The 2017 season was a disappointing one for the Seahawks because, as head coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday, it "ended too early. We're not accustomed to being done by now."
The Seahawks finished the year with a winning record for the sixth straight season, but at 9-7, they fell short of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, ending a five-year streak of winning 10 or more games and of not just making the postseason, but of advancing to at least the Divisional Round.
There were problems that contributed to what was, by the franchise's high standards, a subpar season, ranging from the lack of a consistent running game to numerous significant injuries on defense to inconsistent play on special teams. But a lot of good things also happened for the Seahawks this year, and in that spirit, let's take a look back at some of the players and moments that stood out in the 2017 season.
Offensive MVP: QB Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson not only led the NFL in passing touchdowns with 34 this season, he was also his team's leading rusher, by a large margin, gaining 586 yards on 95 carries. With three rushing touchdowns, Wilson was involved in all but one of Seattle's 38 offensive touchdowns this season. That Wilson was one of the league's most productive passers while also having to carry the rushing load for his team is a pretty clear illustration of why Wilson was considered a legitimate MVP candidate into December, even if his case faded somewhat when he and the offense saw their production decline a bit and the Seahawks lost three of their final four games to miss the postseason.
Wilson's season was an interesting one in that, like the rest of the offense, he often struggled to get going early in games, posting a 74.5 passer rating in the first quarter. But he was able to finish games very well, throwing an NFL record 19 fourth-quarter touchdowns while posting a league-best 134.1 passer rating in the fourth quarter. Wilson was just a part of both the offense's success and struggles, but given the importance of the position he plays, it's no surprise that Carroll brought up his team's first- and second-half disparity in production when asked about his quarterback's play in Sunday's season finale.
"I think one of the stats that I don't know how to—I wish I could tell you how this happened, but we had the biggest point differential in the NFL from the second halves of (games) this year," Carroll said. "We're number one the league, scoring more points than anybody else in that differential—the defense played well too… Unfortunately, that was the formula that showed up again in (the loss to Arizona). But the potential is all there to really be something special, we've just got to capture it."
So no, Wilson wasn't perfect in 2017, but throughout the season, he frequently showed that he is one of the league's best and most clutch quarterbacks, all while being asked to do more than he ever has in his career.
Carroll summed Wilson's season up best while on 710 ESPN Seattle earlier this week, saying, "He had a fantastic year, really. He really did have a fantastic year in a lot of ways. And he can be better; Russ can be better… We can get better, but we have to help him. We've got to protect him better. Look at the second half and look at him stand back there when the pocket was clean and look at him rip that football down the field and take us down the field with expertise to die for. We have to protect him better so he can be at his best, and he's got to be better and be more disciplined and stricter."
Receiver Doug Baldwin, who was named to the Pro Bowl roster earlier this week, definitely deserves a mention in this category as well after catching 75 passes for 991 yards and eight touchdowns, as does tight end Jimmy Graham, who earned Pro Bowl honors for the second straight year after hauling in 10 touchdown catches, all in the red zone.
Defensive MVP: LB Bobby Wagner
Despite battling a hamstring injury for much of the second half of the season, Bobby Wagner started every game this season and enjoyed one of the best years of his decorated career, recording 133 tackles, a league-high 97 of which were solo tackles. He also had 13 tackles for loss, second to Michael Bennett on the team and tied for first league-wide among players who don't play at the line of scrimmage (defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers). Wagner also recorded two interceptions, 1.5 sacks, returned a fumble for a touchdown and had a stop in the end zone to cause a safety.
Yet as good as Wagner was this year, earning Pro Bowl honors for the fourth consecutive year as well as first-team All-Pro honors, what might be just as significant is his increasing role as a leader in Seattle's locker room. Wagner was voted defensive captain before the season along with Kam Chancellor, and last week he was named the team's Steve Largent Award winner for the first time, an award voted on by teammates and given to the player who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks.
"He has been clearly recognized as a great leader," Carroll said. "A true leader, and from both sides of the ball, across the board, everybody knows. He has done everything. He has been exemplary in all aspects of everything he does for us and, I think (players) have recognized that in (the Largent Award) voting, and I think it's really clear cut. He has done a remarkable job for us."
Special Teams MVP: CB Neiko Thorpe
After arriving in Seattle in a 2016 trade, Thorpe quickly established himself as one of Seattle's top special teams players, and his 2017 season only solidified his stats as an elite player in that phase of the game. Thorpe, regularly one of the team's leaders in special teams playing time, had a team-high 10 special teams tackles after leading the team with nine last year, and was a factor on nearly every special teams unit.
"He's a unique player," Carroll said. "He has a combination; he has good strength, he's a big cornerback, he's really fast, and he has a great attitude. His motor for chasing down the field 50-yards to make a play is so, so consistent, whether he is in the kickoff game, coverage game, or the punt-coverage game. As a gunner, he's a fantastic player. He's done a great job for us.
"It's hard to find guys that really consistently keep showing up. A lot of guys can make plays, but it's the guys that can keep making plays, and you know you're dealing with a real guy when you prepare, and Neiko is one of those guys. I think he stands out; he's one of the handful of guys that really do clearly standout as a special-teams guy covering kicks."
Among the other players to regularly stand out on special teams were linebacker D.J. Alexander and cornerback Justin Coleman, both of whom were acquired in summer trades, and safety Bradley McDougald, who would have been a serious contender for this honor if not for the fact that his midseason move into the starting lineup on defense cut into his special teams playing time.
Comeback Player of the Year: FS Earl Thomas
Ever since arriving in Seattle as a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, Earl Thomas has always been one of Seattle's best and most important defensive players, and his value was only underscored in 2016 when, for the first time in his career, he missed playing time, first because of a hamstring injury that caused him to miss a game, then due to a broken leg that kept him out of the final five regular season games and two playoff games.
Thomas not only made it back from that injury for the start of the season, he exceeded expectations with his comeback, taking part in some of Seattle's offseason workout program and all of training camp. And coming back from the first significant injury of his career, Thomas didn't miss a beat in 2017, recording 88 tackles, his most since 2014, seven passes defensed, a forced fumble and two interceptions, one of which he returned 78 yards for a touchdown.
"Earl had a terrific year," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He had a really good year and he did a marvelous job of recovering from his injury and coming back. He shocked us with his return, but what I shouldn't have been shocked with was how competitive he was. I shouldn't have been surprised by that, but I just thought that it was such a big injury that it would take him longer. The first days that he jumped back on the practice field, he shouldn't have been out there, but he was and he really never backed off from that. He had a marvelous season, here he is going to the Pro Bowl again and he deserves it."
Also very deserving in this category is receiver Tyler Lockett, who also broke his leg late in the season, an injury that required surgery, but still made it back for the start of the season. Lockett showed that injury didn't cost him his explosive speed in Seattle's final game of the season, returning a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, his first return touchdown since 2015.
Most Improved Player: WR Paul Richardson
Improved might not be the most accurate way to put it; Richardson has always been talented, and by his own assessment he didn't do much differently this year, but Richardson did make arguably the biggest leap in production this season given the opportunity.
In his first season as a starter, Richardson posted career highs, by large margins, in receptions (44), receiving yards (703) and touchdowns (6).
"He has just grown so much," Carroll said of Richardson during the season. "He has been very level-headed about it as well in his work habits and everything. His mentality has been great, but you can see the confidence is really just coming out of him. He's a highly-skilled, talented kid. He's really fast. He's got quicks and all that stuff, and obviously he can catch that football like crazy… He really believes in himself and he knows that we believe in him as well. All of that has fit together really well, and it has made him a really special player in the program."
A couple other players who made noteworthy strides this season were tight end Nick Vannett and defensive tackle Jarran Reed.
Best Rookie: CB Shaquill Griffin
The Seahawks have developed a lot of quality cornerbacks under Carroll and his coaching staff, a group led by All-Pro Richard Sherman that also includes the likes of Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, and DeShawn Shead, all of whom started their careers with Seattle. None of those players, however, saw significant playing time on defense right away. Lane and Maxwell both established themselves on special teams for at least a season before having big roles on defense, while Shead had to work his way up from the practice squad. Even Sherman had to wait a little while, taking over a starting role in Week 8 of his rookie season following injuries to Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond.
Shaquill Griffin, however, opened the year as a regular on defense, coming on as the third corner in nickel situations, and it didn't take long for him to take over the starting job at right cornerback. Griffin played in 15 games, starting 11 of them, and recorded 59 tackles, 15 passes defensed, one interception and one sack.
"He's had a great season," Carroll said. "He really has a great future. I've tried to explain to you guys, his mentality is so on point and he is so clear thinking and poised. He has nothing to get in the way of a great career. He should be a fantastic player."
Griffin wasn't the only member of his draft class to make a big contribution as a rookie. Fellow third-round pick Nazair Jones was a disruptive force as a defensive tackle, though an ankle injury unfortunately cut his season short. Second-round pick Ethan Pocic first showed his value as a versatile backup capable of filling in at multiple spots along the line, then later as the starting right guard. Chris Carson showed a lot of promise as the starting running back early, though his season ended after just four weeks due to a leg injury. The Seahawks also got significant special teams contributions from other rookies like Delano Hill, Amara Darboh and Tedric Thompson.
Best Free Agent Signing: S Bradley McDougald
Even if Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas had started every game this season, McDougald would have been a good signing. A former starter in Tampa Bay, McDougald started the season as a big contributor on special teams and he also had a role on defense when the Seahawks went to a three-safety "big nickel" package, one they were using increasingly as the season went along. But then Thomas went down with a hamstring injury that caused him to miss two games, and McDougald played well filling in at free safety. Thomas returned from that injury, but unfortunately Chancellor's season ended early due to a neck injury, and McDougald transitioned from free to strong safety, starting the final seven games of the season.
Despite not being a regular on defense until the second half of the season, McDougald finished with 75 tackles, fourth-most on the team.
"He has done very well; he has strengths that we're playing to," Carroll said of McDougald last month. "He has done a great job, he understands the defense as well as he has at any time, and he's able to take advantage of the scheme. He's a very good coverage guy, he's been an excellent tackler, and he's been active making stuff happen. He has had some big plays, some run-through opportunities, and some hits and things like that. He's really filled in very, very well for us and we're really happy with the matchups. We have no concerns about what he can do or how he can matchup."
The Seahawks got a number of contributions from free agents on defense, including Byron Maxwell, who was signed following Richard Sherman's season-ending injury and quickly took over the starting spot at left cornerback; Michael Wilhoite and Terence Garvin, who split time at strongside linebacker while both being big contributors on special teams; and defensive end Dion Jordan, who had 4.0 sacks in five games, a particularly impressive total when you consider he had missed the previous two seasons due to injuries and suspension.
Best Trade Acquisitions: LT Duane Brown, DT Sheldon Richardson and CB Justin Coleman
It's hard to pick one winner here because all three players made big contributions, but they all play very different positions and they all came to Seattle under different circumstances. Richardson was a very splashy acquisition just before the start of the season, and made a big difference as a starter on Seattle's line. He is set to become a free agent, but Carroll said the hope is to bring the 27-year-old Richardson back, and if the Seahawks can get that done he could be a big part of Seattle's future.
Brown, meanwhile, came to Seattle in a midseason trade and helped provide an immediate upgrade at left tackle. The Seahawks see him not just as a very talented player capable of helping them next season, but as a veteran leader who can help an otherwise young line develop around him.
Coleman wasn't a household name like Richardson and Brown, but he might have been the best value acquisition, costing the Seahawks just a seventh-round pick. Coleman spent most of the season as Seattle's nickel corner and played very well in that role, and was also one of the biggest contributors on special teams. Most notably, Coleman recorded the first two interceptions of his career, returning both of them for touchdowns.
"He's had a terrific year for us," Carroll said of Coleman following Seattle's win at Dallas. "Again, I go back to John (Schneider) figuring it out with his guys, picking him out of the numbers of guys that are out there that could fit us and do well, and he did a terrific job for us today. He's been good for us all year… He's been effective all year long. He's been really good. He's just a really good nickel cover guy. Terrific skills and timing, competitiveness. He was battling against some really good guys today, and held up really well."
Best Offensive Play: Russell Wilson's Double-Spin Throw to Doug Baldwin at Arizona
Wilson turning a broken play into a moment of magic has become such a regular occurrence that sometimes those spectacular plays can almost be taken for granted. What Wilson and Baldwin teamed up to do in Arizona this season, however, was pretty ridiculous even by their own high standards. With the Seahawks locked in a tight battle against the Cardinals, Wilson found himself under pressure and used not one but two spin moves to avoid a pair of defenders, one of whom was NFL sack leader Chandler Jones. Wilson then heaved a pass towards the sideline that Baldwin brought down with a great leaping effort, then the receiver took off down the sideline for a 54-yard gain that set up a touchdown.
Best Defensive Play: Earl Thomas' Pick-6 vs. Houston
Thomas' 78-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Texans wasn't impressive just because of the play itself—though it was a pretty spectacular individual effort to lurk in coverage, break on Deshaun Watson's pass, then juke a couple of Houston players, including Watson, on his way to the end zone. What also made the play so big was the importance of it in what was one of Seattle's most entertaining victories of the season. The Texans already had an early lead in that game, and as well as Watson was playing, another scoring drive at that point of the game might have been hard for Seattle to overcome. Thomas' big play helped keep Seattle in the game, then Wilson turned in one of his best games of the year to help the offense outduel the Texans, 41-38.
Biggest Reason For Optimism Heading Into 2018: A "Young Nucleus" Ready To Add To The Existing One
The Seahawks have had a very talented nucleus in place for years, and many of those players will be back again to help lead the Seahawks in 2018. But one of the things that stood out in 2017 was how many young, relatively new players took on big role this season, be it rookies like Shaquill Griffin, Ethan Pocic, Nazair Jones and Chris Carson; or second- and third-year players like Frank Clark, Tyler Lockett, Jarran Reed, Germain Ifedi and Nick Vannett; or young free-agent and trade acquisitions like Bradley McDougald, Sheldon Richardson and Justin Coleman.
"I was really able, in the meeting room on our last meeting here (Monday), to talk to these guys like I talked to guys five and six years ago," Carroll said Tuesday. "There is a young nucleus and a new nucleus, guys that have come to us. I don't want to miss that, Bradley McDougald coming to us and Dion (Jordan) coming to us and Duane (Brown) coming to us, (Terence) Garvin and all those guys that came to us, they're a part of that new class as well and the class from last year, these are good groups of guys now. So we're very optimistic about the roster.
"We talk about roster depth all year, it's because of those guys, well now those guys are going to be experienced. They all had, for the most part, had a chance to play and contribute where they could grow. (Amara) Darboh, you saw David Moore finally got in a game, those guys are going to be factors. They're going to be factors, they're legitimate factors on this team as we move forward, and they'll compete for more playing time and all that. That's part of what's fueling all of the energy that we have about this looking forward. This is a terrific looking group. (Ethan) Pocic coming in, (Jordan) Roos getting a chance to play, Duane's emergence, Ifedi will be a second-year tackle for the first time. There's a lot of stuff there. Nick Vannett made a really good jump there for us, too. So there's a lot of stuff here, and that's part of why we're so pumped."
Biggest Question Mark Heading Into 2018: The Running Game
As well as Wilson played this season, having a quarterback lead the team in rushing by such a large margin doesn't reflect well on the rest of the rushing attack. For a lot of reasons, ranging from injuries at running back to inconsistent play up front to in-game situations such as score and down-and-distance, the Seahawks were never able to put together the type of running game Seahawks fans are accustomed to seeing.
"We have a real formula for how we win, and we've been unable to incorporate a major aspect of that, and that's to run the football the way we want," Carroll said. "There are tremendous examples around the league of teams that have turned their fortunes around, and they've turned it around with a formula that should sound familiar to you: teams running the football, teams playing good defense and doing the kicking game thing. That's the formula that has proven historically the best in this game. We have been committed to that from the start, but unfortunately we have not been able to recapture it the way we have in years past. Last year Russell (Wilson) was banged up all year long and couldn't contribute the way he normally did. Look what he did this year—he ran for 500 yards and was a huge factor throughout the year. We needed that 500 last year to go along with what he had and we might have had different fortunes. This year we weren't able to complement the other end of it like we want to, for some obvious reasons, but we're also disappointed we weren't able to pull it off."
Carroll hopes that a healthy Carson and C.J. Prosise can help the run game in 2018, but they'll also add competition to that group to try to make sure they can get back to being a balanced team in 2018.
"The return of guys to our team are going to be really crucial as we watch what happens," Carroll said. "The critical guys, I think, are the runners. I think the runners need to come back to life to us. That's Chris Carson and C.J. and Mike (Davis) coming back and whoever else can be a part of that—J.D. McKissic was a really good, positive aspect of our team this year, and we need to make that position more competitive. That's going to be one that we're focused on, because of the durability issues that we've faced for the last two seasons, it's been really trying for us… That will be a really interesting position to watch and a big focal point.''