NASHVILLE -- The Seattle Seahawks sent a powerful political message before their 33-27 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The problem is that the statement they made with their play wasn't nearly as impressive. It's accurate to say the 'Hawks are unified in their beliefs about how best to deal with the controversial statements uttered by President Donald Trump over the weekend. What's also obvious is that this is a team that is going through some major growing pains in the first month of this season.
There's really two ways to look at Seattle right now. The first approach is to say the Seahawks' 1-2 record is the result of two tough road losses against strong opponents -- the first being a season-opening loss at Green Bay -- and that they'll get healthy in upcoming games against the Colts and Rams. The second evaluation has less to do with who the Seahawks have been playing and more to do with how they've been playing. This defeat at Tennessee reflected plenty of the same issues that have dogged this team through the first three weeks.
"We have to find our consistency," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "We've got to get it right and we're not there yet. Hopefully we have enough time to get going. We need to work together (and) play together so that it shows up where we're connected. Right now, it's kind of spotty and not consistent enough."
To be fair, it's not like the Seahawks don't have experience with fighting through difficult times. They lost four of their first six games in 2015 and still finished 10-6. Last year, they struggled after a season-ending injury to Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas -- losing three out of their final six regular-season games -- and still persevered. Seattle wound up winning the NFC West for the third time in the last four years.
The odds of the Seahawks turning around their early-season problems seem quite likely based on that recent history. If you base it on their recent performance on the field, that optimism probably isn't as strong at this stage. Seattle actually led 14-9 in the third quarter of this contest until the Titans seized control of the game. Tennessee scored 21 unanswered points after that, including: a 55-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Rishard Matthews; a 24-yard scoring toss from Mariota to Jonnu Smith; and a 75-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray.
It's fairly uncommon to see the Seahawks give up a succession of big plays like that. It's just as surprising to watch this team labor on offense. After scoring 21 total points in its first two games, Seattle converted just four of 14 third-down attempts (29 percent) while gaining a mere 69 rushing yards. The stat sheet will say Tennessee only sacked Wilson once, but that's a testament to the QB's mobility. As wide receiver Doug Baldwin said, "I wish we could've done more for our defense and we will. We'll figure that out."
"It's a few plays here and there," Wilson said. "We don't have to go searching or thinking we're not a good football team or anything like that. We're a great football team. And we played a great football team today. That's respect to them. ... For us, it's staying the course. There's no panic in this room. We've been through it all. We just have to continue to believe in what we're doing and continue to get sharper."
There is an obvious reason why the Seahawks weren't as discouraged by this effort as one would expect. Along with having the confidence that comes from sustained success, they also realize this weekend offered other challenges that affected them personally. Like every other team in the NFL, the Seahawks spent most of Saturday trying to determine the best way to respond to President Trump's inflammatory comments that teams should fire players who protest during the national anthem. The Seahawks responded by staying in the locker room while the anthem was played, a strategy that the Titans also chose to implement.
Some of Seattle's most prominent players used their respective press conferences to answer several questions about the thought process behind that protest. Cornerback Richard Sherman acknowledged that the players met for two hours to discuss the matter on Saturday and then used another 90 minutes with the coaches to determine a proper course of action. It didn't take long to see that losing a game didn't mean as much to them as standing up to Trump.
Baldwin acknowledged that it's always hard for him to separate what happens to him in everyday life and what happens to him at work. Sunday made that effort even harder.
"This loss feels different, but I think it's an opportunity for us to continue to unify," Baldwin said. "We did some great things today against a very good team. We had our mistakes, as well. But that's football. We'll go back home, rest up, look at the tape, make our corrections and get ready for next week."
Added Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett: "We might have lost this game, but we have a long season ahead and a lot of football. This is going to unite us in a way that will take us beyond football."
That unity might very well be a key component of what happens to this Seahawks team moving forward. It's no secret that there has been dissension between the offense and defense on this team in the past -- and that was when this team was playing at a championship level. Sherman talked candidly about how nobody wanted to initiate a protest that didn't involve the entire team. As he pointed out, the collective impact wouldn't be as strong if somebody felt uncomfortable about the message they were sending.
It's also true that the Seahawks have some things they have to figure out in a hurry. They might have been able to patch together a serviceable offensive line in the past, but this year's unit poses serious challenges, especially since starting left tackle George Fant tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the preseason. The depth in the backfield also hasn't yielded great results. Eddie Lacy has vanished from the rotation (he didn't carry the ball once on Sunday), Thomas Rawls continues to be hampered by injuries and rookie Chris Carson has only looked promising in spurts.
If the Seahawks really are going to become dangerous again, those are two of the major areas that need to be fixed. The good news is that Seattle battled back -- even with Baldwin lost to a groin injury late in the game -- to come within a failed onside kick of potentially completing a comeback.
"We felt like we were going to win the game," Carroll said. "As odd as that may sound, the way that game looked, we were just one bounce away from getting the ball back and we're going to win. That's how we felt and went about it."
The problem is that Seattle didn't win. The Seahawks made an ugly performance look better than it actually was and they left Nissan Stadium with plenty of problems to address. These 'Hawks knew they did a lot of good when it came to standing up for what's right off the field. When they get back to Seattle, they'll have to spend even more time determining how to address what's seriously wrong on it.