Despite the Seattle Seahawks’ 2016 season ending with a premature exit from the postseason for the second year in a row, the team still remained near the top of the NFC and produced another dynamic season in franchise history.
The Seahawks were eliminated from the hunt for the Vince Lombardi by the Atlanta Falcons — the eventual NFC representative in Super Bowl LI — 36-20 in what was the second matchup by the conference foes during the season. Seattle began the game with a solid start, scoring on their first possession and soon following it with a field goal from Steven Hauschka. But led by MVP Matt Ryan, the Falcons’ prolific offense was able to flip everything around. Atlanta scored on five of its first six offensive possessions in the game and tallied 19 points by halftime. The Seahawks would go on to score just 10 points the rest of the way while the Falcons continued to move the ball. Ryan, who connected on passes to 10 different receivers, threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns while Atlanta gained 422 yards of offense as the Falcons would go on to win their final game in the Georgia Dome. Although Seattle’s journey in the postseason was over early, it was still another season showcasing the Seahawks’ prominence among the NFL’s elite.
Under head coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks posted a 10-5-1 record in the 2016 regular season, qualifying for the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and the sixth time in seven seasons under Carroll, who in 2016 became the 39th head coach in league history to register 100 career wins. The Seahawks claimed the NFC West title for the fourth time since 2010 and re-took the division crown from the Arizona Cardinals, who failed to make the postseason.
“I think it’s a huge significance in terms of consistency and it’s something that we really do take great pride in because of the implications for the playoffs," Carroll said after the Seahawks’ Week 15 division-clinching victory.
“But it’s really about the consistency and that’s something that’s truly important I think as we look at our program. Do we continue to show that we’re up there and we can continue to keep coming back? I think that’s about as good as you can do in sports."
A franchise-high seven Pro Bowl players — for the third consecutive season — helped lead the way for the Seahawks during the regular season: first-timers WR Doug Baldwin, DE Cliff Avril and LB K.J. Wright, followed by TE Jimmy Graham, DE Michael Bennett, LB Bobby Wagner and CB Richard Sherman.
Wagner was one of several Seahawks players to make a stamp in the franchise’s history books in 2016. By recording a career-high 167 tackles, Wagner not only become the first player in franchise history to lead the NFL in the category, but he also broke the Seahawks’ franchise record for tackles in a season which was originally recorded by Terry Beeson in 1978 (153). Baldwin, who entered 2016 with a new four-year contract following one of the best seasons in team history by a receiver, only continued his ascent among the NFL’s best at his position. As Russell Wilson’s top target, Baldwin recorded 94 receptions for a career-high 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns. He became the fifth player in team history to record consecutive 1,000 yard receiving seasons and his 94 receptions tied Bobby Engram for the single-season franchise record mark.
Wilson also became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 50 wins, doing so in 69 career contests.
Nonetheless, amid all of the positive accolades came factors that didn’t go the Seahawks’ way. On offense, Wilson battled a serious knee and ankle injury throughout the season, even though he didn’t miss a single start. The running back group as a whole struggled to remain healthy and explosive second-year wide receiver Tyler Lockett sustained a serious leg injury in the regular season home finale.
“They were starting with the QB (Russell Wilson) and Thomas (Rawls),” head coach Pete Carroll said at the end of the regular season in regards to his team’s struggles. “I think those two are so obvious and you can see how fast Russell can run and what he can do, and you saw him for not even half of the schedule where he had that kind of freedom. Thomas was banged up the whole time and it was hard for him to overcome it and get through it.”
The 2016 season was remarkably the first time in Wilson’s pro career he was listed on the team’s injury report. His durability at the league’s most valuable position continued to keep the Seahawks at the top of the division. Wilson went on to pass for a career-high 4,219 yards (263.7 per game) and 21 touchdowns.
Following a flashy rookie season, Rawls played in just nine games recovering from an ankle injury suffered in 2015 and from a fractured fibula he suffered in Week 2. Taking over for Marshawn Lynch, Rawls totaled just 349 yards and three touchdowns. The Seahawks’ identity over the last few years hinged on their ability to pound the ball on the ground, and not having that element consistently in 2016 hurt them.
“We miss those guys, that’s just part of it,” Carroll said. “That’s what happens during the season. That’s why some teams are able to keep rolling and we didn’t have the consistency that we could latch on to when we wanted to finish.
“I do think the consistency is really the issue and that comes from continuity and staying the same and growing and all that.” It was a similar situation for the Seahawks defensively. Safety Earl Thomas saw his 2016 season end early because of a leg injury in December, ending his consecutive games started streak at 106. The Seahawks felt Thomas’ All-Pro absence on and off the field as the season kicked into its second gear.
“No matter what position a guy plays, you miss that unique quality,” Carroll said of Thomas during the season. “We’re always talking about uniqueness and Earl is a fantastic football player. You’re just going to miss him. He’s got leadership, he’s got playmaking in him and he’s got great experience. That’s Earl.”
The Seahawks also didn’t have Bennett for five games because of a knee injury and safety Kam Chancellor for four due to a groin. Seattle’s defense was still among the league’s best, finishing in the top-5 in yards allowed per game (318.7), the top-10 for rushing yards allowed per game (1,487) and top-3 in points per game (18.3).
Looking past injuries, the Seahawks still rode ship and put together a competitive season under Carroll. The results didn’t equal a fourth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, but Seattle overcame obstacles and entered their offseason with optimism about what lies ahead for the franchise with its core players still intact.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about going forward,” Carroll said. “When we look at this time, the young guys that have a chance to come up and add to it, the ones that showed us stuff and the ones who almost got a chance to show us stuff, we’re going to get so much better that to think otherwise would be crazy. I think we have a great chance to put together a terrific squad. We have issues that we’ll address, you guys will ask some questions, but bring it on is what I kind of feel like. We’re really looking forward to it going in. That’s kind of how it feels.”