Michael Robinson watched two Seattle Seahawks teammates leave Soldier Field on stretcher boards before emerging from a pileup with damaged ribs.
The veteran fullback winced while dressing at his locker following the Seattle Seahawks’ 35-24 divisional-round playoff defeat to the Chicago Bears. Losing in the playoffs hurt, no doubt, but the medical implications seemed so much more significant — particularly with NFL owners determined to extend the regular season by two games.
“They gotta do something to the roster size on game day,” Robinson said. “They’re going to have to. They’re killing us, man.”
Seattle played its 18th game of the season Sunday, counting playoffs.
Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu made it through the game despite suffering a concussion that left him staggering during the final stages of a wild-card victory over New Orleans. Tight end John Carlson and cornerback Marcus Trufant were less fortunate. They remained hospitalized overnight while their teammates traveled home. Both suffered concussions. Neither appeared responsive while doctors huddled around them.
Coach Pete Carroll said he expected Carlson and Trufant to be OK, but this was Trufant’s second concussion in nine games — both suffered while going low to tackle larger players. Of course, hitting opponents too high can cost players in the wallet.
“Look at all the injuries that happen during a 16-game season,” Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons said. “Eighteen games, yeah, you might have guys make it through the season, but I think it will cause a lot more injuries.”
Carlson leaped high to avoid safety Danieal Manning following a 14-yard reception along the Seattle sideline. Manning hit Carlson legally. Carlson tumbled to the ground face-first, landing like a diver striking the bottom of an empty pool. He did not move. Carlson’s left arm stuck out away from his body in a manner that appeared unnatural.
The play carried immediate physical ramifications for Carlson. It carried psychological and strategic ones for his teammates. Seattle had just fallen behind, 7-0, when Hasselbeck found Carlson open in the left flat. The play appeared relatively routine to that point.
Seattle’s only other tight end, Cameron Morrah, suffered a turf-toe injury later in the game. He returned, but quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said the issues at tight end reduced the Seahawks to exploring only one corner of the giant play sheet coordinator Jeremy Bates prepares each week. Options in the running game diminished substantially.
Another tight end, Chris Baker, was already on injured reserve.
Carlson had caught two scoring passes, both after beautifully executed play-action fakes, during Seattle’s 41-36 victory over the Saints.
“We had some creative stuff [in the plan] like we had last week with John Carlson,” Hasselbeck said. “Because of Julius Peppers and because of their blitz, we are a heavy leave-the-tight-end-in and leave-the-running-back-in-to-block kind of team. Obviously, in our run game, short yardage, goal line, all of those situations, we no longer had any of those.”
The score was 21-0 midway through the third quarter when Trufant cut down tight end Kellen Davis following a 3-yard reception. Again, there wasn’t much special about the play. But it was obvious right away Trufant wasn’t getting up on his own. Medical personnel hurried onto the field with a stretcher board while Trufant lay motionless.
Like Carlson, Trufant left the field on a motorized cart. Straps immobilized their bodies.
“All indications are that both are OK,” Carroll said. “It was a serious concussion on the field for both of those guys.”
While labor uncertainty clouds the immediate future for the NFL and its players, owners have been unrelenting in their pursuit of an 18-game season. The idea has appeal for season ticket holders already paying full price for two home exhibition games. Owners proposed expanding rosters and changing how injured reserve lists operate. Players countered by asking for less contact during offseason practices, among other concessions.
“I think it’s a give-and-take situation,” Clemons said.
Injuries and long-term labor concerns weren’t the only stories for the Seahawks on a cold, snowy afternoon.
The Bears were clearly the better team in all the critical areas. That realization brought clarity and perspective to Seattle’s most unusual season. The first team to win its division with a losing record played well enough in Week 17 and in the wild-card round to enter the offseason with signs of clear progress.
“This team has taken big strides within even the last three weeks,” strong safety Lawyer Milloy said. “Three weeks ago, I couldn’t have told you how we would have responded when the world champions were up on us 10-0.”
Seattle turned that 10-0 deficit to New Orleans into one of its most memorable victories. Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard run became national news. Hasselbeck, with four touchdown passes in that game and three more against the Bears, appeared viable again.
There were nits to pick Sunday. The Seahawks’ receivers, notably Mike Williams, failed to compete well enough for contested balls. More broadly, the team will need to continue its ongoing roster overhaul. Finding the next quarterback should be a priority.
Those issues can wait for another day.
The Seahawks’ late run dragged down their draft status from eighth to 25th in the overall order, a price Seattle will happily pay.
“This is extremely important for us, to feel that we can come together and we can find our level and potential of this team,” Carroll said. “We played very well these last couple weeks and we practiced beautifully. … There were times during the season you would have thought it could have gone another way.”