view, Jesse James was robbed Sunday, no pun intended. The Pittsburgh tight end appeared to score the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots.
James caught the pass from Ben Roethlisberger at the 2-yard-line, reaching out to grab the ball with both hands. James clearly made the catch with his back to the end zone, then turned and pulled the ball down before reaching it across the goal line.
TD, right? Well, not according to the replay officials.
Official Tony Corrente announced, “The receiver did not survive the ground.”
That sound ominous. James is fine, but this rule needs to flat line. It states the player must retain control to the ground, including in the end zone.
When James’ hands hit the ground, the ball moved slightly. So, by rule, he didn’t maintain possession through the end of the catch to the ground. No TD.
The TV announcers were shocked, the crowd was shocked, even the Patriots were shocked.
It’s the worst rule in the NFL and something virtually no one fully understands. It needs simplification in the offseason and changed to make a reception an easier act to accomplish.
As for the play Sunday night, if James had taken the ball on a reverse and done the exact same thing at the goal line, it would be a touchdown. As soon as the ball crosses the plane, the play is over.
There is zero doubt that James caught the ball. He wasn’t bobbling it in any way as he turned and reached forward. He still had both hands on the ball when his hands hit the ground and the ball jostles on the turf.
It shouldn’t matter. The play was over. James caught it, turned and reached the ball over the goal line.
Had James made the same play in the middle of the field, he wouldn’t have outstretched his arms as he turned around. He would have pulled the ball in as he went down. He only reached out to get the ball over the goal line.
How can you rule against the man for what would be a TD in any other situation?
This rule continues to cause problems on both sides of the interpretation. It clearly doesn’t work to anyone’s satisfaction. In this case, it probably kept the Steelers from having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Don’t punish players for making a great play. This rule has to change.
SEATTLE – The torch has passed. A glorious era has ended for the Seahawks.
For the diehard Seattle fans, as loyal and dedicated as any in the NFL, it was painful to watch. The Los Angeles Rams - younger, tougher and hungrier - humiliated the Seahawks in a 42-7 victory before a stunned crowd at CenturyLink Field.
“That, obviously, was an embarrassing loss,’’ said Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin. “Am I concerned? Yes, in the loss and the way we lost.”
Baldwin had a meeting with the players after the game.
“I told them to let it burn,’’ Baldwin said. “Remember this feeling.”
The Rams are 10-4 and the Seahawks are 8-6 in the NFC West. Officially, the division title isn’t over. Unofficially, it’s over in so many ways.
Everyone in Seattle has seen the signs this season, but no one wanted to admit it. They wanted to keep believing in a team that has accomplished so much under Pete Carroll since he became the head coach in 2010. This was the worst loss of the Carroll era.
“I wasn't happy about anything,’’ Carroll said afterward. “That was a really dismal performance by us. It’s all on us and we have to hold ourselves accountable. It’s hard to explain something I haven’t seen from us.”
This is not the team that went to back-to-back Super Bowls in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. It’s not the team that made the playoffs for five consecutive seasons.
This is a bruised and battered lot that was trying to hang on against all odds. Seattle was missing four Pro-Bowl players from its defense Sunday -- linebacker K.J. Wright, defensive end Cliff Avril, strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was playing with a bad hamstring injury.
However, if you think the Seahawks lost this game just because of injuries you are fooling yourself. The Seahawks lost to the team they used to be _ young, talented and confident.
A team with an up-and-coming quarterback in Jared Goff and a dominant running back in Todd Gurley, who rushed for 152 yards Sunday and scored four touchdowns. And it’s a team with a dominant defense and scary pass rush. Russell Wilson was sacked seven times.
That’s who the Seahawks were. It is not who they are. It’s who the Rams are now under rookie coach Sean McVay, a shoo-in for Coach of the Year honors. And go ahead a list wise old sage Wade Phillips the top assistant coach as the defensive coordinator.
“That was a tremendous showing by the Rams,’’ Carroll said. “I give them a lot of credit. They’ve played well all year long.”
The Seahawks still could win their last two games and possibly make the playoffs. If so, it’s an illusion. This is the first time the Seahawks have lost three home games in a season since 2011, the last time they failed to make the playoffs.
“That was not the game we expected to play,’’ Wilson said. “They were way better than us. Where do we have to get better? I don’t know where to start.”
The team has to face facts. Major changes are needed. It must get younger. It must find a quality running back. And it must get better on the offensive line.
Even if Avril, Chancellor and Sherman all return in 2017 (not likely with the neck injuries to Avril and Chancellor) they are aging players whose better days probably are behind them. The truth is the Seahawks can’t keep all these guys together anyway because of salary-cap issues.
This isn’t about starting over. Seattle still is a team with plenty of quality players, along with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Wilson. It’s not time to rebuild, but it is time to retool and upgrade in a few key spots.
The injuries and the weak spots caught up with the Seahawks Sunday, but the best team won. And the Rams are a team that should be good for a long time.
The sooner the Seahawks admit that fact, the faster they can get back to who they were.
“We’re struggling right now,’’ Baldwin said. “Through adversity is when you find out who you are.’’
Bowl season started Saturday. Did you care? Did you notice or did you yawn and go back to your frantic Christmas shopping?
Be honest. How many of the mid-December bowl games do you really care about? For the vast majority of casual college football fans, it is about the same interest as receiving a fruitcake for Christmas.
Unless your school is playing, the interest is “Meh, I might watch if I’m channel surfing while downing a rum and eggnog.’’
Of the five bowl games that played Saturday, Oregon was the only team from a Power-5 conference. The Ducks (7-6) lost 38-28 to Boise State. There are 14 bowl games before Dec. 26th. Texas Tech is the only other Power-5 conference team in those games, and the Red Raiders are 6-6.
I’m not knocking the other conferences. Heck, my alum-mater (Houston) falls in that group and plays Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. And I’ll be watching. At least it’s two teams with winning records _ Fresno State at 9-4 and my Cougars at 7-4.
There are 40 bowl games, plus the championship game. That’s at least 10 too many. That’s 80 teams, 12 more teams than play in the NCAA basketball tournament. All those games matter, even for a No. 16 seed and the teams in a play-in game.
I'm all for giving smaller schools a day on the national stage, but earn it. The Celebration Bowl Saturday was a game between 11-0 North Carolina A&T and 11-1 Grambling. Those teams earned it.
The bowls this year include 16 teams without a winning record. All of those teams are 6-6. At least no 5-7 teams are playing in a bowl game this year.
Two games have matchups against 6-6 teams _ Navy vs. Virginia in the Camping World Bowl and Utah State vs. New Mexico State in the Arizona Bowl. Nothing against any of those schools, but two of them are going to end the year with a losing record.
Some of these bowl games basically are made-for-TV events, a way for cable networks to add live programming at games with nearly empty grandstands. And as long as TV networks are willing to foot the bill and pay the NCAA huge sums of money, these rag-tag bowl games will continue.
USA Today reported this week that Disney, who owns ESPN and ABC, pays to televise 35 of the 40 bowl games. It also owns 13 major-college bowl games, mostly lower-tier games.
Every conference makes money off the bowl system. The conferences divide the earnings among all its schools. USA Today reported that $622 million was paid out last year, $441 million of which involved the playoff.
Everybody is making money off a lot of games that have little national interest; heck, little interest anywhere. The playoff has the three games with the most interest, of course, but there are other great matchups besides the four teams that made the playoff.
A few examples: USC vs. Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl, Penn State vs. Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, Wisconsin vs. Miami in the Orange Bowl, unbeaten Central Florida vs. Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
All deserving and all interesting matchups worthy of being labeled 2017 bowl teams. The problem is over saturation and games with too many undeserving participants.
But what the heck. It beats watching the Cleveland Browns or the New York Giants.
RENTON, Wash. – Don’t try to tell the Seahawks this is a big game. Yes, the NFC West top spot is on the line against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
So? It is just another championship opportunity, the same mantra for every game under coach Pete Carroll.
It sounds corny and hard to believe entering a game that means as much as the one at CenturyLink Field this weekend, but the Seahawks believe it. Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin said teams that get too fired up about one game tend to make mistakes.
“They try to do too much,’’ Baldwin said. “They go outside their means. They make things up. We always say here, ‘We just need you to be you.’ If you try to be something else, it’s not going to work out because you won’t be consistent.”
Regardless of the team philosophy, December games with something on the line is as good as it gets in the NFL regular season. When the NFL schedules divisional matchups late in the year, the hope is to get a few games that really matter.
So here we are. The winner is the leader in the division with two games to go.
For the Seahawks, it is a chance to show they still are the big boys on the block, having won three of the last four NFC West titles (and a Super Bowl) and eight division crowns since 2004. For the Rams, it is a chance to show the torch has passed to a team that has not won a division championship since 2003.
Yes, it’s big. Actually, it’s close to a must-win for the 8-5 Seahawks. Both teams enter the game after a loss, but the Rams are 9-4. A victory by Los Angeles doesn’t clinch the division title, however, a two-game lead with two to play looks pretty good.
A victory for Seattle places both teams 9-5. Seattle would have the division advantage with two wins over the Rams this season. A loss by the Seahawks would leave them is precarious position of making the playoffs, even as a wildcard team.
Both teams have games they should win at home to end the regular season _ the Arizona Cardinals in Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers in LA. Both the Rams and the Seahawks play tough road games next week – the Rams at Tennessee and the Seahawks at Dallas.
The Seahawks enter Sunday’s game as a 2-point favorite, but injuries on defense are a major concern.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, probably the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has a hamstring injury and his status in uncertain. Linebacker K.J. Wright is going through concussion protocol this week.
The Seahawks were concerned enough about it that they made a move Wednesday, bringing up former TCU linebacker Paul Dawson from the practice squad.
If Wagner and Wright are out, the Seahawks would enter the biggest game of the season without five Pro Bowl players on defense, including defensive end Cliff Avril, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor.
The Rams have been the surprise team of the season, which likely will make rookie head coach Sean McVay Coach of the Year. What McVay and his staff have done to turn around second-year quarterback Jared Goff is a huge factor in the team’s success.
“It’s a big difference for Goff from last year,’’ Carroll said. “He’s playing up to his potential. He’s making great throws and he’s in command of the offense. He’s really grown.”
And defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has brought out the best in a talented group of players on the other side of the ball.
The Seahawks pulled off a 16-10 victory over the Rams at the Coliseum on Oct. 8. That said, Seattle never has faced a Rams team this good in December since Pete Carroll took over in 2010.
“They’ve really turned everything around and have had a fantastic season,’’ Carroll said. “We have great respect for what they’re doing.”
Just don’t call it a big game if you’re around the Seahawks. It’s another championship opportunity.