The harsh reality about the Seahawks’ current Super Bowl window

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A pop quiz: How many offensive possessions did the Seattle Seahawks have in the NFC Divisional Round when they got a head start?

Give up already?

The answer is 1. One. U.N.

Would you like to know what drive it was and how it ended? Here it goes!

Now another quiz: How many second half offensive possessions did the Seattle Seahawks have in the NFC Divisional Round that they were owned by their opponents?

Give up?

The answer is 1. One. U.N.

Would you like to know what drive it was and how it ended? Here it goes!

I know the Seahawks lost 31-24 to the Panthers, but they got it into possession 1:16 and never regained the onside kick.

This is a painful but brutally honest way of saying that the Seahawks’ current “window of contention” hasn’t seen anything near the NFC championship game since their two Super Bowl trips. Division round, division round, missed playoffs, wild card, division round and wild card in that order. Some teams would kill for it, but the Seahawks are no longer stuck in the 1990s and there are higher standards they can aim for that they couldn’t before.

Indeed, Seattle’s last three playoff wins have come against opponents kept outside the end zone. The Vikings 2015 (Walsh’d it), the Lions 2016 (ended the year in four games) and the Eagles 2019 (who played most of the game against Josh McCown) together scored eight field goals and the Seahawks still had to get past two of these wins. You can play the what-if. Play on injuries for all three teams if you want, but I’d argue only the 2015 team was a real competitor and it took a ridiculous stretch from November to December just to make the postseason at all. Otherwise they just weren’t good enough.

We are now six seasons away from the Seahawks’ last Super Bowl appearance. This feels significant because if the story is a guide, the Seattle window to getting back to the big game with this partnership between Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson is probably already over.

One thing I had to rethink is the definition of a “window” in the NFL. I’ve even written here before that the Super Bowl window in Seattle will last as long as Russell Wilson is the quarterback. Perhaps a more specific statement is that your typical Super Bowl window is darn short, but the window for a relevant, frequent playoff team is much longer as long as you have a franchise QB and a not-terrible head coach. I’m bringing this up because …

No head coach / quarterback duo have returned more than five seasons from their previous Super Bowl trip. Only Bill Belichick-Tom Brady and Tom Landry-Roger Staubach have ever won Super Bowls more than five seasons apart, and both duos suffered self-service losses within that period. Belichick and Landry are the only head coaches with such a gap between actually winning championships.

Many head coaches have had more than 5 seasons between Super Bowl berths (e.g. Bill Cowher, Andy Reid, Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, Mike Holmgren) but only Cowher went with the same team and did so with different quarterbacks. Kurt Warner (2002 and 2008), Craig Morton (1970 and 1977) and John Elway (1989 and 1997) started Super Bowls more than five years apart, but only Elway did it with the same team but not with the same head coach.

There are only 13 head coaches with multiple Super Bowl wins and after Patrick Mahomes’ defeat last Sunday there are still only 12 quarterbacks with the same performance. Only these three QBs have won two championships outside of my completely arbitrary five-year window:

Tom Brady: 2004 to 2014 (10 seasons)
Peyton Manning: 2006 to 2015 (9 seasons)
Roger Staubach: 1971 to 1977 (6 seasons)

That’s it. And Peyton was extremely washed for his second ring and missed almost half the season, which paved the way for Texans to think Brock Osweiler was good.

Let’s put Carroll and Russ aside for a second to look at some other long-standing head coach and QB partnerships that have seen / are experiencing similar droughts.

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay in 2010 and made it to the NFC CG twice in the following eight seasons. There was the epic breakdown against the Seahawks (within that five-year window, mind you) and a 44-21 that hit the Hawks two seasons later. Matt LaFleur has made double this round in so many seasons and largely justified the move from Green Bay to McCarthy, even though his “kick the field goal at 8” move in this year’s CG was a shit McCarthy probably didn’t even know would do.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees entered the NFC CG in their first year (2006), took their first title at the New Orleans Saints in 2009, but only reached the Conference Championship once more. While they were apparently robbed on a missed pass-interference call against the Los Angeles Rams, they could have gotten a defensive stop on regulation or won on overtime, and neither did they. Brees is likely to retire and we may see Sean Payton’s Taysom Hill infatuation go into high gear or they try something else.

Mike Tomlin won Super Bowl 43 with Ben Roethlisberger in 2008, returned and lost to McCarthy’s Packers in 2010, and only made one AFC CG appearance from 2011 to 2020. In 2016 they lost 36-17 to the Patriots (outside the five-year window) and it wasn’t even that close. Pittsburgh also lost to Tim Tebow and Blake Bortles, which isn’t really relevant to me, but is extremely funny nonetheless. Roethlisberger has a year left in Pittsburgh at best, while Tomlin is likely to have a job until he retires because the Steelers just aren’t firing coaches.

I am well aware that past results don’t always give a clue of the future, but the evidence is overwhelming that it is insanely difficult to win a Super Bowl, let alone win two or two, regardless of who has the head coach and quarterback. I’ve only isolated this pairing because these are the two most important positions to fill the sport. There is no perfect formula for building a championship plan. Luck usually plays an indefinite role in any title roster. Belichick and Brady have reached a level of success that will never be repeated, and let’s face it. For the most part, these patriotic teams were excellent, and at least extremely well trained, even if they were less talented.

Now let’s get back to Carroll and Wilson, since this is a Seahawks blog. In theory, Seattle’s five-year window for football ended in February 2019 – perhaps aptly, since it was the first not to have a member of the Legion of Boom. From an outsider’s point of view, the relationship seems to be frayed, and while Seattle is a standard competitor thanks to consistent playoff appearances, the results I outlined at the beginning show how far they have been from the top tier. I’m pretty sure that week 1, 2021, will see Russell Wilson start and Pete Carroll training. From there we can see the organization reaching a hub where either Wilson or Carroll is out, but not both. I’m sure there are many of you who believe a breakup is necessary right now and most would say Carroll should be gone.

The John Elway story seems very apt for those who support sacking Carroll as soon as possible and having Wilson under a different coaching staff with a philosophically different approach. John won his rings in Denver after changing head coach twice. Dan Reeves was three-time unilateral Super Bowl runner-up and was fired in 1992. Assistant Wade Phillips replaced him and was quickly sacked after zero playoff wins and a dead 500 record. Mike Shanahan (whose relationship with Reeves as his assistant … wasn’t the best) was shut down in 1995, and Elway ended his career appropriately with a win over the Reeves-trained Atlanta Falcons. The 1998 Broncos ranked # 1 in DVOA’s Pass Offensive and Rush Offensive behind a dominant offensive line, game action to maximize Elway’s mobility, and a run heavy attack without fans putting you online. Shanahan was a visionary who changed Denver’s offenses for the better, and as such, Elway could still play at a high level in his final years.

The Pete / Russ combo is the gold standard of this franchise. Carroll and John Schneider planted the seeds for success when Wilson was still in NC State, and Russell helped bring the franchise to the top. But the sour way the 2020 season ended, and how this off-season has already turned out dramatically, isn’t encouraging. The fan in me says if anyone can do something strange and unprecedented and defy historical trends, it’s these two. Seahawks football tends to do things in unique ways. The realist in me says that a storm is brewing and we may not like what the immediate future holds. Seattle is not mired in 7-9 bullshit, luckily, but for the last few years they have been entering treacherous waters with little sign of making it ashore. I’m running out of clichés and awkward metaphors, but I think this means 2021 is the sinking or bathing season.




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