While the loss to Arizona seemed a considerable roadblock to repeating as NFC West champion, the San Francisco game is the first chance to see how the Seattle Seahawks will plot their detour.
Of maybe to see if they’ll just turn in their tracks and come back another time.
In the week since losing at home to the Cardinals, the Seahawks have faced more questions about their psyche than about their hamstrings.
Fair to ask because more than at any time in recent seasons, the Seahawks (4-5) are confronted with the deleterious forces of human nature.
Having been to two consecutive Super Bowls, will some feel it beneath them to put their highly paid bodies so unsparingly on the line in the final seven games just for the shot at a possible wild card berth and road playoff game?
Will an urge for self-preservation kick in? Will that tender ankle turn a “probable” into a “questionable” on the injury report? These things happen when contention grows in doubt.
It’s a little hard to examine the phenomenon because there haven’t been many sustained success stories for teams in the salary-cap, free-agency era of the NFL.
New England won Super Bowls after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, and slipped to 10-6 in 2005 when they lost both coordinators to head coaching jobs, and cut cornerback Ty Law for salary-cap reasons. Success does this.
Facing some of the challenges that the Seahawks have in 2015, they also started the following season 4-4. But they went 6-2 the rest of the way and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs as a wild card.
The Steelers had a Super Bowl win and a loss in a three-season span, and ultimately slipped out of the playoffs in 2012 when they lost six games on the final play. Sounds like the Seahawks leading in the fourth quarter of every game this season but only getting four wins out of it.
San Francisco went to three consecutive NFC Championship Games before key players retired or relocated, the staff slipped into turmoil, and we see before us this week a 3-6 team near the bottom of many NFL rankings.
The pitfalls and potholes, then, are common. But they don’t have to be lethal. The Seahawks have seven games remaining, and I guarantee you there are people in that headquarters envisioning a 7-0 finish.
Is attitude the key? Resilience? How about competitive obliviousness?
“I believe adversity is temporary,” said quarterback Russell Wilson, who kept repeating the terms “belief” and “trust” in his Thursday press conference.
Safety Earl Thomas said it comes down to every player’s “personal battle,” and how each addresses his responsibilities.
“When you have so much success like we had, and you’ve been known (as) this type of player, that type of player … sometimes you’re not who you think you are,” Thomas said.
Perhaps the most interesting attitude is one voiced by a Seahawks player having his best season: defensive end Cliff Avril.
He was asked this week about the team’s mindset now that they’re facing the uphill challenge of playing from behind in the division.
“We’re behind in the division? Is it an uphill challenge?” Avril asked. “That’s something you guys pay attention to. I don’t pay any attention to any of that. That’s the honest truth right there.”
He didn’t seem to be kidding. The standings, to Avril, are irrelevant to his effort and preparation.
“For me, it’s all about just getting better personally, just trying to get better each and every week,” he said. “If each person on our team can continue to do that, I think we’ll like where we are at the end of the season.”
Wilson’s focus on belief and trust sounds like a good philosophy.
But maybe the most effective approach for the Seahawks in the final seven games is Avril’s idea of just ignoring the standings and records, and the history and expectations. And just going out and doing the job against whatever opponent is in front of them.
Their performance against the Niners will offer the first evidence whether this current adversity is temporary or something that will be around for seven more weeks.