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Seahawks are bigger than just one game, let alone one play

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It may be hard to get over that one play, but the focus always remains on winning the next one.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pete Carroll isn't going to get over the final play of Super Bowl 49.

Those were his words this week when he said "Those kind of occurrences? They don't go away. They don't go away." It was so not nice, he had to say it twice. Carroll also mentioned that in his conversations with Russell Wilson, the quarterback also thinks about that throw every day. As he should. As they both should.

Not as a punishment, but as a reminder: "Okay, we tried this thing one time and it went slightly awry. Let's not try that thing again. Well, at least, let's not try it a bunch. Just six more times, always on the final play of the Super Bowl, maybe it'll eventually work out."

Carroll and Wilson and anyone else that's operating under the umbrella of the current Seattle Seahawks regime, isn't going to let that moment be anything other than a motivator to get better, but it's also hard for any of us to forget how close they were to winning back-to-back championships. Like the Suck Cut, "it certainly does suck," but I do not think that success is measured on a single play. The Patriots were not the only successful team last season. There were a number of teams that can say they did a good job, that they got better, that they overcame the odds.

Including the Seahawks.

In fact, they are still in position to be something better than champions of Super Bowl 49: They could become one of the greatest teams of all-time. Over a number of years.

With a Super Bowl appearance next season, Seattle would become only the second third team in NFL history to make three straight appearances, joining the 1990-93 Buffalo Bills who went to four straight, and the 1971-73 Miami Dolphins, who won two of three. Luckily, Carroll doesn't have the burden on his back of potentially losing every Super Bowl he appears in, since he already won one.

There have been 12 other teams that went to back-to-back Super Bowls, and whether they won both, lost both, or split, none of them found the third time to be a charm. So what makes the 2015 Seattle Seahawks any different from those 12?

Maybe they're not. Maybe they are. But one thing is for certain: They are definitely a different team than they were a year ago. Especially than they were two years ago.

The Departed

They must replace their starting center, left guard, tight end, a defensive tackle (or three), second cornerback, as well as their first-off-the-bench support at linebacker, safety, defensive end, and quarterback. They are also unlikely to get much support from Paul Richardson and Jeremy Lane as they recover from torn ACLs, further enfeebling two position groups that needed depth as badly as Louie Anderson diving 50 feet into a kiddie pool.

The number three receiver could be anyone from Ricardo Lockette to Chris Matthews to Kevin Norwood to a player that is not even on the team yet, but that fact is only exacerbated by the fact that it would mean that Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are your number one and two receivers.

When you combine their losses this year with their losses from the year before, and the "Super Bowl-winning Seahawks"  are also different at right tackle, number one receiver, nickel corner, leo, five-tech, another defensive tackle (Clint McDonald), another starting corner (Brandon Browner), and punt returner. There was also that guy who returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. I think his name was ... Hearsay Pardon? Perky Martian?

The point is that from the Super Bowl-winner to the Seattle team two years later, they may have replaced three starting offensive linemen, the starting tight end, the best wide receiver, the leo, the five-tech, at least two heavy-rotation defensive tackles, and the starting corner opposite of Richard Sherman (dealer's choice of which one you want to remember.) Of course there are other considerations, like Michael Robinson, a number of key special teams players, and the moment when Dan Quinn said, "Dear God, make me a dirty bird. So I could fly far. Far, far away from here" but even dismissing those losses and focusing just on starters and often-used backups, there's no doubt about it:

The Seahawks have lost a whole lot of football team.

To expect Seattle to be the same team last year would be naive, but to expect them to be the same team that won Super Bowl XLVIII would be downright irresponsible. They are different all over. We do not even know yet who the starters at some positions will be. The Seahawks, the best team of the last two seasons, have changed. But there's good news ...

Whoever wins the Super Bowl next year, even if it's the New England Patriots, is different than they were a year ago; The key to being great isn't staying the same, it's being great. And as far as we know right now, Seattle may be even better than they were the last two years.

The Changes

Well, let's make like Kam Chancellor and knockout the tight end first.

The Seahawks most obvious upgrade over the offseason is the release of Zach Miller and the trade for Jimmy Graham. Miller caught eight touchdowns over his four-year career with Seattle while Graham has caught more than eight touchdowns in each of the last four years. It's a clear improvement at starting tight end but by proxy it also improves the depth at the position because it pushes Luke Willson -- a promising but inconsistent player thrust into a starting role last year because of Miller's injury -- to the number two spot.

With Graham lining up in the slot or wide now and then and playing receiver, it improves two positions at once. He's a tight end and he's a number one target.

Graham may improve two positions but in order to acquire him, they also had to get weaker at another: Center. While Max Unger is a tough loss based on what he's expected to do next year, the reality of the matter is that he's not a huge loss from 2014. Unger missed 10 games last year and it didn't stop the Seahawks from getting the number one seed. Despite his obvious talent, there's no getting around the fact that Unger plays a position that proved easy-to-fill for the Patriots and the Green Bay Packers last year, both of whom started mid-round rookies at center.

Nobody has more mid-round picks this year than John Schneider.

One of those picks could be used to replace James Carpenter, but the starter at left guard could also be Alvin Bailey, who might actually be better than Carpenter anyway. Carpenter missed three games last year and Seattle rushed for 678 yards in those games.

So, while it's not likely that they will find a better center than Unger, it is very likely that they will get better play at center than they did in 2014 when Unger missed most of the season. They could also still be negotiating with free agent Stefen Wisniewski, draft a good center, or sign one of the handful of other still-available free agents like Brian De La Puente. The same goes for guard. They might also like in-house candidates like Patrick Lewis and Alvin Bailey, but the main point is that everyone considered offensive line a weakness already and Seattle has gone to two straight Super Bowls with this "weakness."

The Seahawks could only get slightly worse at offensive line, but they got a lot better at tight end.

As for wide receiver, many free agents still remain available because league-wide the position is incredibly deep and another draft is right around the corner, so a lot of receivers are staying on the market likely because they are disappointed to find out about their depleted value. Guys like Michael Crabtree, Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker, Greg Jennings, Hakeem Nicks, Nate Washington, Denarius Moore, Miles Austin, Mike Williams, and Donnie Avery. These names might not be much hotter than a Nordic summer, and not all fit specifically with Seattle, but it keeps the market plentiful as teams sign one guy, drop another, and eventually the Seahawks will probably add a receiver that helps their pecking order if nothing else.

Overall, the offense is better and will especially be so after the draft, but what of the defense?

Firstly, it would be disrespectful to classify Byron Maxwell as nothing more than a plug-and-play cornerback (not to mention that it would undermine many things I said over the last two years). He played better than Browner, and the defense was clearly worse when he couldn't play. However, Pete Carroll's influence on defensive backs is undeniable and despite never drafting a cornerback higher than the fourth round or making a big commitment to a corner in free agency, has built the best secondary in the NFL.

The thought that Cary Williams can't thrive in the system after holding his own as a starter for two different teams in the last four years, or that Marcus Burley, Tharold Simon, and Will Blackmon don't have the potential to "Byron" themselves just like Byron did, or that they can't use one of those 11 picks on another sleeper corner, ignores a lot of evidence to the contrary.

Defensive tackle became a concern last season as injuries hit Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill, leaving Kevin Williams and Tony McDaniel as the sole proprietors of a position meant to have a consistent rotation. Williams is a free agent, McDaniel is still a cap casualty candidate, and Mebane's place on the team next year is apparently not set in stone either. Theoretically, Hill could be the only regularly-used defensive tackle to return to the team, and his breakout campaign is too small of a sample size to make any strong determinations about his future.

But that's a lot of theories and not a lot of facts.

Mebane and McDaniel remain, Hill was very good last season, and free agent signee Ahtyba Rubin played well over the last five seasons as a full-time starter for the Cleveland Browns despite playing for four different defensive coordinators and while playing for the Cleveland Browns.

There are also still wild cards like Jesse Williams, Greg Scruggs, and Jimmy Staten.

As for the key backups that the Seahawks lost -- Malcolm Smith and Jeron Johnson -- depth is important, as we saw in the Super Bowl, but the makeup of the starters at those positions remain the same. Johnson played fewer than 100 snaps at safety last year, and Smith really didn't play that well during his opportunities in his follow-up campaign as Super Bowl MVP and Kevin Pierre-Louis might be better.

Even though there is a concern that Earl Thomas will not be ready by the start of the season, we all know that his absence would be a major concern whether Jeron Johnson was here or not. There is no replacement for Thomas in the NFL. Anywhere.

Really the changes on defense could be classified as "minor at best," with the remote possibility that the best defense in the NFL did get a little bit better. Which isn't a knock on the players they brought in, but just a reality that it's really hard to improve the Seattle defense.

We've talked a lot about what's different, but what's the same?

The Unchanges

Great teams are built on a foundation of great players and coaches. The moving parts can keep moving but everything comes easier when you have a few elite players that you don't let go of until it's absolutely necessary.

Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jay Novacek, Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, Ken Norton, Darren Woodson, Russell Maryland, Charles Haley.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Roger Craig, John Taylor, Charles Haley, Michael Carter, Ronnie Lott, Guy McIntyre.

Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Richard Seymour, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Tedy Bruschi, Damien Woody, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest.

Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane, Russell Okung.

Everything that needs to be in place for next year is in place. There is no better foundation in the NFL right now and I'd take the Seahawks top 10 over every other top 10, and I'd do it a second time while I was on a date with your mother. That is the reason that Carroll and Schneider were never building to be a one-year football team.

The Plan

The inconvenient truth to the rest of the league is that the Seahawks plan is to have renewable, sustainable energy for as long as the New York Yankees have in baseball. That seems impossible under the current business rules of football, as well as improbable under the circumstances that it's madness to expect almost 100 years of being good, but the goal does seem attainable when you take it day-by-day.

One day you don't have Jimmy Graham. The next day you do. The day after that, I'm dead.

Thus far, their efforts after only two years of building from the ground up, is three years of being first in DVOA, three years of having the number one scoring defense, a 36-12 regular season record since 2012, two NFC Championships, and one Super Bowl championship. If instead of focusing on one Super Bowl loss, what if instead you focused on 15 years?

The Patriots have played 15 years under Bill Belichick, have made the playoffs 12 times, won the AFC Championship six times, and the Super Bowl four times.

If you started from 2012, and asked, "What would I like to see from Seattle over the next 15 years?" wouldn't six Super Bowl appearances and four wins be satisfying? And you've already knocked out one of those Super Bowl losses!

Of course the Seahawks are disappointed when they lose the Super Bowl on one play. Of course New England is disappointed they don't have six Super Bowl wins instead of four. You know who else is disappointed with how their seasons ended over the last 15 years?

The Bills. The Browns. The Raiders. The Redskins. The Chiefs. The Jaguars. The Titans. The Dolphins. The Jets. The Lions. The Vikings. The Falcons. The Cardinals. The Bengals. The Rams. All 23 teams who haven't won a Super Bowl this century. All the ones who didn't make it.

You're always hoping that your team wins the Super Bowl. From the moment your season is over, you're thinking about the next. It's perpetual, it's endless, it's cyclical. The desire to win. When you do, it's extremely satisfying, but every moment you're in contention brings a breath of hope. The Seahawks have been in contention for the last three years and look likely to stay that way for many more.

That's much bigger than just one play.