The Seahawks are no strangers to tepid starts. The team began the 2014 season 3–3, then went on to win nine of its final 10 games of the season to win the NFC West. The following year, they were 2–4 through six weeks, but finished the season 10–6, earning one of the two wild card spots in the NFC. To open the 2016 season, Seattle squeaked out an ugly win over the Dolphins, then the following week dropped a game to a Rams team that would ultimately go 4–12. The Seahawks, though, went 10-5-1, winning their third NFC West crown in four years, and making the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
In other words, it’s far too early to say the Seahawks are in trouble after losing to the Titans on Sunday, 33–27, to fall to 1–2 on the year. They’ve been in this position before, and they’ve come out on the other end with division titles and trips to the playoffs. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is different this time around that might preclude the Seahawks from making their familiar run over the final two-thirds or three-fourths of the season.
The Seahawks made their rise on the strength of an elite defense that not only suffocated bad and mediocre offenses, but also stifled the best units in the league. They looked nothing like that group on Sunday.
The Titans rolled up 33 points and 420 total yards in the win, which moved them to 2–1 on the year. Marcus Mariota was comfortable all game, completing 62.5% of his passes for 225 yards, 7.03 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. DeMarco Murray ran for 115 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Derrick Henry was an effective second banana, picking up 54 yards on 13 totes. Rishard Matthews hauled in six passes for 87 yards and a score. Nearly every brand-name player on Tennessee’s offense met or exceeded expectations on Sunday. That’s just not what we’re used to seeing against Seattle’s defense.
It wasn’t just the raw numbers, either. It was also the manner in which the Titans moved the ball down the field. In short, they did so in huge chunks. DeMarco Murray’s touchdown was a 75-yard jaunt on the first play of a possession. Matthews got his touchdown on a 55-yard catch and run that featured what has typically been a season’s worth of missed tackles for the Seahawks all on one play. Titans rookie tight end Jonnu Smith got behind the Seattle defense for a 24-yard score for Mariota’s second touchdown pass of the game.
What’s more, the Titans scored all three of those touchdowns in the third quarter. The Seahawks went into the locker room trailing 9–7, but took the lead with a 10-yard scoring strike from Russell Wilson to Chris Carson early in the second half. The Titans then scored 21 straight points to take control of the game.
The Seahawks have typically been one of the best-coached teams in the Pete Carroll era, and that often shows up in adjustments made at halftime. While the idea of one team or the other winning the in-game adjustments battle is nebulous and hard to pin down, when one team piles up three touchdowns in the third quarter, the circumstantial evidence is awfully strong that it spent its 15-minute break at halftime more effectively. Again, this is not the look of a Seahawks team that have been a perennial Super Bowl contender for the better part of a decade.
The silver lining for the Seahawks is that their offense played its best game of the season. Russell Wilson threw for 373 yards and four touchdowns, and kept the team in it late. Before Doug Baldwin left in the fourth quarter with a groin injury, he caught 10 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Jimmy Graham came alive, pulling down seven balls for 72 yards. No one is writing any team’s obituary just yet, especially this one. If the first three weeks of the season are any indication, though, this year’s rebound will be more of a challenge than any of the previous three.