The Seahawks’ mission to repeat as Super Bowl champions ended on Sunday, not with a bang, but rather, a confounding whimper. It put an end to a 365-day quest to do something that hadn’t been done in a decade, and reminded us all why it’s so hard to go back-to-back.
But it wasn’t for lack of effort.
For Seattle, the mission started on February 2, 2014, before their 43-8 throttling of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII was even finished. When they went up 36-0 in the third quarter, the Seahawks served notice that they weren’t merely a fluke, that with an impregnable defense, an unflappable quarterback and an unstoppable running back – all very much in their respective primes – they could be sowing the seeds of a dynasty. But to make it happen, they couldn’t think of yesterday or tomorrow. They had to take it one day at a time.
Just after decking Denver, the Seahawks were the early favorites to win the next championship at 7-to-1. On Day 2 of their reign, before the last piece of confetti had even been vacuumed off the MetLife Stadium turf, Pete Carroll was already setting his sights on the road to Super Bowl XLIX:
“We really have an eye of what’s coming. We won’t dwell on what just happened, and we’ll take it in stride,” he said. “We won’t miss the fun part of it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t set our sights on where we want to go. We are in a very fortunate situation.”
Added Earl Thomas: “We’re going to stay here for a long, long time.”
To do that, they would have to take care of their own, and save for a receiver who found out that Seattle didn’t value the price of Golden as much as he did, the Seahawks showed their commitment to the core players that made them so successful.
On Day 11, Michael Bennett, who had signed on for just one year and quickly became Seattle’s most devastating force on the defensive line, told reporters, “This is not Costco” when asked if he would accept a hometown discount to remain with the team. On Day 37, the Seahawks bought Bennett in bulk, to the tune of $28.5 million. (But rumor has it, he did take a discount to stay in Seattle.)
Others were less fortunate.
On Day 23, they had to release Red Bryant, one of the few players who had survived Carroll and John Schneider’s purge of the roster they acquired in 2010, and 16 days later, Chris Clemons also found himself on the free agent market. Bryant and Clemons provided a veteran presence to the Seahawks, but the team thought the most valuable thing they could provide in 2014 was cap space.
That cap space that was not used to re-sign Golden Tate, who took a five-year deal with the Detroit Lions on Day 39, but the money saved was not wasted. On Day 44, they re-signed kicker Steven Hauschka, the same player who would boot the most important onside kick in franchise history on Day 351. On Day 87, Earl Thomas got $40 million of Paul Allen’s money, and on Day 95 Richard Sherman got $57.5 million of it, the most ever given to a cornerback. They didn’t strike many notable deals in free agency, but they did find five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams on Day 131.
On Day 96, they played it cool at the NFL Draft, trading down with the Minnesota Vikings, but they still found wide receiver Paul Richardson in the second round, who was starting to make a name for himself before tearing his ACL on Day 343, and Justin Britt, who has been starting at right tackle every day since.
Meanwhile, three months after the biggest win of his pro career, Carroll was talking about how a team can maintain the level of success that got them there in the first place. It’s all about the offseason:
“We set a direction on having the greatest offseason of our lives, individually,” Carroll said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t go out and have fun and live the life. You can work out and still be on The Tonight Show. The most important thing that will happen is if we can recapture the work ethic that made us what we are. Nothing else really matters.”
It was 94 days after he intercepted Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl that Kam Chancellor underwent surgery on his hip, a nagging injury that would hamper him for at least another 160 days; Chancellor was questionable up until Seattle’s Week 6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys this season, but still ended up making the Pro Bowl for the third time in the last four years.
In what can only be described as kismet, the Seahawks signed (then) 62-year-old Pete Carroll to a contract extension on Day 62. The second-oldest coach in the NFL, Carroll still acts like a kid on the sideline, and it would surprise no one if he outlasted his three-year extension despite his decision to pass instead of run on Seattle’s final play of Super Bowl XLIX.
Carroll has always promoted competition and a desire to prove doubters wrong as the main motivators for his team, but where would the motivation come from now that they were Super Bowl champions? Turns out, pretty much everywhere.
On Day 82, following the release of the 2014-15 schedule, NFL.com’s Adam Schein flat-out said that not only would Seattle not repeat, they might not even win their division. The 49ers may be better, he said. He wasn’t alone, and the elephant in the locker room was that no team had repeated since 2004, and in the time since, none of those defending champions had even won a playoff game. Few bothered to ask if the unusual stretch of years without repeat success was actually an anomaly, or simply the new normal.
On Day 215, the Seahawks struck a blow for the former, beginning their title defense by waxing the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 of the new season. After that statement win, it would have been difficult to envision anything less than a season full of blowouts and postgame celebrations, but Seattle would fall on hard times.
On Day 225, they lost to the San Diego Chargers 30-21; Carroll’s first loss by more than seven points since 2011. On Day 253, they lost to the Cowboys 30-23; only Carroll’s second loss at home over the last three seasons. On Day 259 they gave up on the Percy Harvin experiment and traded him to the New York Jets, only to lose to the St. Louis Rams on Day 260, dropping the Seahawks to 3-3, and feeding doubt that the 2014 team wasn’t as good as the 2013 iteration.
It didn’t help when Brandon Mebane went on injured reserve on Day 283, and Zach Miller joined him on Day 284. Four days later, a tough 24-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs left Seattle at 6-4, injured and seemingly falling apart. But then, at some point in the days that followed that loss, with rumors that the locker room was in a state of disarray, a meeting was held.
“There’s no question that the change took place the night we got together, because of the leadership of the 12 guys that were in that meeting.” Carroll later said. “They took the thought, they took the messaging and delivered it to the club. I told them I will do our best to keep us on topic, but you guys are going to have to embed the thoughts that are going to give us a chance to adjust at this point and they did a remarkable job.”
And nothing from that point forward would resemble anything other than the team that won the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks beat the Arizona Cardinals on Day 295, and over the next six weeks, they allowed only three touchdowns. And then Green Bay reminded Seattle that they aren’t perfect and that there was a reason to doubt their ability to roll into the Super Bowl. For 55 minutes of the 351st day, the Packers made the Seahawks look like a team that was tired, hurt and – worst of all – flawed. But Russell Wilson and his teammates showed once again why you don’t win the game in the first quarter. Or the second quarter. Or the third. And they lived to fight for another 14 days.
On that 365th day, the Seahawks faced off against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX and we were reminded that not every day is going to go your way. They gave everything they had, lost two key players to injury and even when all hope looked lost, found themselves one yard away from completing their mission and silencing anyone that said it couldn’t be done. Clearly Seattle showed that it could, but in the end, it wasn’t.
Sunday was a sad Day 365 for the Seahawks. But it was also a hopeful day one.