SEATTLE — As he walked into the locker room after the Seattle Seahawks’ second loss in as many weeks and fifth defeat in six games, Russell Wilson found himself searching for perspective.
The superstar quarterback is unaccustomed to being in this position. Since entering the league in 2012, he has never had a losing campaign and the ‘Hawks have finished first or second in the division every year, advancing to the playoffs in eight of the nine seasons.
But Sunday’s 23-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals — which at times was marked by boos from the normally supportive 12s — left everyone shaken. Pete Carroll admitted he has never been more frustrated during his 12 years in Seattle, comparing it to his one season as head coach of the Jets after they lost their final five games to finish 6-10.
That was 27 years ago.
It is never easy when you can identify the problem, but not see potential solutions manifest themselves on the field. Now the Seahawks find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being viewed as irrelevant. They are 3-7 with seven games remaining and trail the NFC West-leading Cardinals by five games in the loss column and the Rams by four. More problematic: They are 1-5 in the conference, which doesn’t bode well should they go on a run because conference record is a key tiebreaker for determining wild-card spots.
As Wilson made his way to the lectern Sunday, impeccably dressed in a brown velvet blazer with a white shirt and solid tie, he spoke about the need for perspective, aware that there would be nothing positive among the outside noise.
“This is a pretty hard day, it’s a hard couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s good we’re feeling it right now and that we know we’re up against it; but what I also do know is, I think about my dad when he was on his deathbed. That’s what I was thinking about when I came back in the locker room. What we’re up against is not harder than that. He lived another three and a half years when they told him he had 12 to 18 hours to live. So for me, I have seven games. Sound goods to me.”
Wilson was preaching perspective, but the message seemed to speak to a level of frustration and desperation within the locker room.
There was nothing new in the defeat. The problems that have plagued the Seahawks for much of the season — an inability to convert third downs, score consistently and get off the field on defense — played out again Sunday. It’s why Carroll was so out of character during his press conference.
He normally opens with some sort of statement, but not this time. He also cut short the session by walking out and vanishing behind a closed door, lamenting the fact that he has spent week after week answering the same questions following games. He returned some 10 to 15 minutes later, he said, out of his respect for the media.
“I know that you probably have more questions,” he began. “I don’t know if I have answers, but I’ll try.”
Carroll didn’t sound defeated as much as bewildered. The Seahawks practice well, have talent on both sides of the football and an established, proven coaching staff. And yet they were done in by a Cardinals team without its three best players on offense: quarterback Kyler Murray, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back Chase Edmonds.
They allowed Colt McCoy to repeatedly hurt them with underneath passes that kept the chains moving and resulted in Arizona controlling the football for an astounding 40 minutes, 22 seconds. McCoy finished 35 of 44 for 328 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. He also had a key first down with an 11-yard scramble. He played precisely how the Seahawks expected, yet they could not stop him or running back James Conner, who carried 21 times for 62 yards and a score and had five receptions for 37 yards.
No possession was more significant than the one late in the fourth quarter. Seattle running back DeeJay Dallas had just scored from the 2-yard line to make it 16-13 with 7:05 to play, and the crowd in Lumen Field rose to its collective feet and roared with the possibility of what could be. Make a stop and Wilson, typically one of the great fourth-quarter performers, would have a chance to work his magic.
But McCoy led the Cardinals on a 10-play, 67-yard drive that concluded with a 1-yard touchdown run by Conner. The possession took nearly five minutes off the clock and ostensibly sealed the outcome. By comparison, the Seahawks did not have a drive of 10 plays, and nine of them were seven plays or less, including seven of five or fewer snaps.
For Wilson, who prides himself on being the guy who finds light when there is darkness on the field, the struggles have to be sobering. The previous week he was shut out for the first time in his NFL career, and on Sunday, the offense’s first two trips to the red zone produced a pair of field goals, at times when touchdowns could have changed the complexion of the game. Dallas’ score was the Seahawks’ lone red-zone trip across the goal line.
Wilson refused to make excuses afterward, and Carroll said there were no issues with the broken finger that caused Wilson to miss three games before returning last Sunday at Green Bay. But something is wrong with the offense. Does it have something to do with first-year offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, whom Wilson co-signed on before he was hired last offseason? Does it have something to do with how defenses are playing Seattle, favoring two-deep concepts while mixing coverages? Or could it also be that Wilson is not seeing the field as well as he should?
For instance, late in the second quarter, the Seahawks had a third-and-6 from the Arizona 9. Tight end Gerald Everett was running free along the goal line, but Wilson either ignored him or didn’t see him and threw an incompletion away from Everett. A touchdown could have made it 13-10 heading into halftime and provided some needed momentum. But, instead, it compounded what has been a problem area for the Seattle offense: third down.
The Seahawks entered the game converting on 33.7% of their opportunities, which ranked 30th in the league. Sunday, they were 2 of 10 and only 1 of 8 through three quarters. A contributing factor was them consistently being in third-and-long, needing at last 6 yards for a conversion on seven occasions.
Still, the fact remains that Wilson is not playing at the level he expects of himself and that we have come to expect of him. For the first time in his career, he missed games because of injury, so perhaps rust has something to do with it, though he stiff-armed any suggestion of this. And perhaps he needs to get back to taking more snaps from under center following the broken finger.
Whatever the case, Russ has not been cooking. Why?
“For me, the standard is always high,” said Wilson, who finished 14 of 26 for 207 yards with no touchdowns or turnovers. “The standard is always to find a way to win. It’s what it’s really about. I think one of the things we did well was picking up the tempo and moving the ball really well. We went up and down the field before half, and near the end of the game there we responded really well with that, and I think that we have to figure out how to tap into that a little bit more maybe.”
Unspoken was that they struggled to finish drives after moving downfield with relative ease.
“I’m going to look internally to see what can I do better, and then also, too, what can we do better collectively?” Wilson continued. “So the reality, though, is that I’ve been through tough times before, and I think about some of the tough moments I’ve gone through. There’s always something better on the other end of it. That’s what I really believe, and so the thought process of it, man, it can feel like it’s your worst day just as a team, as a group, and it can feel heavy and all that, but I do think that you have to have perspective and know that there’s still opportunity, and we have to decide and we have to execute on it, and we have to go do it.”
These are uncharted waters for Wilson.
For the first time in his career, he has lost three straight starts. You can say the offense struggled in his absence, but the truth is that it was struggling before he left. It has scored more than 20 points just once in its last six games, which becomes even more disturbing when considering Carroll’s response when asked how to fix it.
“I don’t know why … it became a mystery to us to score points,” he said. “That’s never been the issue, and we’ve always been able to move the ball and score and stuff. I don’t know why this time frame. It started when Russ got banged up, and then it hasn’t — we just haven’t got productive like we need to be, and we’ve got to get back on track. Maybe it’s going to be a couple of weeks for taking a month off for Russ to be at his best to help us where we can, but we’ve got to do stuff around him as well. It isn’t a one-guy show, as much as you might want to make it that. That goes back to us, the coaches. We have to do a better job and get it done because it seems like there’s opportunities for us, and so we need to take advantage of them.”
Interestingly, the Seahawks were philosophical as well as frustrated Sunday. They spoke about how adversity challenges you as a man, and how they are professionals and will approach each day and game as such.
“In life, you go through a lot of ups and downs, you go through a lot of BS,” safety Jamal Adams said. “You lose people. You have incidents. Whatever it is. You go through a lot of ups and downs, a lot of trial and error in life. You have to keep going. The day you stop, the day you quit, that’s the day you’ve failed, that’s the day you die. I just try to stay positive with my mindset. I try to appreciate that in the locker room, as well. Nothing in life is perfect. You just have to keep on fighting, keep on going. Sooner or later, that storm will end. … We will get out of it sooner than later.”
Such proclamations used to have credibility, but with each week, each defeat, each repeat of the same issues, it is becoming harder to accept them as truths. Which is another first of the Wilson era.
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