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The NFL season is long, and the three-week mark isn’t yet time to panic. Unless you’re the Seattle Seahawks.
The last bits of joy of the Seahawks’ stirring Week 1 victory evaporated Sunday after Seattle lost a second straight game after holding a two-possession lead, a second straight game where the offense sputtered out after 30 minutes of a 60-minute contest.
That would be reason to worry even if the Seahawks were playing in the pathetic, doughy NFC East. But they’re out west, locked in a cage with three beasts who seem a whole lot hungrier than they are right now.
The undefeated Rams manhandled the Super Bowl champions. The also-undefeated Cardinals are looking more invigorated than they have in years. The 49ers, one long field goal away from being undefeated, took the preseason Super Bowl favorite Packers to the brink Sunday night.
The Seahawks got manhandled by Kirk Cousins and a replacement running back.
Seattle lost to Minnesota 30-17 on Sunday, failing to score after going up 17-7 in the second quarter. Russell Wilson ran the team back and forth between the 20s, finishing with 298 yards passing and 23 completions on 32 attempts. But both sides of the ball floundered in the second half, and the result is that three games into the season, Seattle’s already two games behind two division rivals.
“This is a really long season, a lot of games to be played,” head coach Pete Carroll said after the game. “We’ve got to make sure we get right and get better, improve, make some adjustments so it doesn’t look the same as it did [Sunday]. We need to see four quarters of consistent football.”
This was supposed to be a different year. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was supposed to bring a jolt of energy and innovation to an offense that had ground down into a run-first operation, handcuffing one of the great open-field innovators in the game. And he’s done that … for about half a game each Sunday. The Seahawks have managed only two second-half touchdowns all season, and still haven’t scored in the third quarter at all.
“We just have to stay the course. We’re a good offense, we can do a lot of things,” Wilson said, his eternal public optimism as bright as ever. “We believe that we can score on every possession and every drive, we’ve just got to do that.”
The risk here is that Seattle could lose all the tenuous progress it made since last season, when Wilson and the Seahawks organization traded passive-aggressive shots through the media and seemed headed for an ugly split. Everyone was all smiles after Week 1, when Seattle easily dispatched Indianapolis. But the Seahawks took a punch to the teeth from Tennessee, losing 33-30 in overtime after being ahead 30-16 in the fourth quarter, and clearly didn’t learn the right lessons from that game.
“I thought our mentality was right coming into the game,” Wilson said. “The game was really there for the most part until the third quarter, then it kind of got away from us.”
That third quarter began with Minnesota controlling the ball for eight minutes, 26 seconds. Seattle never held the ball for longer than three minutes in the second half. Minnesota slowly strangled the life out of the Seahawks, and ended up possessing the ball 60 percent of the game. That’s not just a sign of a sputtering offense, that’s a defense that can’t make the stops it needs to make.
“Can’t give them too many opportunities,” linebacker Carlos Dunlap II said. “When teams have the opportunity to call as many plays as they’re calling because they’re putting together long drives, you’ve got to be on top of your execution even more.”
“We have to be better in those crucial situations, third-and-long, two-minute situations,” tackle Duane Brown said. “Everybody has to be locked in. That didn’t happen [Sunday].”
In theory, thanks to the NFL’s seven-team playoff structure, all four teams from the NFC West could make the playoffs. But that would require the Seahawks (or whoever the last-place divisional team might be) to outrun all other wild-card challengers, including the Panthers, Saints and — whoops — Vikings. Yes, we’re saying there’s a chance … but not much of one.
“As we go throughout the season, there’s going to be challenges. It’s going to be a journey. We’re not going to stop here,” Wilson said. “We can always be cleaner, always be better. I believe in this football team, believe in what we can do.”
Seattle has no time to feel sorry for itself or gin up motivation; the gauntlet begins now. The 49ers await on Sunday as 3.5-point favorites at BetMGM, and the Rams just four days later. If Week 3 with a 1-2 record is too soon to push the panic button, Week 5 with a 1-4 record is far too late.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.