Has the Window of Opportunity Closed for the Seahawks?

Only five seasons removed from perhaps the most controversial loss in Super Bowl history back in January 2010, the Seattle Seahawks franchise found itself at a crossroads. After suffering a gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of the Steelers subsequently after Super Bowl 40, the Seahawks failed to get back to the Super Bowl after a 2005 season in which they had by far the most successful season in franchise history, as they finished with a 13-3 record that topped the NFC standings, and finished with the second-best point differential in football, behind only the then Peyton Manning-led Colts. Shaun Alexander led the league in rushing and won MVP. Head coach Mike Holmgren, a decade removed from winning Super Bowl 31 with the Packers, had spearheaded another transfiguration with a team previously known for nothing but pure moribundity. But it didn’t culminate in the ultimate desire for every gridiron gladiator with a bird on his helmet that year.

The Seahawks had steamrolled their way into Super Bowl 40, defeating the Redskins and Panthers by scores of 20-10 and 34-14, respectively. The win against the Redskins was the team’s first playoff win in 21 years. But the glory ended after the Super Bowl, as the Steelers defeated the Seahawks, 24-10. The officiating was immediately met with scorching scrutiny and media criticism, though it proved futile in changing the outcome of the game. Although the Seahawks would still qualify for the playoffs subsequently in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, both ended with a loss in the divisional round. They missed the playoffs altogether in 2008, finishing 4-12. Holmgren and the Seahawks parted ways before the 2009 season, which also resulted in only a 16-game season, as Seattle finished 5-11. The team was in purgatory, having declined precipitously from an NFC powerhouse to the laughingstock of football in what was the weakest division in the NFL for several years.

That changed on January 11th, 2010, when Pete Carroll was named as the eighth head coach in franchise history, freshly removed from one of the most successful tenures in FBS history, having led USC to seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships, finishing his time in Southern California with a 97-19 record. Carroll also had a history in the NFL before, as he went 27-21 as head of the Patriots between 1997-1999, with two playoff appearances. Carroll’s track record could hardly be disputed, but the question remained as to whether he could outdo his predecessor. That question was answered expeditiously.

Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle was one of the more enthralling seasons by any single team in NFL history. That year, the Seahawks became the first (and so far the only) team in NFL history to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record, as they won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. They even upset the Saints in the wild-card game, winning 41-36 in front of the boisterous, burgeoning home crowd that would soon become known as the “12th Man”. The sheer vociferousness of the Seattle faithful, amalgamated with the “Beast Quake” touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch on a trap play generated a mild tremor, which became a metaphor for the next few seasons of Seahawks football. The run essentially ended the game, but the Seahawks lost to the Bears in the divisional round, 35-24. But a fire was started in Seattle.

The 2011 season was forgettable, as the Seahawks finished 7-9 again, but did not qualify for the playoffs. But in the subsequent 2012 season, they became a legitimate contender. Franchise quarterback Matt Hasselbeck departed in free agency and found himself in Tennesse, and the Seahawks needed a new man under center. Andrew Luck was rumored to be coveted by Seattle, as he was by many teams, but he found himself as Peyton Manning’s successor in Indianapolis. Heisman winner Robert Griffin III was drafted by the Redskins, along with Kirk Cousins. Ryan Tannehill was taken by the Dolphins. But the best quarterback of that draft class was discovered by the Seahawks, a man named Russell Wilson. A quarterback who, despite a stellar career with Wisconsin, saw his draft stock fall due to his height, along with questions pertaining to his pocket presence. It’s safe to say that he’s panned out quite well for the Seahawks. Wilson was drafted 75th overall in the third round of the 2012 draft. Before him, Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner were drafted 15th and 47th overall in the first and second rounds, respectively. A year earlier, the ever-so brash Richard Sherman was drafted 154th overall in the fifth round of the draft. The Seahawks now had a team ready to win.

The 2012 season was the most successful season for the Seahawks in five years, as they went to the divisional round of the playoffs, though they narrowly lost to the Falcons. But by the following season, they established themselves as the bad boys of football. They were overweening, strident, and wore their emotions on their sleeves, or at least that’s what they wanted us to think. They finished with the best record in football and easily won Super Bowl 48, as the franchise finally won its first championship after decades of futility. They got back to the Super Bowl in 2014 as well, becoming the first team to go to consecutive Super Bowls since the Patriots in 2003 and 2004. But their glory was finite, as Malcolm Butler made the play of his life, as he intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass on a slant route from the one-yard line. Tom Brady’s legacy was solidified as a result, and Pete Carroll, for all of his triumphs as a head coach, now had a part of his career that would be irrevocably attached to his legacy. Since then, the Seahawks have not advanced past the divisional round, losing to the eventual 2015 NFC champion Carolina Panthers, and then to the Falcons in the same round in 2016. As of this moment, the Seahawks have been decimated by injuries, and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Russell Wilson has singlehandedly kept his team alive. They’ve had a mediocre offensive line for the past few seasons. They haven’t had a rushing attack since 2015. Even the famed Legion of Boom, perhaps the greatest secondary of all time, has been showing cracks, as All-Pros Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor have found themselves on injured reserve. Very few teams in history have had sustained success like the Seahawks have had, and it’s only been for six seasons, which is twice the length of the average individual NFL career.

Now, it’s paramount to comprehend that there are several future Hall of Fame players on this Seahawks team. Pete Carroll is one of only three coaches with a national championship and a Super Bowl win on his resume, the other two being Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. He could very well be a Hall of Fame coach one day. But the fact of the matter is that the Seahawks ultimately became victims of their own success, which happens to every team. I certainly believe the residual fatigue from all of their playoff games over the past several seasons has played a factor in their decline, and the declining offensive line play has not been provincial to Seattle; that has now affected most teams, especially this season. The team has undergone a paradigm shift, from a power running, West Coast team with a historically dominant defense to a spread-based team with West Coast and Air Coryell principles. It’s also important to consider that the Seahawks have probably been affected by injuries more than most teams this year. But even when they were healthy, the L.O.B. was exhibiting obvious signs of decline, and Russell Wilson was constantly channeling his inner Houdini when scrambling out of the pocket and left standing on his head. Are the Seahawks a bad team? No, far from it. They are still a good team, and a quarterback as extraordinary as Wilson, who is as close to Aaron Rodgers as any other quarterback could be, can conceal multiple deficiencies. But even someone like Russell Wilson can’t do everything.

The Seahawks will still have a very good team for at least the next few years, but unless they hit another home run with the draft or make a major splash in free agency very soon (the latter of which will be excruciatingly arduous given the team’s cap space limitations), then their chances of winning another Super Bowl while this current corps of players is still intact are infinitesimally minuscule.

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