Free-for-all: Seahawks loss not as bad as it looks

The Seahawks' four-game win streak ended in Germany, but this wasn't one of those bubble-bursting defeats for the team or its quarterback so let's not get too carried away.

(Note: The following is to be read with a wistful air. As if one is recalling an especially poignant habit of a favorite grandparent or describing the nose of an especially well-regarded wine.)

I remember when I first encountered the extreme swings in evaluation that would accompany a single result from a sporting event.

It was a more innocent time. There were two daily newspapers publishing in Seattle. There were no Twitter trolls. That was no Twitter.

It was 2005, I had just turned 30 and I was covering the playoff series between the Seattle Supersonics – whom we all miss dreadfully – and the Sacramento Kings.

(OK, you can stop the embellished accent. I’m now writing in my normal voice.)

The Sonics were up 2-0 in the series as Jerome James had scored 36 points over the first two games. In Game 3, the Kings outscored the Sonics 31-19 in the first quarter and won by 12. This seemed to me a fairly predictable result. The Kings were a good team, they were back at home and the arena was fairly raucous. The collective freakout caught me by surprise as everyone raced to point to the Sonics’ fatal flaw. “They’re too reliant on the 3-pointer. They don’t have enough scoring balance. Ray Allen has to do everything.”

It wasn’t fans who were saying this, but other media members. More attention was trained on the team because it was the playoffs, and the increased scrutiny led to an exaggeration of defects. The fact in the playoffs every game IS more significant only heightened this effect.

Turns out it was good preparation for my next gig, which was covering the NFL. With 16 (now 17) regular-season games, each one is significant. There is more attention trained on these games, too, which leads to chronic overreaction, the direction of which depends upon the result.

After a victory, credit is distributed in most generous fashion. The coach is asked about all range of factors that contributed to the success so we might fully comprehend the breadth of effort. Much like it takes a village to raise a child, an entire franchise must operate with tremendous efficient to win an NFL game.

After a defeat, blame must be assigned. After all, a tragedy like this is weeks, maybe even years in the making, and it’s seldom so simple as a single cause of death. An exhaustive post-mortem is necessary.

There are benefits to this overreaction. You do get a view of how hard it is to describe exactly why a team wins or loses in the sport of American football. However, it can also give you an exaggerated sense of the team’s flaws and the weaknesses, which brings me to the Seattle Seahawks’ loss in Munich to Tampa Bay.

This was not one of those bubble-popping defeats that changes the way you see a team. Geno Smith still played really well against one of the blitzingest teams in the league and that touchdown throw he had to Marquise Goodwin in the second half was nothing short of incredible. Now Smith isn’t careful enough with the ball in the pocket, leading to a back-breaking fumble, but honestly, that’s something we’ve seen before. He has a tendency to do what coaches refer to as “swimming” where he holds the ball in his right hand while maneuvering his arm to avoid pass rushers. It’s risky, which is why quarterbacks are coached not to do it. But Smith didn’t turn into pumpkin in this game. In fact, he was still fairly lethal as Seattle had a chance even with a run game that was downright awful.

About that. Seattle’s inability to run the ball wasn’t a total surprise. While the Bucs have been a fairly middle-of-the-road rush defense, they faced the Rams last week and that scheme bears some similarities to what the Seahawks do under Shane Waldron. The Bucs held the Rams to 2.8 yards per carry, which is actually what Seattle averaged on Sunday.

On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks allowed 161 yards rushing, which was a total shock. The Bucs are god-awful running the ball. They hadn’t gained more than 75 yards on the ground since Week 1. The manner in which they ran roughshod over Seattle was enough to make you wonder if the defensive improvement that was described over the past few weeks might have been an overreaction to a run of success. I don’t think this defense is average yet.

This was a game that showed Seattle isn’t a cut above the mediocre middle of the NFC. Yes, the Seahawks committed a back-breaking turnover when Smith lost a second-half fumble inside the Tampa Bay 20, but Seattle got the benefit of a pair of turnovers, too. Tariq Woolen intercepted a pass when Tampa Bay decided to have Tom Brady try to catch a pass instead of throw it, preventing one score, and then Cody Barton had a hell of a pick that set up a touchdown.

For those Seahawks fans inclined to whining, you can point out the officials picked up two flags that were thrown on Tampa Bay, one of which would have nullified a touchdown. But it takes a pretty big homer to think one-sided officiating is what kept Seattle from winning.

The Bucs have been a team that has been puzzlingly bad this season, and they played a much better game. In the super-fund site that is the NFC South, I think they might be the favorite. Conversely, Seattle showed a hiccup in terms of its defensive improvement, but anyone pointing to this loss as evidence that Seattle isn’t a playoff team is missing the bigger picture. Smith is continuing to play some of the best football of any passer in this league.

In other words: This loss might wind up being a lot like that Sonics series I mentioned to start this newsletter in that series where I experienced media overreaction for the first time. It might not mean all that much in the long run.

The Sonics lost Game 3 of that series to the Kings, having shot 6-for-23 on three-pointers. Rashard Lewis was 2-for-10 from the floor in that game.

Those worries that Seattle was too reliant on Allen? Well, he went off in Game 4, scoring 45 points including a fall-away three-pointer to clinch the win with a minute to go. The highlights from the game are here. It’s one of the best basketball performances I’ve ever seen in person. (Note: Allen’s game-clinching 3 is at the 6-minute mark of the below video.)

After that, all those worries that followed Game 3 seemed kind of silly. It was good practice, though, for what would happen after every NFL game I covered.

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