A GRIP ON SPORTS • No excuses, no regrets. That’s how any professional athlete wants their season to end. The Seahawks didn’t have any excuses after their 31-24 loss at Carolina yesterday but they certainly had regrets. Read on.
• Bruce Irvin said it all. “They had a great game plan," the linebacker said. "They came out faster. We came out flat. Unfortunately, they were the better team today.” Especially in the first half, when it mattered. Don’t be fooled by the second-half comeback, though it was important in a long-term sense. Sunday’s game was decided by two early plays: Jonathan Stewart’s 59-yard run to open the contest and Luke Kuechly’s pick-six (pictured) of Russell Wilson just a couple minutes later. The Panthers punched the Hawks in the mouth and Seattle took too long to respond. Down 14-0 is one thing, but down 31-0 is game, set and match. The Stewart run showed the Panthers had spent their bye week wisely. They doubled Michael Bennett at the point of attack to open a hole and had enough guys at the second level to allow Stewart access to a huge cutback lane. The Hawks’ penchant to over-pursue was their defense’s own petard. And it blew up in their face for 30 minutes. The Kuechly play was caused by pressure – Wilson was flushed almost before he made his run fake – and was a harbinger of the rest of the first half. The Hawks’ offensive line was not going to stand up to the Panthers’ front, at least not until they could get back in the locker room and make adjustments. Or until the Panthers ran out of gas. Take your pick. Was the 24-point second half due to an indomitable will in Seattle or, as Cam Newton put it, because the Panthers clenched up – a family-friendly way to paraphrase Newton’s comment – after halftime? The Seahawks can go into the offseason thinking it was the former – and it might have been. It will allow the team to believe its not that far away from another Super Bowl – actually, it isn’t – and a few easy fixes can get them back there. They may be right. But the cast is going to change some, as is the case every year. Wilson is a given. He’ll be back. So is the core of the defense, unless someone decides to pull a Kam Chancellor and destroy the first part of next year. It seems like so long ago, but the wounds inflicted in the first half yesterday had their roots in the first few games in September. Winning the division and ensuring a bye is crucial in the NFL these days. As proof, check who won a week ago – four road teams – and who won yesterday – four home teams coming off byes. The Hawks chances of winning the division took a body blow in the first half of the regular season just as their chance of winning yesterday was decapitated in the first half of the game. Instead of “finish” as the rallying cry for the offseason, Seattle needs to come up with something pithy built around the word “start.” If the Hawks want to return to past glory – I know, that’s overstating things, but I couldn’t resist – they have to get off to a strong start next season, win six or seven games in a row early and ensure CenturyLink will be rocking come playoff time. No sub-zero cold to drain them, no loose surface to worry about, no allowing the opponent an extra week of preparation. In other words, no excuses, no regrets.
• WSU: Former Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday opened up to a writer from Newsweek magazine recently and the story appeared online yesterday. ... It’s a holiday for most but I’m sure Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will be working overtime today, trying to sort out the mess that happened in Salt Lake City yesterday. Oregon State’s Jamal Reid was ejected for tripping referee Tommy Nunez in the Beavers’ 59-53 loss to Utah (you can watch what happened here). Expect Reid to be suspended for quite a while by the conference. ... Oregon has yet to win a Pac-12 game at Colorado.
• EWU: The Eagles received a commitment from a Portland prep running back who rushed for 2,620 yards this past season. But he sounds a bit open for what he considers a better offer.
• Seahawks: There were a number of story lines from yesterday’s season-ending defeat, and the fact the Hawks won’t be playing anymore is one of them. ... The running backs were another, with Stewart running for 100 yards against his old home-area team and Marshawn Lynch being a non-factor in what was probably his final game as a Seahawk. ... The second-half comeback was fueled by Wilson’s arm and some great plays by the receivers. One of them, Jermaine Kearse (pictured), will be a free agent and though he said he would love to stay home in Seattle, he could be leaving too. Others were made by rookie Tyler Lockett, who will be back next season. ... How will next season shape up? The offensive line may be in flux again, Jimmy Graham will be back and the defense could be undergoing a restructuring up front.
• I’m not sure I care much about the four teams remaining in the NFL title hunt. I guess I’ll be rooting for the Broncos, who are the favorite team of my great friend. He deserves to experience the feeling Hawk fans had a couple years ago. Who are you rooting for now that the Seahawks’ season is done? Carolina, because it defeated Seattle? The Cardinals, due to former WSU star Deone Bucannon’s presence? New England? Denver? Until later ...