SEATTLE -- When the first day of training camp had the Seahawks Vice President of Communications issuing a statement that their top draft pick was severely injured in a vehicular accident, that probably should have been all the indication needed that this season was going to veer off the rails.
Seattle's season officially came to an end 2,180 miles away in Atlanta, Ga. when the Falcons defeated the Carolina Panthers to end the team's playoff chances. It would have ended anyway shortly thereafter when Blair Walsh missed a 48-yard field goal to win the game with 37 seconds remaining as the Arizona Cardinals handed the Seahawks a 26-24 deat at CenturyLink Field.
A flawed and depleted football team saw it's season end shy of the postseason for the first time since 2011. It was the first time the team had won fewer than 10 games over that span as well.
The Seahawks had no business winning Sunday against the Cardinals anyway. The offense no-showed again for a half as Russell Wilson continued to struggle down the stretch to close out the year. Wilson then did enough after halftime to get the team pointed in the right direction and helped Seattle to a fourth quarter lead only to have it slip away. Penalties were costly again as well as a taunting call on Thomas Rawls and a roughing the passer on Bobby Wagner proved crucial.
Here are five takeaways as the season comes to close with a 26-24 loss to the Cardinals:
1. Russell Wilson has to play substantially better next season than he did in 2017.
Wilson was considered a legitimate MVP candidate at times this season with the sure percentage of touchdowns he was responsible for on an offense that couldn't run the football.
However, the way Wilson finished the season was as much a problem as the absence of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril on defense.
The Seahawks didn't score in the first quarter of half of their games this season. Thirty-nine percent of their points were scored in the fourth quarter of games as Seattle's offense couldn't get going early enough to grab leads. It forced them to play frenzied games trying to make up ground after halftime most of the season.
In the last three games, Wilson really struggled. He has relied too much on his athleticism and attempted to make plays with his legs retreating out of the pocket far too frequently. For an offensive line that has had issues, getting the ball out quicker would seem to be the more prudent choice. Instead, Wilson was bailing on pockets he did have and trying to make the big play instead of taking what was available.
Wilson's stats in the first half of the last four games...
at Jacksonville: 9-of-15, 36 yards, interception
vs Los Angeles: 8-of-15, 85 yards, four sacks
at Dallas: 5-of-11, 35 yards, one touchdown, three sacks
vs Arizona: 4-of-8, 36 yards, two sacks
That's not good enough production from Wilson given his track record of success and how much the team needed the offense to come through with the injuries on defense.
"When we go into a game or coming out of halftime, down 20-7, we have to take some responsibility for that," wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "We can’t put it all on the defense. We have to play better, simply put. We’ve been in those situations all year long. It’s been the case for multiple years now, but we have always been able to lean on our defense to keep the opponent down, in terms of points. This year, like you said, we sustained a lot of injuries. Offenses got better. When you have that paired with not playing well offensively in the first half of games, we are always fighting against ourselves. We are always trying to dig ourselves out of a hole. Plus, we were terrible at penalties this year. That plays a big role as well."
Wilson needs to lock himself in a film room this offseason and watch nothing but the final eight games of the 2015 season to remind himself of how he played when he was most productive.
That's not to say Wilson was terrible this season. He wasn't. He finishes the year as the team's leading rusher with 586 yards and three touchdowns in addition to throwing for 3,983 yards with 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. However, 26 of his touchdowns came in the second halves of games, he completed less than 63 percent of his passes for the first time in his career and his 7.2 yards per attempt is a career-low as well.
He had zero running game to take the pressure off and the offensive line had its issues at times as well. Wilson was not Seattle's most glaring issue this season. But as the only player that touches the ball every snap, his performance is vitally important. With the margin for error gone due to injuries and inconsistency, Wilson's mistakes were amplified and glaring.
2. An offseason of uncertainty awaits.
Sunday's season finale against the Cardinals could be the last for many key players from Seattle' back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
"We know that’s coming off the top," safety Earl Thomas said, who is under contract through next season. "It’s not going to be the same look. There is going to be new pieces, and some guys that we love might not be here. You never know."
Defensive end Michael Bennett told reporters he didn't expect to be back next season.
"I'll be fine," Bennett said. "Whatever happens, I’ve loved being a Seahawk. I’ve had a great career with the Seahawks. You just keep growing and keep playing the best you can. You love the organization and you love the players that you played with. I’ve won a lot of games. So if I’m not here, I would never have any hard feelings toward the organization. I love Pete Carroll and John Schneider and you just move forward. This is a part of football. This is a part of the sport. You move forward and play for another organization if you get the opportunity."
Bennett, Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson, Sheldon Richardson, Jon Ryan and Jeremy Lane could all have uncertain futures as the offseason arrives.
Graham and both Richardsons are unrestricted free agents. Avril and Chancellor each have potentially career-ending injuries. Avril and Lane's salary cap numbers are ripe for the team to elect to move on from even if health wasn't an issue. Sherman and Thomas are both set to enter the final year of their current contracts with the team and represent sizable cap savings as well. Bennett already doesn't anticipate returning next year despite a contract extension signed last December.
There could also be some turnover in the coaching staff as well. Whether any of the three major assistants - Darrell Bevell, Tom Cable or Kris Richard - would be in peril is uncertain. However, it's not unreasonable to expect some turnover after their worst season in six years.
More than likely, Seattle's roster will look substantially different in 2018.
3. Tyler Lockett finally looks like he's back to his pre-injury form.
If there was any positives from Sunday's game, it was Lockett's 99-yard kickoff return touchdown and 27-yard punt returns.
Lockett outran Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker to score Seattle's only touchdown in the first half.
It's been just over a year since Lockett broke his leg in a game against Arizona last December. His ability to run away from those three players show that his speed is back.
"I mean I didn’t get caught, so I mean I think if there was any question that would have kind of let people know that he’s still got it. I was running away from some fast people," Lockett said.
Lockett will enter the final year of his rookie contract next yer with Seattle. The Seahawks will likely only be able to sign one option between Lockett and Paul Richardson, who is an unrestricted free agent. With Lockett looking back to his old self, it gives Seattle all the information they need to make an informed decision this offseason.
Lockett has big-play potential and never really took the cover off defenses this season on offense. With his speed back, that may be a more regular occurrence again next year.
4. Byron Maxwell was a pivotal acquisition for the second half of the season.
Maxwell was signed in November after Richard Sherman was lost for the season to a torn Achilles.
He quickly assumed a spot in the starting lineup quickly as Shaquill Griffin was injured just two snaps into Seattle's next game against the Atlanta Falcons. He remained as a starter when Griffin returned the next week and supplanted Jeremy Lane on the opposite side.
Maxwell played better each week and looked very much the same player he was during his four seasons with Seattle from 2011-2014.
Given the lack of interest in Maxwell as a free agent once he was released by Miami, there's a real chance the market isn't heated for his services next season. He could be a nice veteran piece to keep around with so much uncertainty about the future of the secondary.
5. The continuing penalty problems have to be addressed.
It ultimately wouldn't have mattered, but Thomas Rawls and Bobby Wagner picked up critical penalties in the latter stages of the game.
Rawls was called for a taunting penalty for standing over safety Deone Buchanon after a screen pass moved Seattle into field goal range. The drive ended with a punt instead of a touchdown or field goal attempt.
Wagner was then called for a roughing the passer against Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton in the fourth quarter that gifted Arizona a first down on a failed third-and-7 deep in their own territory. That drive resulted in Phil Dawson's 42-yard go-ahead field goal with just over two minutes remaining.
The Seahawks had 181 penalties called against them this season with 148 of those penalties being assessed for a total of 1,342 yards. That's the second most penalty yards in league history. Germain Ifedi was the most penalized player in the league this season with 20 penalties called against him this year.
Seattle has always been a team that has been penalized heavily under Pete Carroll's tenure as head coach. However, the numbers of penalties accrued this season was absurd. It constantly set Seattle's offense into down-and-distances of greater than 10 yards, which made it difficult to keep drives alive.
It's an aspect of the team that has to improve dramatically next season.
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks is stopped by Kareem Martin #96 of the the Arizona Cardinals in the first half of the game at CenturyLink Field on December 31, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images)