I think I've mentioned this several times, but when I was a junior in high school, my school's football team went to the state championship game. Nobody had ever expected us to be there, and I mean nobody.
Historically, we are one of the worst football programs in 3A state history. We lost two games during the regular season, typically a death knell for making it to state, and only made it into the tournament by way of a coin-toss. We were heavy underdogs against Timberline in the first round, and beat them easily. We were heavy underdogs to O'Dea in the second round, and won. We were heavy underdogs to Reggie Williams and Lakes in the next round, and pulled out another win. It wasn't until the state championship game against Prosser that our team was favored for the first time during the tournament.
Despite coming back from a three-touchdown deficit to take the lead, my team lost in the final seconds of a classic 3A state title game. It was quite literally one of the lowest moments of my life for a few minutes, and then I saw one of my good friends running towards the stands. He looked... elated. Even though I know that losing that game was hard for him, because he loved his teammates so dearly, he found a silver-lining and he ran towards all of the broken-hearted students carrying the second-place trophy. Nobody expected that team to play the extra four games after the regular season was over, nobody expected that team to lead in the state title game with :17 seconds left, but despite losing they had still pulled off the unimaginable.
I know that any story that says "second-place trophy" is a hard one to find inspirational, but sometimes life is about more than just winning. Rocky finished with a draw, Rudy wasn't a star athlete, Invincible guy played in the league for three years and almost only on special teams. Find the silver linings and look at the big picture;
The Seattle Seahawks have started the season 4-1.
Even going beyond just the 4-1 record, what if I had told you in August the not only would the team be without Percy Harvin for a minimum of six weeks, but that Russell Okung would be placed on IR, Max Unger would miss at least two games, Breno Giacomini would miss games, Zach Miller would miss at least one game, Chris Clemons wouldn't be fully active until a few games in, Michael Bennett would miss time, Cliff Avril would miss time, we already knew that Bruce Irvin would miss four games, and out of the Seahawks top five draft picks, Christine Michael has nine carries and Jordan Hill just returned.
Logistically speaking, things have not gone all that well for Seattle -- They have not escaped the injury bug, they have not escaped the off-field issues, they have had minimal contributions from their rookie class -- and yet here we are at 4-1, atop the NFC West and logically speaking only better days are ahead.
Yesterday, the Seahawks went on the road to play a team that is now poised to be the two-seed in the AFC. They didn't have most of their starting offensive line or their starting tight end, and yet they held a 12-point lead in the first quarter and a five-point lead entering the fourth quarter. They put up 423 total yards on offense and had both their quarterback and running back go over 100 yards on the ground.
In the beginning of the game, I saw this team do what makes them successful, which is play defense and win the field. They started their first four drives at their own: 48, 36, 43, and 35. They blocked a punt and forced a safety that should have been a touchdown and they had touchdown drives of 64 and 82 yards in the first half. Then their own mistakes started to bite them in the ass.
For the third straight game, they had a receiver go for over 100 yards on the defense, with T.Y. Hilton gaining 73 of those yards on the Colts first touchdown of the game. Their next touchdown came on a blocked punt. The Seahawks struck back with a Jermaine Kearse touchdown, but they ultimately lost not because of referees, but because of working Steven Hauschka way too hard on Sunday.
Up 19-17, Seattle had 1st-and-10 from the Colts 20-yard line and settled for a field goal. It could have been 26-17 instead of 22-17.
Up 22-17, the Seahawks stripped Andrew Luck and had the ball on the Colts 30-yard line to start. A penalty set them back five yards and ultimately they did not gain a first down on that drive, settling for a field goal. It could have been 29-17, or in an even more ideal world, 33-17. Instead it was 25-17.
Up 25-23, Seattle had 1st-and-10 at the Colts 34-yard line and in the end, Marshawn Lynch was not prepared for a sure-fire first down catch that would have kept the drive alive. Instead of 32-23, it was 28-23.
The Seahawks lost this game. There is no doubt about it. Beyond penalties and missed calls, the missed opportunities bear the weight of this loss. Nobody in the locker room would blame the loss on their patch-work offensive line and the players that could not suit up, but I will take the opportunity to say somewhat of the inverse:
Despite all of that, despite the missed opportunities, despite the failures in the red zone and on third down, despite the screw-ups on special teams and missed assignments on defense, somehow Seattle almost won an early game in Indianapolis against a team that in my opinion is shaping up to be the second-best in the AFC. And with Harvin technically eligible to return in a week and Okung almost certain to return before the playoffs, the best for this team is still ahead.
And the past for this team isn't that bad.
Yes, I'm running towards you with a trophy that says "Seahawks: 4-1, 1st place in the NFC West" and you better love it.
Let's make like a point and bullet:
- I'm not excusing bad calls, I'm not saying that they didn't happen, I'm just as upset as you are, but I would also point out that despite all of that mess, the Seahawks should have won this game by 10 points, at least. Not because of what the refs did, but because of what Seattle didn't do.
Every team gets games like this, let's move on.
- The Seahawks have now turned the ball over at least once in all five games, and twice in each of the last three games. Even wiping out the meaningless Russell Wilson interception to end the game on fourth down, they still turned it over on a fumble to end the half (before Lynch re-forced the fumble) and generally have been playing some sloppy football on offense.
The dominating team we saw last season turned it over three times in their last six games. Wilson has five fumbles this year after fumbling it six times all of last year. I don't think that the standard that Wilson holds himself to as a quarterback is being achieved right now. I know that he's one of the main reasons that the team is 4-1, as well as one of the only reasons on offense yesterday that this game was still alive to the end, rushing for 102 yards on 13 carries, but there's still work to be done as a passer.
Wilson is one of the most valuable players in the NFL, and there's still work to be done. That's not bad.
- Over their first five games, Seattle has played the Panthers, 49ers, Jaguars, Texans, and Colts. Though Houston has all of a sudden become "questionable at best" and Carolina has flopped to 1-3, that's four pretty good teams. Up next: Titans, Cardinals, Rams, Buccaneers.
I'm not writing off road divisional games as "easy wins" by any means, but if the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC West, they'll finish that stretch at 8-1 or 7-2.
- I have a bias for Wilson, obviously, so let's just leave him out of the equation when I make this statement, but... what kind of a psycho wouldn't start their franchise with Andrew Luck? One day this dude is going to be setting records for the Denver Broncos.
- Earl Thomas has 31 solo tackles through five games after recording 39 solo tackles all of last season. What that means exactly, I'm not sure, but take this as an example: Yesterday he was credited (per Pro-Football-Reference) with a tackle on a deep right pass, short left pass, left end rush, right end rush, middle rush, off left tackle rush, and off left guard rush.
Thomas is an animal and I would be shocked if 20 years from now he's not being revered as one of the best safeties to ever play the game.
- The deep passes from Wilson resulted in one of the ugliest stat lines of his NFL career. On targets of at least 15 yards, he ended the game 2-of-11 for 55 yards. Yes, one of those was a touchdown to Kearse, and yes, it could have been at least two touchdowns if the calls had gone our way, but the end result was still not good. And some of his passes were simply inaccurate or overthrown.
- Just like I said after last week's win, the loss doesn't make think less of this team's chances to win the Super Bowl. I mean, last week they won when they easily could've lost, and this week they lost when they definitely could have won, so at the end of the day they could still be 4-1 with just a different "L."
The problems that arose this week are simply opportunities to find out what you need to work on to be better, but they came out of Houston with similar questions. It just so happens that in that case they won. Broncos fans might beg to differ, but I still think this is the most talented roster in the NFL. Three years ago if I was writing about the Seahawks on Field Gulls, every single article would have been something about how Thomas is great, David Hawthorne has potential, Lynch was once a good prospect, and Mike Williams was a great find, even though he still only had 751 yards that year.
We were searching for things to be happy about, and now I find myself consistently writing recaps that don't mention Pro Bowl-caliber players. I finally worked in Thomas, but I still didn't mention Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, or Brandon Mebane. I said nothing about Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, or Sidney Rice. I barely mentioned Clemons, Avril, Bennett, and Irvin. This team is stupid talented, and they haven't played at full strength yet.
How many of those red zone problems go away when you've got Harvin jammin' on the one?
How often does a punt get blocked with a healthy offensive line?
How did I meet your mother?
Nobody likes losing, but the last three Super Bowl champions have had to deal with a little more than six losses per season. Or maybe just, six "improvement opportunities." All of a sudden, this Seahawks franchise has aspirations and expectations that they've rarely ever had in their history.
Sometimes it's hardest to win when you're expected to.