The 2016 Seahawks haven’t quite reached the midpoint of the season, but they’re at a tipping point.
Lose against the Buffalo Bills at CenturyLink on Monday Night Football, and they’re 4-3-1 and just another mid-range team heading off to New England as an underdog struggling to stay above .500.
Win and they’ve got just two losses at halfway and still rank among the top two or three contenders for the NFC homefield advantage.
Plenty of reasons exist to believe they can. They’ve been in possession of an unprecedented degree of Monday Night magic, having won 10 straight, going back to 2005. Nobody on this roster has lost a Monday Night game with the Seahawks.
This is a confident group, but a loss in this one would be a new and uncomfortable experience.
Beyond the short-term implications, it’s getting to be time that the future values of some key Seahawks players are coming under scrutiny in the remaining games.
Are the injuries to Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett small matters soon forgotten, or signals of a natural decline to extremely physical players? It’s likely that these cornerstone defenders have more productive seasons ahead. But at what salary?
Can running back Thomas Rawls get back on the field and stay healthy, given the pounding he gives and takes with every carry? Or maybe somebody like rookie C.J. Prosise will come on in this second half of the season and replicate the kind of emergence Rawls had last year?
Tight end Jimmy Graham has been statistically impressive overall, but those stats include just one touchdown thus far, and he’s got a salary-cap hit of $10 million coming up next season. Can he become the kind of productive scoring machine in the last nine games that they expected?
Coach Pete Carroll spoke of the sense of urgency for the team this week. “We’re not even at the halfway point until after this week, but I think it’s time to kick in, it’s time to go,” Carroll said on Thursday. “Hopefully we’ll see something happen.”
He means “something” that is positive.
A loss would leave the Hawks winless since Oct. 16 — a span of three games (0-2-1). They haven’t gone three games without a win since the midpoint of the 2011 season.
The memories have been largely expunged by the Super Bowl seasons of 2013 and 2014, but back in November of 2011, Carroll’s record with the Seahawks was 9-15. How much patience would owner Paul Allen have had if Carroll had finished his second season at that pace?
Sensing that the lug nuts were loosening, Carroll decided that if the Seahawks were going to come apart, he would be sure they did it his way, by focusing on running the ball and playing tough defense.
Here’s how it played out: In the first seven games that season, Marshawn Lynch averaged about 14 carries a game. In his final eight appearances, Lynch’s average carries ballooned to 23 a game. The average of total team rush yardage went up almost 50 yards per game.
And the defense held the final eight opponents to 20 points or less. On the strength of those changes, Carroll’s Hawks went 5-3 in the second half to finish at 7-9, which represented a definite upswing.
Can he pull off that kind of resurgence again?
“I do really count on us improving and getting better as we get down the stretch,” Carroll said. “That’s kind of how we constructed our mentality and it’s worked out pretty well.”
The Bills are 4-4 and inconsistent, but they’re troublesome in definite ways, with a plus-8 turnover differential and 26 sacks of opposing quarterbacks — tied for the league best.
On Friday, quarterback Russell Wilson said he’s feeling healed enough from a series of injuries that he can begin playing more instinctively again, and being less restricted in his rushing and improvisation.
Since the lack of scoring has been the primary culprit for most of the season, a dangerous Wilson could mean an immediate improvement.
But there is tough duty ahead. After Monday’s game, the Seahawks have a short week and then a cross-country trip to new England to face a Patriots’ team coming off a bye.
If they can beat the Bills decisively, though, they can hit the road again with a sense of renewal, rather than increasing uncertainty.