From week to week, we tend to pay too much attention to the psychology of teams competing in NFL games, which tend to be determined more by the fundamental mechanics of blocking and tackling than mindset and temperament.
But in the big picture, there’s a lot to be made about a team’s frame of mind.
And that made Monday’s comments by the recently extinct 2015 Seattle Seahawks timely.
Coach Pete Carroll said the players were surprisingly upbeat considering the loss in the divisional round to Carolina on Sunday, which sent them home short of their goal of a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
“They kind of understood this season was one in which we didn’t capture all the opportunities, and there’s a big up-side for us,” Carroll said.
It was a fair time to gauge the team’s trajectory. Did the loss to Carolina signal a leveling off, or maybe even a slip from the tier of the indisputably elite?
The youthful core of talent was offered by players as the prime argument for the belief that a quick return to championship-level performance was possible.
I’d say that’s totally believable. Having a Pro Bowl quarterback in Russell Wilson, who is still growing toward his prime, and an historic defense mostly intact, should make them an annual contender.
But the way a season ends leaves teams with time to consider their direction. Carroll said that both of Seattle’s recent Super Bowl appearances had residual effects that required recovery time.
Likewise, the Seahawks will have to absorb and rationalize the 31-24 defeat administered by the Panthers on Sunday.
The best approach is to declare that the 2016 season started after intermission. Trailing 31-0 at halftime, the Seahawks had displayed some of the worst qualities that led to an erratic 2015 season.
Poor pass protection left the offense non-functional, and caused short-field opportunities for Carolina that strained the defense.
But in the second half, Seattle scored 24 points against perhaps the best team in the NFL, and the defense shut them out. Call that a symbolic half-game victory for the 2016 Seahawks to build upon.
The impressive Seahawks’ rally, even if Carolina was tentatively nursing a cushy lead, was important. It not only reminded them what it took to be dominant against a high-quality opponent, but also that it’s not something they can take for granted.
What could be better heading into an offseason than a reminder that they can be very close to the peak, but still have more to do. Good to be reminded that a Super Bowl berth is not a birthright.
In a few ways, the second-round defeat can work in their favor. This offseason starts three weeks earlier than it has the past two seasons. That’s not an insignificant period of time.
The Hawks have played a half season of extra games (8) in the playoffs the three preceding seasons. The physical toll left a number of post-surgical Hawks rehabbing well into training camp.
“…We get a January off — the first time we’ve had a January off in four years,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “We have an extra amount of time for our bodies to recover and for our mental states to return to normal, to kind of balance out.
“That will give us, I believe, an edge coming into the offseason program and coming into the next season.”
Fairly fresh in their minds are two general developments from the second half of the season. The defense rallied to lead the NFL in scoring for the fourth consecutive season. And the offense turned into the most effective group in franchise history, finishing with more yards than any Seahawks team.
Wilson grew from a pass-rush threat with great leadership skills to a steely-eyed gunslinger in the pocket, breaking team records for passing yards and touchdowns.
Not only will he be a hot, still-young quarterback heading into next season, he’ll have Baldwin returning as one of the game’s top battery mates. And likely add tight end Jimmy Graham back from knee surgery.
They also found a worthy heir to running back Marshawn Lynch in rookie Thomas Rawls, and another dynamic playmaker in receiver/returner Tyler Lockett.
These guys, and to a lesser extent, perhaps, flashy rookie defensive end Frank Clark, gave the Seahawks an infusion of highly talented newcomers they haven’t had in a couple years.
That’s also a key to the Seahawks frame of mind, a sense of renewal in key spots.
So, they have that.
And they’ve already got half of a win over Carolina they can celebrate.