"Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing."
- Vince Lombardi
For the last year or so, it felt like we were watching a team that could not lose. Not just a team that "won most of the time" but literally it sometimes feels like there aren't two sides to the coin. Other teams may be asked "heads or tails?" but the Seahawks were asked "nail-biter with Russell heroics or blowout?"
And honestly, I felt -- and still feel -- justified in those expectations. Going into Week 16, Seattle had won 19 of their last 22 regular season games and really you'd have to go back to the middle of the 2011 season to find a game that the Seahawks really had no chance at winning. As Lombardi alludes to, winning and losing in sports can become a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy; the teams that overachieve and the teams that underachieve often seems like the teams that we, as fans, have already labeled as "winners" and "losers" before the game has even started.
How did the Detroit Lions go from 6-3, NFC North leaders, with two wins over the Chicago Bears and Aaron Rodgers on the shelf, get eliminated from the playoff races only six weeks later? Because they're the Lions? When I predicted that they would be the shocker of a number two seed, this is one of the main reasons I was told that was a foolish prognostication.
Why has the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick connection posted a winning season in all 12 of their seasons together? Why do the Yankees have 27 World Series championships? Money? The power and influence of New York, as well as the pocketbook of ownership, certainly plays a part, but it's definitely more than just about payroll (and really the Yankees have only won a single World Series since the ridiculous payroll explosion post-Alex Rodriguez.)
I would say that it has a lot more to do with the fact that New York made the World Series 29 times in a 44-year span, including 22 times in a 29-year span, and from 1923 to 1962, never had to wait more than three years for the next championship.
Trying to comprehend the actual heyday of the New York Yankees and what it really means to be a dynasty, is like trying to comprehend the actual size of the galaxy, let alone the universe. Its like when someone compares a star to a grain of sand, that's the closest thing we can get to understanding just how expansive space is and yet still if you asked me "How big is the Moon?" I still sort of have this idea that it would take about 30 minutes to walk the full length of it.
So if you were to compare the Seattle Seahawks recent run of success, starting with a defensive turnaround in 2011, colliding with an offensive explosion in the second half of 2012 amid the starmaking turns of Russell Wilson, to say, the New York Yankees, is basically another way of saying, "You haven't done shit."
Not only is that true, but it's paramount to success. To know that what you've done is shit until you've won a championship. And another. And another. Okay fine, we'll just take one for now, but it's also important to remember that for a franchise like the Yankees, the joy of winning isn't only finite, but it's small. It's not just about winning once, it's about winning them all. It's not just about a single championship, but about a championship culture. A win is a grain of sand.
A loss is the Moon.
"When you win, you don't examine it very much, except to congratulate yourself. You easily, and wrongly, assume it has something to do with your rare qualities as a person. But winning only measures how hard you've worked and how physically talented you are; it doesn't particularly define you beyond those characteristics.
Losing on the other hand, really does say something about who you are. Among other things it measures are: do you blame others, or do you own the loss? Do you analyze your failure, or just complain about bad luck?"
- Lance Armstrong, noted cheater, tireless competitor
You could rightfully strip Armstrong of every Tour de France he's ever won (or not do that, because many say that the playing field would've been uneven if you weren't on steroids) but you shouldn't question his motivation for winning. Clearly, this is a dude that held winning above all else. Even above Sheryl Crow and Santa Monica Blvd. And for many years, he was possibly the best winner in the world among all athletes.
And before he won seven Tour de France titles in a row, he had to do a lot of losing coming up in that competitive cycling world. And then he beat cancer. And then he beat everybody for almost a decade. And then we beat him back for "betraying the public trust." (I can't tell you how many nights of sleep I lost between 1999 and 2005 tossing and turning as I thought, "I wonder if that Armstrong guy is clean as he's winning those cycling titles, the biggest sport in America.")
Armstrong is right about winning and losing though. The only thing is that he didn't have to make excuses for losing because he rarely did lose. What he struggled with in the end, I suppose, was coming up for excuses for winning. But everyone agrees that one thing that shouldn't be coupled with losses are excuses:
"In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it."
- Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War
"Win without boasting. Lose without excuse."
- Albert Payson Terhune
"Soy un perdidor, I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?"
And still, I found myself coming up with an excuse in the heat of the moment on Sunday. When I felt we were about to witness another Wilson magic moment before our eyes, down seven and in the two-minute drill at home, the refs made the final call. It often upsets me when that happens, when I get the feeling that the referees are going with "what will make the top story on the post-game show?" rather than what they think actually happened on the field (if a Green Bay Packers fan wanted to make this argument against Seattle, I'd get it.) and I worry that's what happened here.
As the play happened in real time, I saw the ball bounce up and I saw defenders approaching and I thought to myself "oh no" and I hoped that they wouldn't catch it, then they did, then I hoped that the refs would call it incomplete, and then one of the announcers seemed to have zero idea what was happening while the other was like "are you even watching the game?" (a common trope in sports broadcasting), and then finally the refs made the tough call in favor of the unbelievable play when it's quite obvious that they had no idea what the truth was -- and.. and.. and that's the game.
It's all about how you finish and so when you never lose a game by more than a touchdown, "how you finish" starts to become the entirety of judgment one way or another in how you performed.
The Seahawks did not perform good enough to win this game. They were down by seven points at home with two minutes left to go. The Arizona Cardinals won this game. I disagree with how they called the final play and I will always disagree with how they called it, but it's not the reason that Seattle lost.
They are. The team. The players. The coaches.
Right now, the loss may only be a learning experience. If the San Francisco 49ers lose tonight or next week to the Cardinals, or if the Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams in Week 17, then the result itself will be as meaningless as a grain of sand.
If the unthinkable happens and Seattle tumbles down to a wild card berth instead of a division title and a number one seed, then it's as meaningful as... a grain of sand? Again, perspective here is really hard to get a grip on.
The good news is that no matter what happens, the Seahawks will be playing in January and have a chance to win a championship. Pitcher Dontrelle Willis once exclaimed that he was just happy to be in the game:
"Win or lose, I've been fortunate to be able to pitch deep enough into games to get decisions."
Is there pride to be had in simply participating? Maybe if you are in sixth grade and you're me, but certainly not for Pete Carroll and the people he picked to be on his coaching staff. Definitely not for Wilson. And it's those expectations for constant success that make franchises constantly successful. One more from Lombardi:
"The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand."
No matter the result, I believe that the Seattle Seahawks in their current form, aren't just playing to be "in the game." They are playing to win and they are preparing like winners. That's why they've still got the best record in the NFC, tied for best in the NFL, still a heavy favorite to win the number one seed, and still a team that's won 23 games over the last two seasons -- most over a two-year span in franchise history.
The Seahawks lost yesterday, but because of who they have leading them, they are definitely not "losers."
Let's make like the star of the Korn "Freak on a Leash" video and bullet:
- Rather than look at the full stats to determine how "successful" or "unsuccessful" the offense and defense were, should we break down the moments that really define why Seattle lost 17-10? Because playing at home and intercepting Carson Palmer four times, it's rather shocking that the Seahawks only scored 10 points, and that they weren't in position on those turnovers to score right away, as you would normally assume.
- Eight of their first 11 drives started at their own 26 or further back, including four drives that started at their own 12 or further back. On those four drives, they punted four times and gained one first down (and that came on the very first play of their very first drive.)
The Cards destroyed the field position battle for most of the day.
- Third-and-three at the Arizona four-yard-line at the start of the second quarter, a delay of game penalty pushes them back to the nine and the Seahawks settle for a field goal.
- First-and-goal from the Arizona three at the end of the first half following an interception, and Seattle's settles for a field goal after failing to score on three attempts. The FG attempt is good but negated by a penalty. The re-try is no good.
- A six-play drive in the fourth quarter that started at their own 39-yard line and included a fumble by Golden Tate, ends in the first and only Seahawks touchdown of the day on a Wilson throw to Zach Miller.
- The first pass of the final drive is low, bounces off of either the ground or an arm, and is intercepted by the Cardinals.
- An unbelievable 11 of their 13 drives went for four plays or less, not including the Robert Turbin kickoff fumble that was recovered by Arizona.
It would seem that the offense was good in spurts, but awful when it mattered and for the most part just completely shutdown by the Cardinals. On the contrary, it seemed that the Seattle defense opened up holes at times and missed, but came up huge when it mattered.
- Three of Palmer's four interceptions came within field goal range for Arizona. There is a very good chance that without those picks, the Seahawks would have lost by at least two touchdowns, given how the other units played.
- The defense also allowed three drives of at least 75 yards, including the first and the last, but perhaps the worst was a 16-play, 75-yard drive in the second quarter that took off 8:21 of game clock. Though it only ended in a field goal, the Cards converted on third down three times and despite starting at their own four, got an immediate break with a 15-yard facemask penalty on Kam Chancellor.
That's about all I need to say about the defense. They really, really bent but still only allowed a total of six points going into the fourth quarter because they are talented enough to make up for their bends. Give credit to Bruce Arians for running the ball 36 times between Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington, and still giving the ball twice to Stepfan Taylor.
Including once on third-and-six from the Seahawks 12.
It was an odd play, and it did not result in a first down or a touchdown, but it was the sort of odd play that might completely throw off Carroll and Dan Quinn with less than a quarter to go at the time. Was it all just part of the setup on the Cards next drive, the one that went for 80 yards and the game-winning touchdown?
It just might. It is also possible that Seattle just got out-coached with one more week to go in the regular season.
- It is also also possible, that Arians played his best hand in Week 16 of the regular season and that Carroll isn't willing to do that right now. Remember that the Arizona Cardinals are hanging by a thread and without a doubt needed to win their last two games to make the playoffs and even that might not be enough.
But Arians has to try everything at his disposal right now to make the playoffs because you really never know if you'll ever get another shot. Carroll doesn't have to empty the bag right now -- I'm not saying that the Seahawks held back at a time when they still haven't clinched the all-important homefield advantage.
However, they might have. They might have thought they could get away without revealing a full bag of tricks and pull out the win, something it seems they've done several times over the last two years, but they couldn't do it this time. If the 49ers beat the Falcons tonight, I expect to see something entirely different next week against the Rams.
There won't be any holding back.
- Wilson was 2-of-9 on deep targets, probably the worst such game of his career. Probably just the worst game of his career overall, though he did have a career-long run of 27 yards to start the second half and he'll still remind you of what we've been considering for awhile to be "one of the five or ten best young quarterbacks of all-time."
And so a lot of people have using the word "worried" today and yesterday in regards to Wilson? Am I among them?
Firstly, I've never expected Wilson to constantly travel on the same path. When we compare Wilson to other players to display such success in their first two seasons, like Dan Marino and Ben Roethlisberger, I always make a mental note that those players peaked -- statistically, for the most part -- in the first few years of their careers. The truth is that I don't expect Wilson to constantly get better nor do I expect him to get worse.
How the heck should I have any idea what to expect with Russell Wilson when he's been nothing like what I've expected up to this point?
Wilson is constantly surprising me, constantly getting better, constantly going above-and-beyond expectations, constantly breaking barriers, and sporadically driving a stake of fear into your heart that it's all been an illusion or an anomaly. But here is what I know for sure:
Aaron Rodgers came out of college with some thinking he should be the number one overall pick in the draft and instead he fell to the latter half of the first round. He sat for three years behind Brett Favre; learning, waiting, biding his time, occasionally playing on a contending football team. He was handed the reigns in year four and over his first two seasons, he threw 58 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 7.87 Y/A, 64% completions, 98.5 passer rating in 32 games.
I think there is a solid case to be made that Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL.
When Wilson was coming out of college, nobody expected him to be the first overall pick, let alone the first round. Some would say that he'd be a top three pick "if only he was taller" but he wasn't, so he... wasn't. He did not sit for three years, or even three games, but instead he started from Week 1 of his rookie season.
In 31 games, he has thrown 54 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 8.19 Y/A, 63.5% completions, 100.7 passer rating.
(As noted in the comments, I accidentally grabbed his postseason stats as well, so the above is a cumulative that includes the two playoff games from last year. Wilson's regular season stats through 31 games: 51 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, 8.11 Y/A, 63.58% completions, 100.6 rating. Luckily, the differences are very small.)
I don't know what the future holds for Wilson, but I still don't hold a single doubt that he's the first player I'd start a franchise with right now. He's had a few bad games in his career -- show me a great quarterback that hasn't.
So he hasn't "blown your pants off" in a few weeks. A few bad throws, a few bad decisions, for a guy who probably right now feels like he wants to carry the team to the Super Bowl in year two. Not has to, wants to. Some people say that's the same flaw that makes Tim Tebow "misguided" in his attempts to make it in the NFL as a quarterback, but it's that same "misguided-ness" that makes players like Wilson, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers so good at what they do.
Because they are actually good.
That's what winners do. Wilson would fall into that category of winner and perhaps processing days like yesterday is difficult for him, but also necessary. "Winners" have no interest in learning how to lose, and they never will, but it doesn't mean they don't need a reminder from time-to-time to keep them grounded to go win the next one. To go win the last one.
To remain focused on the ultimate goal.
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
- Michael Jordan
(Hits 'em in the end with an MJ quote. /swish /three-points /nailed it)