Tom Cable was speaking for his offensive line, but he could have been talking about the entire Seahawks team right now.
Asked how much longer he can afford to wait for his scrambled offensive line — starters in three new positions — to improve or be at least semi-passable, the veteran line coach looked sternly into the eyes of his questioner.
“What other choice do you have?” he said.
It was the most dead-on response yet from an underachieving, 4-5, two-time defending NFC champion — one that hasn’t had many positive responses this season.
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The Seahawks have no other choice than to start their long slog back into possible playoff contention over the final seven games of the regular season with what they already have.
There is no cavalry coming, before or after Sunday’s off-the-mat game against San Francisco (3-6). It comes one week after the mistake-filled, 39-32 home loss to first-place Arizona that cost Seattle any realistic chance of a third consecutive NFC West title.
“They want to do right,” coach Pete Carroll said when asked for a psyche check on his players. “We got in our own way last week so much that they all realize that. So we want to play well and play good football and see where that takes us.”
Seattle is three games behind in the division the Cardinals are on their way to winning. The Seahawks are now playing for a wild-card berth to get into the playoffs. They are two games behind Green Bay and Atlanta for one of those two spots.
The once seemingly invincible Packers, who beat Seattle in September on their way to a 6-0 start, now seem endangered after losing three in a row. The Falcons have lost three of their past four, including their most recent loss to a 49ers team the Seahawks mauled 20-3 in the Bay Area last month.
So, yes, there’s still hope for Seattle.
Then again, the way that offensive line has ruined third downs, drives, red-zone opportunities and seemingly some of Russell Wilson’s decisions — not to mention the defense’s field position and amount of time spent on the field — why again do these Seahawks have hope?
“We still got those same guys in the room,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said, pointing his thumb toward the locker room. “That’s why you still feel the same way you always felt. Obviously, circumstances sometimes dictates some people’s opinions. But they never dictate ours.
“Critics are people with no talent dealing with people who have talent."
Seattle had 17 of 22 starters return from the team that won eight in a row beginning about this time last year to reach another Super Bowl.
“I think there’s always time, especially with our team. We always find a way to get things done,” Sherman said.
Since the NFL went to its current postseason format of six teams per conference, 300 playoff entrants ago in 1990, only 11 teams that finished the regular season 10-6 or better failed to advance. So history says if the Seahawks can go 6-1 the rest of the way, chances are they will be in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
“We always feel like we’ve got to win every game,” Sherman said. “Last year, we felt like we had to win every game. This year it comes down to the same thing.”
We could go on about Blaine Gabbert making his second start for San Francisco. Asked if he was surprised the 49ers benched quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is 1-6 against Seattle, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril said: “I don’t care.”
We could revisit the formerly feared Seahawks defense losing fourth-quarter leads in all five of the team’s losses this season — six losses if you count Super Bowl 49.
We could talk about how Avril and Michael Bennett besieged Kaepernick and ruined the Niners’ offense in that easy Seahawks win Oct. 22 in Santa Clara, California. Or how Seattle has won five of six in this faded division rivalry, including the last three games by a combined 56-13.
But this Sunday against San Francisco, followed by Pittsburgh and Minnesota the next two weeks and throughout the rest of the season, it’s going to come down to the Seahawks’ offensive line. Can it be even remotely functional for more than a series or three per game?
Patrick Lewis is starting again at center for the third time this season. Cable and Carroll said Lewis played well last weekend when Seattle allowed the blitzing Cardinals only two sacks. One sack was on a scramble by Wilson for zero yards — though that doesn’t count when Wilson ran into left tackle Russell Okung while scrambling away from pressure near the goal line and lost the ball.
The fact two sacks allowed in a game is progress is what happens when a team has allowed 33 sacks in nine games, tied for second in the NFL behind Cleveland (36). Not only that, the line isn’t opening many rushing lanes, either. Marshawn Lynch’s yards-per-carry average of 3.8 is outside the top 40 in the league among running backs. That’s not where one of the NFL’s top running backs is used to being.
The Seahawks’ trade of two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger for tight end Jimmy Graham, the experiment of a now-benched college defensive tackle at center (Drew Nowak), a college tight end at right tackle (Garry Gilliam) and 2014’s rookie right tackle at left guard (Justin Britt, after the team let James Carpenter leave in free agency) has failed.
For the past three years the Seahawks have scrounged together whatever low-cost parts they could cobble together and asked Cable to make starting linemen out of them. That strategy, plus recent draft picks that haven’t panned out, have caught up to Seattle so far this season.
Asked if the performance of this season’s offensive line changes his philosophy on how to build future ones, Carroll said: “Not at this point, no.”
“I did think it would go quicker,” the coach said of the progress up front. “I was holding out hope that we’d be able to turn it in the first three or four games, and maybe by game five we’d really feel like we were making progress.”
It’s now game 10. There are no more mulligans.
“I’m disappointed that we haven’t taken advantage of some fantastic chances. Three great teams we’ve played, three great opportunities to win all those games, and those getting away, that’s frustrating,” Carroll said of blown leads late against Cincinnati, Carolina and Arizona. “Because we were good enough to win those games.
“I don’t want that to be the story of this season. I want to get this thing rolling so that isn’t the story and we have a chance to do some really good things at the end of the year.”
But even Carroll acknowledged: “We’ve got a long ways to go to get that done.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (3-6) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (4-5)
1:25 P.M. SUNDAY, CENTURYLINK FIELD
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: Seattle leads, 19-15. That includes the Seahawks’ NFC championship game win in January 2014 on the way to their first Super Bowl title. San Francisco has lost four in a row and six of the past seven in the series. Seattle has outscored the 49ers 56-13 in the past three meetings, from a 19-3 win last Thanksgiving in Santa Clara, California, through last month’s 20-3 victory there.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Don’t do that again: Yes, the Seahawks were in 1st and 20 or 25 on their first four possessions last week against Arizona. Yes, they trailed 19-0 early. But Marshawn Lynch still only ended up with eight carries. Eight! There will be a time sooner than later that the Seahawks are going to wish No. 24 still played for them. Give him the ball early and often, regardless of the score. See what they can make behind the struggling offensive line. Relive the 122 yards on 27 carries Lynch had last month at San Francisco. It’s beyond time for coach Pete Carroll, play-caller Darrell Bevell and the Seahawks to reestablish how they became a two-time Super Bowl team.
Get Wagner right: Pass completions get past him. Uncharacteristic misses on tackles. All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner hasn’t played to his own high standard recently. The Seahawks’ defense is at its best when he is. Wagner needs to get back to himself because it won’t be Bruce Irvin starting next to him; Irvin is out with a knee injury. It will be special-teams player Mike Morgan making his second start at outside linebacker in his five-year career.
Remind him he’s Blaine Gabbert: There’s a reason Jacksonville gave up on its former No. 1 pick. The Seahawks’ wins this season have come against Jimmy Clausen, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick — the man Gabbert has replaced on the 49ers — and Matt Cassel. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Seattle’s defensive front shouldn’t need the help of blitzes to make this a bad day for Gabbert and to make the Seahawks 5 for 5 against bad quarterbacks.
Seahawks, 27-7. If they manage to lose this one, we can all pack it up to start Christmas and the offseason more than a month early — the Seahawks included.
2 — Blaine Gabbert, QB (6-4, 234, fifth season): He beat Atlanta in his first start after Colin Kaepernick was benched. Needs to show why Jacksonville drafted him in the first round.
24 — Shaun Draughn, RB (5-11, 225, third season): Who? Plan C, with Reggie Bush and now Carlos Hyde out. His career high is 58 yards — in the 49ers’ previous game.
53 — NaVorro Bowman, FS (6-0, 242, sixth season): San Francisco's best defender returns to a stadium where he tore his knee in the NFC title game in January 2014.
17 — Kevin Smith, WR (6-0, 218, first season): This time last year, the former UW Husky was loading FedEx trucks in Los Angeles. Now he makes his NFL debut.
24 — Marshawn Lynch, RB (5-10, 202, 10th season): When he walks away, which could be after another month or so, all will wonder why he was getting just eight carries against Arizona.
54 — Bobby Wagner, MLB (6-0, 241, fourth season): The All-Pro has been less so lately. Seattle’s defense is at its very best when he is at his.