The Seahawks' two-year run atop the NFC is over. Perhaps Marshawn Lynch's time with the team is up as well.
Lynch rushed six times for 20 yards and caught a couple of passes in a forgettable performance during Seattle's 31-24 defeat to the Carolina Panthers. This is Russell Wilson's offense now and the Seahawks' offense barely missed a beat down the stretch while Lynch, and then backup Thomas Rawls were on the sidelines.
The Seahawks can save $6.5 million in salary-cap space by releasing Lynch this offseason, a decision possibly made easier by Lynch missing 10 games this season, including the team's wild-card win over the Minnesota Vikings. The 31-0 halftime score prevented Lynch from being a huge factor, although he did not look particularly explosive when he had the ball.
This game outlined many of the issues Seattle had throughout the season:
Slow starts: Seattle had trouble getting out of the gates as a team this year, and often started games slow (like last week's game against Minnesota). When you fall behind 31-0 to the NFL's No. 1 seed, even the best comeback attempts can run out of time. Seattle's poor start to the regular season gave them a brutal potential path to the Super Bowl.
Defense not quite as dominating: Although Seattle still finished the season as the league's top scoring defense, they fell short in many big spots, like the end of regular-season games against Cincinnati and Carolina. Cliff Avril's injury did not help the team's pass rush Sunday, and they were pushed around up front for 213 yards and 31 points in the first half.
Offensive line struggles: Panthers defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei wreaked havoc on the Seahawks' offense early in the game, and offensive tackle Russell Okung left with a shoulder injury. It was a typically uneven, injury-plagued performance by a line that hurt Seattle all year.
The Seahawks have evolved into an NFL powerhouse under Pete Carroll and there is no reason to think that will change next year. Their core players are largely signed long-term and Wilson is only getting better. But there will be changes this offseason, and the memorable Marshawn Lynch era could now be over.