The Seattle Seahawks are 0-2, and this will no doubt engender a tremendous amount of angst over the course of the next seven days, in part because everything in the NFL is over-analyzed and over-processed and over-thought, and in part because there is legitimate statistical evidence that says the Seahawks may now have a difficult time getting back to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year.
Last night, the Seahawks lost to the Packers in Green Bay, 27-17. They’ve now blown fourth-quarter leads in each of their last four games (though they wound up winning the first of those, a still-unfathomable come-from-behind victory over Green Bay in last season’s NFC Championship game). And yet normally, none of this would provide much of a reason to panic; normally, the widely accepted notion that the Seahawks are the most talented team in the NFL, with arguably the most well-respected coach and arguably the least mistake-prone quarterback, would make them a strong contender to buck the notion that two consecutive losses mean much of anything to begin a season.
Except there is also a reason to believe Seattle may not be an exception to the 0-2 rule, in part because the 2015 Seahawks are already an exception to every rule. No team has ever lost the Super Bowl on a controversial play call that engendered widespread vexation and lingered throughout the offseason; no team has spent more psychic energy and airplane fuel in recent years attempting to make light of and dispel the mojo of that play call than the Seahawks. If ever a team has the potential to get inside its own head, it is this one.
And that’s the thing about watching Seattle in 2015: So far, everything hearkens back to the Super Bowl, to a play call so impactful that even Marshawn Lynch’s mother is still pissed off about it. Last weekend against the Rams, the Seahawks ran the ball with Lynch on a fourth-and-1 and failed, and wound up losing the game. On Sunday night, Lynch was largely ineffective; on Sunday night, it was quarterback Russell Wilson who led the Seahawks back from a 13-3 road deficit, both with his arm – he threw a pair of touchdown passes to make the score 17-13 – and with his legs, as he kept the ball on the read option and on quarterback draws to edges of the field. (This, of course, had the Greek chorus of the Internet wondering whether Wilson should have run the ball on that final play of Super Bowl XLIX instead of Lynch.) The game plan worked, and then it didn’t, largely because, as wonderful a quarterback as Wilson may be, Aaron Rodgers is better.
And so after a Green Bay field goal made it 17-16, Rodgers, who is nearly unbeatable at home at Lambeau Field, proved astoundingly elusive in the pocket, leading the Packers on an 80-yard drive that gave them the lead back. Wilson then threw a rare interception on a short pass, and Green Bay kicked a game-clinching field goal.
None of this means much of anything in September, of course; the Packers and Seahawks are almost certainly the two best teams in the NFC, if not the entire NFL. And it’s possible that Seattle’s struggles have absolutely nothing to do with the Super Bowl, and it’s possible that Pete Carroll will find a Zen method of extracting his team from the hole it has put itself in. But every time the Seahawks lose a high-profile game like this – every time they take a step backward from last year – the question of the Super Bowl will arise once more, and the question of whether the Seahawks’ decision-making is somehow fatally flawed will become more and more difficult to avoid. At some point, the perception matters more than the truth, and this is what the Seahawks are fighting early on in 2015: The idea that they can no longer finish a game without tripping over their own past.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb