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Season has presented unique challenges to Carroll

Wed., Nov. 2, 2011, midnight

RENTON, Wash. – This is uncharted territory for Pete Carroll.

Now we find out how he and his team will handle it.

“I’m not used to this,” Carroll said following Sunday’s 34-12 loss to Cincinnati that dropped the Seahawks to 2-5. “I’m not used to fighting out of situations like this.”

At least not in the last decade or so.

Last season, the Seahawks had their struggles, to be sure, but that was after a 4-2 start. Seattle still managed to win the division, as well as a playoff game. Prior to coming to Seattle, Carroll spent nine seasons at USC, and after a rough first year in L.A. it was a long run of Pac-10 dominance for him there.

But this year is different, not just from those winning seasons at USC, but even last year. Even as 2010 seemed to be going in the tank – the Seahawks lost seven of nine, all by two touchdowns or more, following that 4-2 start – there was always that carrot of the NFC West title to keep the team motivated. Sure those losses were ugly, but there was still everything to fight for last year because the division was so bad.

That won’t be the case this season, however. Seattle is already four games behind surprising San Francisco, so barring an epic collapse by the 49ers, combined with a miraculous second half by Seattle, the Seahawks are playing for pride and the future growth of the franchise.

It’s important to realize that doesn’t make this season, or Carroll, a failure. If anything, the Seahawks overachieved last year and set the bar unreasonably high for 2011. This is a team that won nine games combined in the two seasons before Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over, and they have since overseen a massive overhaul of the roster. The real measure of their success will come in the next couple of seasons when we find out if this rebuilding project will yield results. For now, success will be measured in how this team responds to a bad start, and how Carroll handles a season in which the postseason is not a realistic goal.

“We do have to push aside what’s gone on behind us,” Carroll said. “We can’t do anything about that. That’s a discipline that we talk about and we deal with this topic a lot. … It’s going to happen here and like I’ve said before, we just need to have fun and enjoy this football season and do something with it. We’ve got to get this going.”

While Carroll, in his words, “isn’t used to this,” it isn’t entirely foreign to him. It’s just been a while. Back in 2001, his first year at USC, the Trojans started 2-5 before winning five of their last six regular-season games to gain bowl eligibility. The big difference for these Seahawks, of course, is that a strong finish to the season won’t yield an invitation to the Las Vegas Bowl.

“I have been 2-5 before,” he said. “When times seemed as bleak as you could imagine, and you didn’t think there was any way to turn it around and you’re just spiraling in the wrong direction – which I don’t think is what this feels like now – but it’s a time, it’s a time that we have to take hold of. And we turned it and we never looked back. So with some semblance of patience and always with focus on the future here, we’re going to take after this thing and see if we can’t turn it. It’s going to happen.”

Carroll, like the rest of us, isn’t sure how it will turn. Sure, he’s still the always-optimistic Pete, so he believes this team will recover – and probably recover beautifully at that – from this 2-5 start. But he also admits that he has seen frustration on this team, that players are pressing, which contributed to the mistakes that piled up in Sunday’s loss. 

“Some teams are going to turn right now – they’re going to turn one way or the other as we approach the halfway point – and I’d sure like to see it go in a positive direction,” he said. “We’re going to bust our tails to get that done.”

Don’t expect it to be smooth ride the rest of the way, even if the Seahawks show the improvement a young team would hope to make. On offense in particular, this team will be inconsistent, which would be an upgrade over what they’ve been for the bulk of this season – namely, bad. They’ll surprise us a few more times like they did in New York, and they’ll lay a few more eggs like they did in Cleveland.

Even if the dream of owning the NFC West is over this year, the season isn’t meaningless. If the coaching staff can keep this team battling and get a young roster to show growth between now and January, that will be a good sign for the Seahawks’ future. If things spiral out of control, however, let’s just say Carroll will have a lot more to answer for than some questionable clock management at the end of the first half.

“They’re already frustrated and I am, too,” Carroll said. “We talked about that today and we’ve got to put that in the right place and make that work for us and not against us.”

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