Seahawks can go down, but not without a fight

We really shouldn’t refer to them as playoff hopes. Playoff hallucinations feels much more accurate.

Sure, at 6-7 and sinking, the Seahawks have a reasonable shot at the postseason. It requires only a three-game run of mediocre football. Still, considering the way this season has unraveled, it’s hard not to smirk at Seattle’s chances and conclude that the October promise we saw in this team was phantom fun.

Who feels duped? Who feels bamboozled? It seems the entire fan base is debating what the level of frustration over the Seahawks should be. The dreaded R word — regression — keeps coming up. In a single season, the confounding, rebuilding Seahawks have been perceived as both exceeding expectations by becoming competitive so quickly and failing to meet expectations by crumbling amid five blowout defeats in their past seven games.

Ultimately, when the season ends, Pete Carroll’s first Seahawks squad will be considered a tease. But these final three games will decide whether Season 1 of this rebuilding was a success or failure.

If the Seahawks make the playoffs, even with a losing record, the year was a success. However, falling short of the postseason doesn’t automatically equate to failure.

It would be a prime opportunity lost, yes. It’s not often you’re awarded incompetent divisional foes that include a team that finished with the worst record in the NFL a year ago (St. Louis), a team that started the season 0-5 (San Francisco) and a team reeling from the retirement of its superstar quarterback (Arizona). But the Seahawks entered the season just as unequipped in their own way, and it’s no surprise that, even after a 4-2 start, they weren’t able to run away in this horrible NFC West.

As the humiliating defeats pile up, it’s becoming difficult to stay in the moment of this lackluster playoff push. It’s more like a nudge, or maybe even a tap on the shoulder. And it’s just plain boring, so the mind wanders to pondering a merciful, playoffs-less ending and deciding what to make of the 2010 Seahawks.

Failure? They’ll be a failure if they lose out, finish 6-10 and continue to lose by embarrassing scores. The Seahawks have been outscored by an average of 23.2 points in their past five defeats. They haven’t lost a close game all season.

They face Atlanta at Qwest Field on Sunday afternoon, and the Falcons (11-2) might be the best team they’ve played and the worst matchup they’ve had all season. The forecast calls for another disgraceful result.

Which makes it the perfect time for the Seahawks to prove they’re still alive.

A team headed in the right direction shouldn’t get pummeled in meaningful games at the end of the season. The Seahawks have two of their final three games at home. After Atlanta, they play at Tampa Bay and end the season at home against St. Louis, which are games against teams that should be on their level.

Then again, we thought San Francisco was on their level, and the 49ers dropped 40 on the Hawks last week.

The insanity must stop. The Seahawks must make a legitimate run at a playoff berth. If not, the season will be a failure.

It all comes back to Carroll’s most overused word — compete. There are enough healthy bodies on this roster for this team to play close games. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck can’t be a turnover machine. The defense can’t get gashed again and again. The entire team can’t make some of the mental errors we’ve been seeing.

To me, the Seahawks haven’t regressed. They’ve run out of gas because of injuries, a lack of depth and talent issues. They’ve been exposed. They’ve become victims of the massive changes they made to the roster after enjoying initial success because of the turnover. But there appears to be enough positives — from the development of players such as safety Earl Thomas to the reinvention of wide receiver Mike Williams to the emergence of defensive end Chris Clemons — to consider this a progressive season.

But if they don’t show up in games with so much at stake, all progress will be lost. If they show up and still lose, then they just weren’t good enough, which we suspected all along. Simply put, the Seahawks can fall short, but they can’t fall apart.

“It’s still a process,” safety Lawyer Milloy said in a recent interview. “Anybody looking from the outside, if you don’t see that, you’re kidding yourself. The recipe for success, how to obtain it, we’re still searching for that. That’s why you’ve seen so much change around here.

“This season, it all depends on how we finish up. It could be a pretty good story at the end. Seldom does a coach get it right and get it right quickly. We have a chance to do that with Coach Carroll. But it won’t be easy.”

Carroll is a prisoner of his own enthusiasm right now. He talked playoffs when no one else was willing to do so. He refuses to back down from those expectations. He keeps screaming about how good this team can be.

Meanwhile, we’ve already proclaimed the Seahawks a case of mistaken identity. They looked like a playoff team in October. Not anymore. Now, they are who we thought they were, except for that one time when we thought they weren’t.

There’s still hope for the confounding, rebuilding Seahawks. Are they willing to fight for it? Their reputation depends on it.