GLENDALE, Ariz. — Richard Sherman left the press conference podium in tears Thursday night, telling reporters he’ll try to be a positive influence on the Seattle Seahawks after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“You just try to make sure that you give them the tips that you’ve got, give them the pointers, any indicators that you see, and encourage them,” Sherman said of his new role for the remainder of the year as a de facto coach for younger defensive backs.
“I just gotta stay positive.”
The 22-16 win Thursday over the Arizona Cardinals was a much-needed victory for Seattle on the road against a divisional opponent. It moved the team to 6-3, just behind the 6-2 Los Angeles Rams for first in the NFC West and into one of the two NFC wild card slots.
But with the win came the end of an era and potentially a stake in the heart of Seattle’s postseason chances.
It was a night full of injuries for the Seahawks that cut straight into their identity as a defensive powerhouse. Now they have no choice but to shift from a team that relies on defense to one whose fate rests in the hands of Russell Wilson.
Defense has been the cornerstone of the Seahawks’ success
Since 2011, the Seahawks secondary has set the bar for defensive dominance. The Legion of Boom has consisted of Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and whichever cornerback had the luxury of playing on the other side. It is, or was, as physical a defensive backfield as you’ll ever see and the reason why Seattle finished with the fewest points allowed in four consecutive seasons from 2012 to 2015.
It’s the kind of reign that we may never see again. But even before Sherman’s injury, it was already approaching its end.
Thomas broke his leg late in the 2016 season, and the defense wasn’t quite the same without him. It gave up more than 30 points twice in the final month of the season, and the Seahawks were bounced from the playoffs with a 36-20 loss to the Falcons.
This year, Thomas has been dealing with hamstring issues that have kept him out the last two weeks, the Seahawks defense is No. 5 in points allowed — a top mark for most teams, but a drop off from Seattle’s standard of excellence.
With Sherman, it was still one of the NFL’s best defenses but not quite the one with the kind of ferocity that carried the Seahawks to the playoffs in five straight years. Any hope of returning to that form ended Thursday when Sherman limped off the field.
“Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the league, there’s no doubt about it,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said after the game. “When he’s out there, nobody even looks to throw to that side. If he’s out, it’s going to be tough but we have the players to step up.”
Namely, it’ll be on Jeremy Lane to fill in for Sherman. The sixth-year cornerback has 19 starts for the Seahawks, but the team was fine with sending him to the Houston Texans as part of the trade for offensive tackle Duane Brown. A failed physical in Houston sent him back to Seattle, and now he’s a starter less than two weeks later.
The Legion of Boom was already without Thomas on Thursday due to his hamstring troubles, and Chancellor’s stellar night ended with a cart taking him back to the locker room after he suffered a stinger late in the win.
Chancellor finished the game with 10 tackles, a forced fumble and stepped in front of Adrian Peterson to stop the Cardinals running back in his tracks for a safety. Thankfully for the Seahawks, the stinger isn’t expected to be too serious.
With several other players — including Brown and running back C.J. Prosise going down too — the win in Arizona came without much celebration.
“It’s hard to be fired up about this because a lot of guys got banged up today,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I just feel terrible about it, but they just kept fighting, clawing, and scratching.”
The Seahawks’ identity revolves around Russell Wilson now
If the Seahawks compete and earn a spot in the postseason in 2017, it probably won’t be because of the defense. The team’s immediate future rests squarely in the hands of quarterback Russell Wilson.
He finished Thursday with 238 passing yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions against the Cardinals and showed off everything that makes him special on one play with a ridiculous, twirling act that ended with a 54-yard completion to Doug Baldwin against the Arizona secondary.
Wilson’s at his best when he’s running for his life and making magic happen. His ridiculous performance against the Texans gave the Seahawks a 41-38 win in Week 8, and after 10 weeks, he’s also the team’s leading rusher.
It’ll likely be on Wilson to carry the Seahawks in 2018 and beyond too.
Even if Sherman comes back with a strong showing next season — a tall task after an Achilles tear — it’s hard to imagine the trio of Chancellor, Thomas, and Sherman ever replicating the kind of superiority that led to two trips to the Super Bowl.
Thomas has already hinted at retirement and is scheduled to become a free agent in 2019 just like Sherman. The Legion of Boom was coming up on its farewell tour, but Thursday marked the end sooner rather than later.
It’s on Wilson now.