INGLEWOOD, CA - When the calendar turned to November, the Seahawks held an NFC West-leading 6-1 record, Russell Wilson was the MVP front-runner with 26 passing touchdowns leading the NFL's highest-scoring offense, and the team was coming off its best overall defensive performance in a win over the 49ers.
In true 2020 fashion, it's hard to believe that was only a mere two weeks ago.
Stumbling down to third in the NFC West standings following a sloppy 23-16 loss to the Rams, the Seahawks find themselves at a crossroads. Losing three of their past four games, many of the good feelings from a franchise-best 5-0 start have dissipated in rapid fashion as they've struggled to hold up against other playoff-caliber teams.
While a porous defense continues to give up 300-plus passing yards on a weekly basis, Wilson has crash landed from the MVP mountaintop into pedestrian territory, throwing two more interceptions on Sunday to increase his season total to 10. Under siege by an aggressive Rams defense, he was sacked six times and absorbed double digit quarterback hits for a second straight week.
Overall, when including a botched snap from center Kyle Fuller that was recovered by the Rams, Wilson has turned the football over seven times over the past two games and 10 times over the past four weeks.
"I'm concerned in general," coach Pete Carroll said about Wilson's turnover issues. "We can't play football and win games like that. Philosophically, that's so far against the grain for what we believe and how we prepare for the last 10, 20 years that it couldn't rub against the grain anymore. I'm worried about the fact that it's so lose in this game and the last game. One or two sometimes, but seven, that's too many."
What's most troubling about these critical mistakes is that Wilson hasn't been snake-bitten by bad luck for the most part. He's committing uncharacteristic mental errors and forcing throws he normally wouldn't make on a consistent basis.
As just the latest example, Seattle received outstanding field position late in the second quarter when safety Jamal Adams strip-sacked quarterback Jamal Adams and cornerback D.J. Reed recovered the fumble at the opposing 27-yard line. Two plays later, with his team trailing by seven, Wilson rolled out to his right with tons of running room in front of him.
Rather than take the gimme first down, however, Wilson got greedy in an attempt to tie the game. Believing he could thread the needle and get the ball to tight end Will Dissly on a wheel route, he threw across his body towards the left end zone, only for Rams cornerback Darious Williams to jump up and snag an easy interception. It was the fourth time he has been picked in the end zone this season.
Speaking with reporters after the game, Wilson took the blame for the pick, admitting he should have taken the yardage in front of him rather than taking the shot at the end zone on a play he's completed many times on the practice field.
"I was approaching the line and I saw Dissly sneak out early," Wilson said. "I stepped up, slid, and I thought I still had him, and so it was just a bad decision."
Prior to last weekend, the Seahawks had been able to withstand their defensive woes in large part due to Wilson, whose heroics masked the team had allowed record-breaking yardage through the first seven games. They captured four one-score wins during that span and won three of those in the closing minute, including edging the Vikings on a touchdown pass from the six-time Pro Bowler to DK Metcalf in Week 5.
But as the pressure to carry this football team has mounted, it's clearly evident Wilson is struggling to shoulder all of the burden, whether he wants to admit it or not. Seattle hasn't had much margin for error all season and with the star quarterback in the holiday spirit generously handing out turnovers along with injuries impacting both sides of the ball, the team's litany of flaws have truly been exposed.
Minus running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, the Seahawks have become too one-dimensional without a viable threat of a run game. This has allowed opponents to blitz more frequently and pass rushers have pinned their ears back, generating 27 quarterback hits and 11.0 sacks over the past two games alone. Their absence has also impacted play calling and situational football in numerous ways.
In one of the most decisive sequences in Sunday's game, Carroll opted to punt on fourth and inches from Seattle's own 40-yard line early in the third quarter in an attempt to flip field position. Los Angeles marched right down and scored a touchdown, leaving some to question his decision not to keep the offense on the field in that situation given the defense's chronic struggles.
Carroll defended his choice after the game, saying he believed it was far too early in the game to go for it that deep in their own territory. Even considering the Seahawks offensive firepower, he feared not converting and handing the ball back to the Rams on the wrong side of the 50 while already trailing by four.
"I was believing in our guys that we were gonna pull it off and plenty of time to get back and play well," Carroll remarked. "I didn't want to give them a turnover there and I didn't think it was worth it."
But there may have been more to it than simply considering field position. When asked specifically if Carson being available would have changed his mind in that situation, Carroll just shrugged and didn't give a definitive answer whether they would have gone for it or not. But his ensuing words were telling about the state of Seattle's offense right now and his overall confidence in the unit.
"At this point, we don't feel the same. We don't feel the same in our mix," Carroll said, adding Carson's style "adds something to us."
Defensively, the Seahawks actually allowed a season-low 23 points against the Rams, rebounding from another abysmal start to hold the opposition to just six points after halftime. From that standpoint, Carroll has reason for optimism considering they allowed 44 points to the Bills one week earlier.
But at the time Seattle opted not to go for it on that critical fourth down opportunity, the defense had given up 17 points on the previous four drives, making his decision a bit of a curious one even considering how early in the game it was. They still registered just four hits on Goff in four quarters and now have given up over 3,100 passing yards in just nine games, remaining on a pace to obliterate the NFL single-season record by nearly 1,000 yards, so plenty of concerns remain.
As always, Carroll maintained a positive outlook despite seeing the Seahawks drop their third game in four weeks. But with it becoming more obvious by week Wilson and the offense must be near-perfect to win with other deficiencies on the roster, questions linger about where the team fits into the NFC's playoff picture.
Are they still a legitimate contender? Or have they instead been revealed as a pretender in the most talented division?
Wilson has proven he can lead a flawed team to the postseason. He's done it each of the past two years, guiding Seattle to wild card berths. But if an NFC West title and a top seed is the desired end game this season, starting with Thursday's tough home rematch against Arizona, he's going to need more help. And he's going to have to clean up his own game to get the team untracked before it's too late.