The Seahawks survived this year while their quarterback was ailing.
Now we’ll see if they can survive the loss of the quarterback of their secondary.
By pounding the Panthers 40-7 Sunday (and it wasn’t really that close), the Seahawks staked their claim to the second spot on the NFC playoff ladder, which would mean a bye and a home game in the divisional round.
But with safety Earl Thomas leaving the game with a broken bone in his leg, the Seahawks are going to have to change yet another tire on a moving car. His playmaking in the middle of the field is something that’s going to be hard to replace, for a team that has replaced so many parts this year.
With Russell Wilson playing through a number of injuries early, they were able to stay somewhat afloat. And while their defense isn’t going to be bad all of a sudden, Thomas is the kind of player you can’t just replace easily, if at all.
It wasn’t a deciding factor against the Panthers, who have gone from 15-1 to 4-8. And Seattle’s schedule over the next month (at the Packers and then a lap through the NFC West) gives them a chance to adjust. But the Seahawks are going to miss Thomas in a major way.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. For all the weird stuff Cam Newton has worn, his one-play (or one series) suspension was apparently for a dress code violation.
It’s the latest strange turn in a strange year for the reigning MVP, who hasn’t had much of a chance to succeed this season with all the injuries in front of him.
But his wardrobe is ostensibly something he can control, and he apparently didn’t. Stay tuned, in a season gone wrong, this could become messy.
You don’t just bench a starting quarterback without creating ripples, and how Newton handles the post-game (which hasn’t always been a strength) is going to be as important or more than the result of any one game in a lost season.
2. The Seahawks have plenty of issues of their own, and even the temporary loss of running back Thomas Rawls to be checked for a concussion underscored one of their biggest.
After Marshawn Lynch retired, they have struggled to run consistently.
Granted, their own problems on the offensive line contribute to that, but they haven’t been able to keep a healthy back on the field. And with quarterback Wilson’s injury issues keeping him from contributing to the run game early this year, the Seahawks are constantly adjusting on offense.
If Rawls can stay on the field they ought to be OK. His 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers were a reflection of the opponent as well as his own game (the Panthers rolled over shortly after the half). But if Rawls misses time for any reason down the stretch, it’s going to be hard for the Seahawks offense, which depends on somebody being able to move the ball on the ground.
3. The Panthers are clearly broken at the moment, but assuming theirs is an untalented roster would be a mistake also.
There’s still plenty of young talent there, beginning with Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, which is a pretty good place for any team to start.
But the Panthers are going to have to do business a little differently this offseason. They never spent the money they saved when they pulled the franchise tag from cornerback Josh Norman. It was earmarked for defensive tackle Kawann Short’s new deal, but that never got done, leading to perhaps their next tag battle.
There’s cap room to spend, but General Manager Dave Gettleman’s going to need to spend it to justify a decision that clearly backfired in the short term. To not backfill with some solid starters would be to waste a group of veteran players (Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil, Greg Olsen) who are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginnings.
4. It’s hard to read too much into a blowout, but it does feel like the Seahawks are starting to figure out what to do with tight end Jimmy Graham.
Because of injuries and the transition coming from New Orleans, it’s taken some time for both sides to adjust, but he’s beginning to become a more consistent factor.
5. The Panthers need offensive line help in the worst way, and could justify addressing it with their looming Top 10 draft pick.
But they also need to restock their defensive end position the way Gettleman loaded up on defensive tackles in 2013, when he doubled up on Star Lotuleleli and Short with his first- and second-rounders.
Honestly, the Panthers haven’t reloaded or rebounded from Greg Hardy’s departure in 2014. Charles Johnson has been a very good player for a very long time, but he’s declining and couldn’t run because of a hamstring injury. Their leading sacker was inactive (Mario Addison) and they’re filling in with a bunch of guys.
They need impact rushers, and they need them in bulk if they want to get back to the level of the Seahawks defense, or their own standard.