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The harsh reality about the Seahawks’ current Super Bowl window

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A pop quiz: Dating back to the 2015 postseason, how many offensive possessions have the Seattle Seahawks had in the NFC Divisional Round while holding a lead?

Give up, already?

The answer is 1. One. Uno.

Want to know which drive that was and how it ended? Here ya go!

Now another quiz: In that same span, how many 2nd half offensive possessions have the Seattle Seahawks had in the NFC Divisional Round in which they were within one possession of their opponents?

Give up?

The answer is 1. One. Uno.

Want to know which drive that was and how it ended? Here ya go!

I know that the Seahawks lost 31-24 to the Panthers but they cut it to one possession with 1:16 remaining and never recovered the onside kick.

This is a painful but brutally honest way of saying that since the two Super Bowl trips, the Seahawks’ current “window of contention” has not seen anything close to making the NFC Championship Game. Divisional Round, Divisional Round, missed playoffs, Wild Card, Divisional Round, and Wild Card in that order. Some teams would kill for that but the Seahawks aren’t stuck in the 1990s anymore and there are higher standards they can aim for that they previously could not.

Indeed Seattle’s last three playoff wins came against opponents who were held out of the end zone. The 2015 Vikings (Walsh’d it), the 2016 Lions (ended the year on a four-game losing streak), and 2019 Eagles (played Josh McCown for most of the game) put up a combined eight field goals and the Seahawks still had to scrape by in two of those wins. You can play the “what-if?” game on injuries for all three teams if you want to, but I’d argue only the 2015 team was a genuine contender and it took a ridiculous stretch in November-December just to make the postseason in the first place. Otherwise they’ve just not been good enough.

We’re now six seasons removed from the Seahawks’ last Super Bowl appearance. This feels significant because if history is a guide, Seattle’s window to go back to the big game specifically with this partnership of Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson is probably already over.

One thing I’ve had to reconsider is the definition of a “window” in the NFL. I’ve even written on here before that Seattle’s Super Bowl window will last for as long as Russell Wilson is the quarterback. Maybe a more accurate thing to say is that your typical Super Bowl window is pretty damn short, but the window to be a relevant, frequent playoff team is much longer so as long as you have a franchise QB and a not terrible head coach. I bring this up because...

No head coach/quarterback duo has returned to the Super Bowl more than five seasons removed from their previous trip. Only Bill Belichick-Tom Brady and Tom Landry-Roger Staubach have ever won Super Bowls more than five seasons apart, and both duos suffered SB losses within that span. Belichick and Landry are the only head coaches period with such a gap between actually winning championships.

Plenty of head coaches have had 5+ season spells in between Super Bowl berths (e.g. Bill Cowher, Andy Reid, Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, Mike Holmgren) but only Cowher went with the same team and did so with different quarterbacks. Kurt Warner (2002 and 2008), Craig Morton (1970 and 1977), and John Elway (1989 and 1997) started Super Bowls more than five years apart but only Elway did it with the same team but not the same head coach.

There are a mere 13 head coaches with multiple Super Bowl victories and with Patrick Mahomes’ defeat last Sunday there are still just 12 quarterbacks with the same accomplishment. Only these three QBs won two championships outside of my totally arbitrary five-year window:

Tom Brady: 2004 to 2014 (10 seasons)
Peyton Manning: 2006 to 2015 (9 seasons)
Roger Staubach: 1971 to 1977 (6 seasons)

That’s it. And Peyton was extremely washed for his second ring and missed almost half the season, paving the way for the Texans to fleece themselves into thinking Brock Osweiler was good.

Let’s set aside Carroll and Russ for a second to look at some other longtime head coach/QB partnerships that have experienced/are experiencing similar droughts.

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay in 2010 and over the ensuing eight seasons they reached the NFC CG twice. There was the epic collapse against the Seahawks (within that five-year window, mind you) and a 44-21 thumping two seasons later versus the Falcons. Matt LaFleur made it to this round twice in as many seasons and has largely justified Green Bay moving on from McCarthy, although his “kick the field goal down by 8” move in this year’s CG was some shit McCarthy probably wouldn’t even do.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees advanced to the NFC CG in year one (2006), famously got the New Orleans Saints’ first title in 2009 but only got to the Conference Championship once more. While they were obviously robbed against the Los Angeles Rams on a missed pass interference call, they also still could’ve gotten a defensive stop in regulation or won in overtime and they did neither. Brees is probably going to retire and we may see Sean Payton’s Taysom Hill infatuation go into overdrive or they try something else.

Mike Tomlin won Super Bowl 43 with Ben Roethlisberger in 2008, got back and lost to McCarthy’s Packers in 2010 and have just one AFC CG appearance from 2011 to 2020. They lost 36-17 to the Patriots in 2016 (outside the five-year window) and it wasn’t even that close. Pittsburgh also lost to Tim Tebow and Blake Bortles which is not really relevant to my point but nevertheless extremely funny. Roethlisberger has one more year at best in Pittsburgh, whereas Tomlin probably has a job until he retires because the Steelers just don’t fire coaches.

I’m well aware that past results are not always indicative of what the future will be, but the evidence is overwhelming that, no kidding, it is insanely hard to win a Super Bowl, let alone make two or win two regardless of who’s head coach and quarterback. I only isolated that pairing because those are the two most important positions to fill in the sport. There’s no perfect formula for championship roster construction. Luck usually plays an indeterminate role in every title-winning squad. Belichick and Brady have managed a level of success that will never be duplicated and let’s be real, those Patriots teams were largely outstanding and at the very least extraordinarily well coached even when they had lesser talent.

Now let’s circle back to Carroll and Wilson because this is a Seahawks blog. In theory Seattle’s five-year window to get back into February football ended in 2019 — maybe aptly so seeing as it was the first one without any Legion of Boom member. From the outsider’s perspective it seems like the relationship is fraying and while Seattle is a default contender thanks to consistent playoff appearances, the results I outlined at the beginning show just how far off they’ve been from the top tier. I am pretty sure that Week 1, 2021 will be Russell Wilson starting and Pete Carroll coaching. From there we may be seeing the organization reach a junction point where either Wilson or Carroll is out but not both. I’m sure there are plenty of you who believe a split is necessary right now and most would say Carroll should be gone.

The John Elway story seems very apt for those who support firing Carroll as soon as possible and having Wilson under a different coaching staff with a philosophically different approach. John won his rings in Denver after changing head coaches twice. Dan Reeves was Super Bowl runner-up three lopsided times and was fired in 1992. Assistant Wade Phillips replaced him and was quickly fired after zero playoff wins and a dead-on .500 record. Mike Shanahan (whose relationship with Reeves as his assistant was... not the best) was hired in 1995, and Elway got to close his career out fittingly with a blowout win over the Reeves coached Atlanta Falcons. The 1998 Broncos finished #1 in pass offense and rush offense by DVOA behind a dominant offensive line, play-action to maximize Elway’s mobility, and a run-heavy attack back when it was actually cool to do that without fans @’ing you online. Shanahan was a visionary who changed Denver’s offense for the better and as such Elway was still able to play at a high-level in his final years.

The Pete/Russ combo is this franchise’s gold standard. Carroll and John Schneider planted the seeds for success while Wilson was still at NC State, and Russell helped take the franchise to the very top. But the sour way the 2020 season ended and the way this offseason has already been mired in drama is not encouraging. The fan in me says if anyone can do something weird and unprecedented and buck historical trends, it’s these two. Seahawks football tends to do things in a unique way. The realist in me says that a storm is brewing and we might not like what the immediate future holds. Seattle is fortunately not mired in 7-9 bullshit, but for several years they’ve been treading treacherous waters with few signs of making it to shore. I’m running out of cliches and clumsy metaphors but I think this means that 2021 is the sink or swim season.