From season of contradictions to off-season of entertainment

posted by Mike Gastineau - 

Management of any situation in life is a lot easier with the benefit of hindsight. An honest look in the rearview mirror allows for analysis with the benefit of knowing what happened. It’s much easier to point out what went wrong after the fact than it is to make the necessary decisions at the proper time and then live with the results.

That point acknowledged, gadzooks is there a lot to second guess in the aftermath of the 2018 Seahawks season.

It was a season of weird contradictions.

The Seahawks lost four of their last five home games as Century Link Field slowly devolved into just another NFL stadium. But somehow, in the middle of that slide, they put together one of their best performances of the year in a dominant win over the NFC’s top team, Philadelphia.

The Seahawks were uncharacteristically bad in December as poor play and injuries finally became too much to overcome. Yet, in the season’s penultimate game they picked up a gutty road win at Dallas.

In that game, they experienced a contradiction that created a contradiction of feelings. In a season where the NFL relaxed celebration rules and encouraged players to do all kinds of funny things after touchdowns, the Seahawks managed to get penalized for an excessive celebration.

To many, the sight of Justin Coleman jumping into a giant Salvation Army pot after scoring elicited laughter. But it also served as another example of an astonishing lack of discipline that led to a franchise record in penalty yards. An apt title for the 2017 team highlight video would be The 2017 Seahawks: Flag on the Play!

Needless and costly penalties were a problem for this team to the very end. Arizona’s game-winning drive on Sunday was kept alive by an obvious roughing the passer call on third down against Bobby Wagner.

The epidemic of penalties creates its’ own contradiction. Under Pete Carroll, this team has always been among the NFL’s leaders in yellow flags. When you’re winning, this can be spun positively. You’re being aggressive! You’re pushing everything to the limit! When you’re losing, the water-holding capabilities of those explanations are severely tested.

One area of the Hawks season that can’t be ignored is the preposterous number of injuries they suffered. The default bromide for many fans is “injuries are no excuse!” But very few teams are built to withstand the number of crushing blows the Seahawks took in this department.

Looking at it from another team’s perspective, why didn’t Green Bay make the playoffs this year? A reasonable person would say they didn’t make it because Aaron Rodgers was hurt.

Injuries may not be an excuse but they are an area of reality in the NFL that cannot be ignored when assessing a team’s performance during the season. They can be overcome, but only to a point.

What’s tougher to overcome (and a lot easier to second guess) are poor personnel decisions. There are two decisions in particular that this franchise made that will have fans shaking their heads for a long time.

The first came after the Super Bowl loss to New England in 2015 when they decided to trade center Max Unger to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham. Graham’s stay in Seattle was a disastrous mix of dropped passes, misuse, long stretches of being ignored, and injury. Whatever they saw in Graham when he was a Saint never materialized here.

Meanwhile, Unger is the anchor of an offensive line considered one of the best in the NFL. Unger was hurt for part of his final year in Seattle and since the Hawks kept winning with him out of the lineup (even though he returned and started every postseason game that year) their feeling was he was expendable. They were wrong.

The release of Stephen Hauschka in order to free up money for free agency is another decision that hung over this team all season. While Hauschka was belting field goals home in blizzards in Buffalo and helping the Bills to the playoffs for the first time in years, Blair Walsh was having a season so nightmarish that it seems needlessly cruel to pile on here.

In both of those moves, the Hawks took areas of strength and turned them into areas of weakness. If Graham had come in and been a Pro Bowl caliber tight end for three seasons, and if Walsh had come in and been as good and accurate as he was in his younger days, the Hawks might well be in the playoffs and everyone would be praising them for these savvy moves.

But they didn’t. So fans are angry and management has to live with the ramifications of a pair of big decisions that both backfired.

So, is all lost? Is this the end of the Seahawks run of success?

Not necessarily.

One bad season does not have to undo everything that’s been built here. Since the 2003 season, the Seahawks have gone to the playoffs 10 times in 14 years, and they completely revamped their coaching and front office staffs during that time.

By that standard, they are a top tier NFL franchise. Only New England (the greatest dynasty in NFL history) has been to the post-season more times (13) in that stretch. Like Seattle, this year is the fourth time in 14 years Green Bay will miss the post-season. The Steelers have been nine times in that stretch.

With what we know they have coming back next year, with a record for winning that will make them attractive to free agents, and with an owner who has shown he will spend money to acquire talent, there is no reason this year has to be anything more than a small speed bump. But in order for that to be the case, better decisions (in the draft, free agency, and by players on the field) have got to be made.

For some fans, the NFL offseason is more entertaining than the season itself. This offseason for Seattle promises to deliver in the entertainment category. Time will tell if that translates to them staying atop the NFL hill or struggling to find traction as the slow slide to mediocrity continues.

Photo credit: SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 31: Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks, facing, talks with Sheldon Richardson #91 as they sit on the bench during the national anthem before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on December 31, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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