Through Week 6 of the 2020 NFL season, the Seahawks were coming out of the bye 5-0 and looking primed to compete for a championship. One year later, after that season came to an abrupt end in the wild-card round of the playoffs, they find themselves sitting at the bottom of the NFC West at 2-4—four games out of first place, chasing the league's last undefeated team in Arizona.
“It is a challenge for all of us in that this didn’t start the way that we planned," head coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Monday."
Carroll, however, is still in a "wait-and-see" mode. After all, despite the unideal start to the season, his team is just one game off the pace for a wild-card spot.
"This is a different challenge for us," Carroll continued. "And we will not be able to call this the story of the season for another couple of months. It’s going to take eight to ten games before we know what’s going on. It’s going to be a long way down the schedule, there are a lot of things that will happen around the league, and we have to take care of our business. As it is always the case, postponing judgement is a powerful tool if you have it and that’s what we have to do. We have to take it one game at a time just like we know how to do, but we have to stay really focused and postpone what the story is going to be. We know that is the truth but it’s hard to do, so that’s what we are going to go about doing. It’s a challenge, I have to lead the charge, and I’m going to kick ass on that.”
With the 6-0 Cardinals and 5-1 Rams ahead of them, the Seahawks are unlikely to dig themselves out of this hole well enough to defend their divisional crown. But the playoffs are far from out of reach, and they've recovered from a similar position before.
In 2015, coming off their heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks fell to 2-4 following back-to-back close defeats to the Bengals and Panthers. After getting back to .500 over the next two weeks, they were humbled once more under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football, losing 39-32 to the Cardinals at home and dropping to 4-5 on the year.
Seattle could have easily folded in that moment, accepting that its window for contention had come to a close. But instead, quarterback Russell Wilson went on an MVP-caliber tear the rest of the way and the Seahawks won six of their last seven.
Of course, they're in a bit of a different spot this time around. Wilson (finger) is hurt and will miss at least the next two games after going on injured reserve last week. And despite a solid turnaround performance in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, their defense is still on pace to be one of the worst units in the entire NFL.
They had multiple opportunities to upset the Steelers and leave the fans at Heinz Field stunned, but their inability to capitalize in those moments led them to fall just shy in overtime. Nevertheless, they showed an ability to remain competitive in the absence of their star quarterback. Backup Geno Smith has proved viable in five quarters of work under center, and the talent around him and on the other side of the ball is immense.
But if they're going to weather this storm and challenge for the postseason come January, it's on Smith and company to get them on track and set Wilson up to finish the job.
“It’s just natural that you [feel the urgency brought on by the 2-4 start]," Carroll expressed. "You can say that you wash out all of the elements, but it’s just natural that you do. I think it’s really important that we don’t let that disrupt the way we prepare and operate because it can turn the way you respond and react in a direction that can work against you. When you over try, you’re not acting like you’re capable of acting. You’re acting like something else. You can’t predict the outcome when that happens. It’s a major point for us to stay within ourselves and do what we’re capable of doing."
Before the Seahawks head into the bye in Week 9, they'll have two winnable matchups against the Saints and Jaguars at home. Coming out of both victorious will be crucial in keeping their playoff aspirations alive, especially with Wilson eligible to come off injured reserve for their very next game in Week 10 versus the 5-1 Packers.
Thanks to the NFL's playoff expansion in 2020, there are now three wild-card spots up for grabs in each conference. The first of which will almost certainly go to whichever team loses out on the NFC West title, but there are still two others right there for the taking. As of now, one belongs to the aforementioned 3-2 Saints and the other is the subject of a three-way tie between the 3-3 Vikings, Panthers and Bears.
All of these teams are certainly talented, but not without glaring flaws. Of course, the same can be said about the Seahawks. But if they can get to 4-4 and reunite with Wilson heading into the second half of the season, they should be set up nicely to get into the dance.
At that point, anything can happen. In the first year of playoff expansion, a wild-card team, the Buccaneers, won Super Bowl LV. Of course, this is not to say Seattle will go on a Tampa Bay-style run in January, but just as extreme as its downfall was last year, there's a non-zero chance it could equally turn things around in a similar fashion this season.
Plus, winning on the road hasn't been much of a problem for the Seahawks as of late. They went 5-3 as visitors last year, and both of their wins this year have come on the road as well.
To sum things up: nothing about this team looks great right now. But there's also a fairly realistic possibility that the stars could align just at the right time for Carroll's crew. They've escaped near-death situations before; they can do so again. However, the next two weeks will ultimately determine the legitimacy of that outcome.