After three straight wins (including a victory over the New England Patriots in Foxborough), it looked like the Seahawks were doing it again—ramping up their game as the holidays near. The Dallas Cowboys may have the best record in the NFC, but Seattle, not the Cowboys, appeared to be the most complete and dangerous team in the conference.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers flattened them Sunday, 14-5, the Seahawks didn't look like a complete team. They certainly didn't look like the NFC's best, or a team set to embark on a prolonged roll.
They looked like the Seahawks of September—a flawed team with serious problems.
When the Buccaneers raced out to a 14-0 lead on a pair of Mike Evans touchdown catches, it was a bit concerning, but not the end of the world. There was plenty of game to go, after all.
Well, Sunday's contest needed to go 16 quarters instead of four for Seattle's offense to tie things up. The Seahawks got the score to 14-5 after a second-quarter safety and a Steven Hauschka field goal. That was the extent of their scoring.
Sunday's loss marked the fourth time this season that the Seahawks scored 12 or fewer points and was the third time this season they failed to find the end zone. Seattle managed all of 245 total yards against a Tampa defense that entered Week 12 ranked 26th in the NFL at 381.7 yards allowed per game.
The offensive failures were all-encompassing. The return of a healthy Thomas Rawls was supposed to give a badly needed boost to a Seattle backfield that has been hit hard by injuries. Instead, Rawls managed only 38 yards on 12 carries.
The passing game was worse. Much worse. This tweet from Marc Sessler of NFL.com sums up Russell Wilson's afternoon:
Marc Sessler @MarcSesslerNFL
Russel Wilson and the Seahawks finish the first half with ONE yard passing.2016-11-27 22:30:37
Wilson's numbers at game's end weren't much better. Wilson completed just over half his passes for 151 yards and threw a pair of interceptions, including one that ended any chance of a late comeback. (Then again, given how Seattle's offense played, any hopes of a comeback were done before intermission.)
Wilson's struggles aren't the problem so much as the result of the problem. Rawls' failure to find success running the ball is a function of the real flaw.
The Seattle O-line, which has been the team's weak spot for most of the year, was awful, as ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell noted:
Bill Barnwell @billbarnwell
Russell Wilson hit on sidelines and teammates hop off the bench to defend him, marking the first time Seattle’s tried to protect RW today2016-11-27 23:42:22
Barnwell's tweet is a pithy reflection on the putridness of Seattle's line Sunday. Tampa entered the day with 21 sacks over its first 10 games, tied for 17th in the NFL. The Bucs nearly tripled their per-game average on the season, getting to Wilson six times and harassing him constantly.
After the game, head coach Pete Carroll told his team, "It's not the end of the world. It's not panic. We'll fix it," as rookie guard Germain Ifedi relayed to Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News-Tribune.
The problem is figuring out where that fix is going to come from. No team in the NFL has less cap space invested in its offensive line than the Seahawks, and it has shown all season long. Per Pro Football Focus, Seattle is the league's worst pass-blocking team.
Perhaps a little panic is in order.
Seattle fans might dismiss this game as an aberration. The Seahawks are still firmly in control of the NFC West, and they have occasionally laid eggs on East Coast road trips.
But this isn't the first time the Seattle offense has been offensive in 2016. Or the second. Or the third. And this particular egg could have very real ramifications for the Seahawks in the playoffs.
|NFC Playoff Seeding as of Week 12|
|5.||New York Giants||8-3-0|
In recent weeks, the Seahawks and Cowboys appeared to be on a collision course with the top two seeds in the NFC playoffs (and the first-round byes that come with them). Now, however, Seattle's lead over the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons is down to a half-game.
If the Seahawks struggle again offensively against the Rams and Cardinals (two teams against whom they scored a combined nine points in their first meetings this season) or slip up at Lambeau Field in a couple of weeks, they could easily be playing on Wild Card Weekend and traveling the week after that.
Is it Chicken Little time? No. The Seahawks are as battle-tested as they come, and Seattle doesn't play a team with a winning record the rest of the way.
But Sunday's loss made it clear this isn't the dominant Seahawks team that won Super Bowl XLVIII and narrowly lost Super Bowl XLIX. They can't be called a complete team with a sieve where their offensive line should be.
This isn't to say that the Seahawks aren't a good team. They were good enough to beat the Patriots in Beantown. They are good enough to represent the NFC in Houston in February.
But just like the Falcons, Lions, Cowboys and every other team on that side of the bracket, the Seahawks have a significant flaw.
One that could cost them dearly in the postseason.
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter: @IDPSharks.