By Mike Salk
It's time for the Seahawks to decide what they want to be this year.
Do they want to be a playoff team or an also ran? A team coming into its own or one building for next year?
Do they want to live up to their defense-first identity or will they play down to the national expectation for them?
Will they continue to make undisciplined mistakes or will they allow their talent to carry them to victories?
Will this be the day where they banded together for the stretch run or the day where suspensions ended their season early?
In Miami, the Seahawks failed to play up to their ability. They failed to put away an inferior team. They allowed themselves to get beat.
This team was built upon the twin concepts of elite defense and a power running game. Those two facets have a symbiotic relationship that should allow the Hawks to control the clock and tire out opponents. Faith in those units dictates nearly every coaching move made by Pete Carroll.
His decision to punt twice from inside the Miami 45-yard line makes sense for a team with an elite defense. His decision to limit passing attempts by budding superstar Russell Wilson makes sense in the context of an elite rushing attack.
But when your defense allows 189 yards on the ground? It ceases to be elite. When your defense allows 17 points in the fourth quarter? It ceases to be elite. When your defense allows consecutive scoring drives of 80, 82 and 68 yards? It ceases to be elite. And when your defense gives back two fourth-quarter leads and allows a game-winning drive? It ceases to be elite.
If this was the first defensive hiccup this season, we'd let it go. We'd blame the bye week, the travel, the start time, or even the offense. But this is becoming less the exception than the norm.
The Seahawks defense has struggled in five of its last six games. It gave up 388 passing yards against New England, 175 rushing yards in San Francisco, 12 of 16 third-down conversions in Detroit, 243 rushing yards against Minnesota and now 189 rushing yards in Miami.
That is a terrifying trend.
I know some will excuse their performance. One week it was against elite passer Tom Brady, another week it was elite rusher Adrian Peterson. This week, it will be the penalty that negated Bobby Wagner's second interception.
Those excuses all have validity in a vacuum. But trends trump isolated excuses, and right now this defense needs to press reset and get back to what it was designed to do.
Unfortunately, that could be even more difficult, depending on the appeals for Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner in their performance-enhancing drug suspensions.
Carroll said after the game that he shouldered much of the blame himself. He wondered if he was too lenient with a young team in giving them a full bye-week off. Certainly, the 10 penalties and sloppy play lends credence to this assertion. But problems with discipline have now cost this team two games (Miami and St. Louis) and someone is going to have to stand up and say enough is enough.
Things look bleak after losing another winnable road game. The possibility of life without Sherman and Browner makes things worse. But with New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Minnesota all losing, Seattle still controls its own wildcard destiny.
Sunday, Nov. 25 will be a watershed for the Seahawks. It will either be the beginning of the end of this season, or it will be a launching point for something special.
It is up to them.