GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks bull-rushed their way into the ranks of the NFL elite, exuding a stress-free swagger as they blew out Peyton Manning in one Super Bowl and came within a painful yard of prevailing overTom Brady in a far less satisfying sequel.
So if you expected the eternally optimistic head coach and his perpetually confident players to freak out after Sunday night's 27-17 defeat to the Green Bay Packers and sublime quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which left the Seahawks in an 0-2 hole to start the 2015 season, you probably haven't been paying attention.
In a subdued and relatively relaxed visitors' locker room at Lambeau Field, Carroll and many of his best-known veterans insisted there was little cause for concern, summarily rejecting the two most obvious explanations for their slow start -- the holdout of Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor and a potential hangover from last February's crushing Super Bowl XLIX defeat to the New England Patriots.
"No, no, no, no, no -- that's not how this works," Carroll told me before heading to the shower area of the coaches' locker room, in reference to a carry-over from that loss to the Pats. "As for Kam, he's a great player -- but come on. They don't have [star receiver] Jordy Nelson, and they didn't have their right tackle, either. That's not the reason we lost.
"Look, these guys were laying low for us. Their quarterback played great. Think how much the quarterback controlled that game. He was all over the place, made no mistakes and had complete command of the situation. And we made some errors that cost us. But we're gonna be fine."
It's a completely reasonable assertion, especially given the way Carroll's teams have fought through previous periods of adversity. Last season, for example, the then-defending champs lost consecutive games to fall to 3-3 before rallying to win nine of their last 10, as well as a pair of playoff contests. That included the somewhat-miraculous overtime victory over Green Bay in last January's NFC Championship Game, a defeat that would haunt Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his players throughout an emotionally charged offseason.
So when team leaders and hardened competitors like Bobby Wagner ("Nah, I'm not worried about this at all ... I know we're gonna play our ass off and fight our way out of this") and Doug Baldwin ("A lot of the stuff we've been messing up on is easily correctable, and this team is so resilient ... we're gonna get it fixed") tell me, in essence, to take a chill pill, I have no reason to believe that I should react otherwise.
And yet, it would be unrealistic to say there were absolutely no signs of tension on a team that regards freedom of expression as a core value.
While most players dismissed Chancellor's absence as something over which they have no control, and that it's "part of the business," the Seahawks' other All-Pro player at the position -- free safety Earl Thomas -- is clearly perturbed by the notion that an important teammate is sidelined by a financially-motivated showdown, rather than helping the Seahawks try to fight their way out of the NFC West cellar.
"At this moment, he's not battling with us, so I can't really tell you what (his absence means)," Thomas told me in a private conversation at his locker. "It would be great if he comes back, but we're gonna keep on truckin' ... You never know what's going on with someone in that situation. He's in a whole other place right now. He's handling his situation, (rather than) helping us. I try not to deal with that energy."
Thomas is a smart, thoughtful man who doesn't speak recklessly; in my opinion, he's clearly frustrated that Chancellor has chosen to take this contract dispute into the latter part of September, with no obvious end in sight.
Though he signed a four-year, $28-million extension in April of 2013, Chancellor has since become convinced that he is paid below market value (probably true) and concerned that he might become expendable at the tail end of his deal (not a totally paranoid thought). According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the 27-year-old safety is looking to have $4 million of the money he's due in 2017, the final year of his deal, shifted into his 2016 pay -- and, Rapoport recently reported, the two sides are a mere $900,000 apart.
Complicating matters, however, is the fact that Chancellor has already lost more than $2.1 million in prorated salary, signing bonus and fines for skipping training camp, and he undoubtedly would like the team to forgive some or all of that amount as part of a potential settlement. Conversely, the Seahawks -- who extended such a courtesy to star halfback Marshawn Lynch after a far shorter training-camp holdout last summer -- do not want to establish (or, in this case, further establish) a precedent.
On Sunday, Carroll benched Dion Bailey, who'd struggled while starting in place of Chancellor in Seattle's season-opening, 34-31 overtime defeat to the St. Louis Rams, and inserted DeShawn Shead into the lineup. It would be disingenuous to blame Rodgers' typically top-notch performance (25-for-33, 249 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) on Shead, but Chancellor, a hard-hitting playmaker who has much to do with the Seattle defense's pre-snap strategic deployment, obviously would have been a step up.
"Do we miss Kam?" defensive end Cliff Avril asked. "We'd love to have Kam back. His presence, by itself, it puts a lot of fear in the receivers, and even the running backs. So of course we miss him. But the game has to go on without him."
Besides, it could be argued that Seattle's offense had at least as much to do with its demise on Sunday night -- which brings us to another source of tension.
After managing only a field goal in the first half, heading into the break trailing 13-3, the Seahawks seemed to seize control of the game with touchdown drives on their first two possessions of the third quarter. That was that, however -- the Packers scored the game's final 14 points, while star halfback Marshawn Lynch, quarterback Russell Wilson and the rest of the Seattle offense staggered to the finish line.
After the defeat to the Rams, Lynch's mother, Delisa, posted an angry message on Facebook insisting that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell should be fired.
I'm not saying that perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham -- acquired in a celebrated offseason trade with the New Orleans Saints -- was quite that upset after catching just one pass for 11 yards on Sunday night, but he clearly wasn't thrilled. Normally a cooperative and amiable interview subject, Graham dressed in an area of the locker room not accessible to media, emerged with his head down and headphones on and brusquely walked toward the exit, declining to stop when I got his attention. I can't be 100 percent positive, but I strongly suspect he was avoiding an interview because he feared he might say something overly negative. Let's keep an eye on his situation going forward.
In the meantime, as someone who has put a tremendous amount of faith in Carroll's team over the past few seasons -- and has seen them fight through choppy periods before -- I'm going to believe that the Seahawks, who've now failed to hold fourth-quarter leads in each of their past three games (including the dreaded Super Bowl defeat to the Pats), will snap out of their malaise, beginning with next Sunday's home opener against the 0-2 Chicago Bears at CenturyLink Field.
From my perspective, they have too much pride, and too many good players, to let their season slip away so soon.
"I'm not concerned," said Wagner, Seattle's Pro Bowl middle linebacker. "We've always had a point in our season where something like this has to happen. It's just happening earlier this year. We can't let our confidence waver."
I'll leave the last word to defensive end Michael Bennett, who, like Chancellor, is unhappy with his contract and was prepared to skip training camp in protest -- but who ultimately decided to report with the rest of his teammates.
"You know how it is -- when you lose, everything goes downhill," Bennett told me, referring to outside perception. "We go through (crap) like this all the time. That's where we are right now."
If their hole gets any deeper, however, don't be surprised if the Seahawks get a bit louder -- and grumpier -- as they fight to stay in the upper echelon of a highly competitive league.