Richard Sherman was appearing in his 116th consectuive game to begin his career when he ruptured his Achilles tendon on Thursday night — a season-ending injury that will require surgery. His absence robs the Seattle Seahawks of their defensive backbone and deals their Super Bowl ambitions a serious blow.
In Week 12 last season, Seahawks safety Earl Thomas' streak of 117 consecutive games to begin his career was snapped. Without its other ironman on the field last season — Thomas was placed on injured reserve in Week 14 — Seattle permitted seven more points per game, 12 of its 19 passing touchdowns and collected just one of its 11 interceptions.
The Thomas-less Seahawks went 3-3 down the stretch and had no answers for Matt Ryan's Atlanta Falcons in a 36-20 divisonal-round loss.
Are the Seahawks, who improved to 6-3 Thursday to pull within a half-game of the Rams but hadn't been their ususal dominant selves defensively even prior to losing Sherman, better equipped to weather this sudden Legion of Doom?
If there's any good news regarding Seattle's newfound secondary woes, it's that fellow outside starter, rookie Shaq Griffin, has exceeded even Seattle's already sky-high expectations. Free agent signee Brad McDougald is a marked improvement over last year's Thomas contingency, Steven Terrell. Plus, the trade that would've sent Jeremy Lane to Houston and further decimated Seattle's corner depth wasn't consummated due to Lane failing his physical with the Texans. (Lane played 46 snaps last night after Sherman was injured).
But in addition to playing their second consecutive game without Thomas because of a hamstring injury, the Seahawks were already without perhaps their best pass rusher, Cliff Arvil, who's on injured reserve. Sure, they still have Michael Bennett and Frank Clark and have received encouraging early returns from the additions of Dwight Freeney signing and Dion Jordan, along with Sheldon Richardson. Plus, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright remain as good as any LB pairing in the NFL.
Yet Seattle's perennially concerning offensive line — which lost newly acquired LT Duane Brown Thursday night to an ankle injury — remains exactly that, as does a run game whose two leading contributors are QB Russell Wilson and rookie Chris Carson, whose season ended in Week 4.
The Rams, over whom the Seahawks holds a head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of their Week 5 road victory, are unlikely to go away. Philadelphia, New Orleans and Minnesota all have similarly super goals as Seattle does.
Pete Carroll is likely one of the top two or three coaches in the NFL. If he can navigate these unchartered waters by guiding the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in an improved conference, it would be perhaps his finest coaching hour.
And if Wilson can take over the reins for a team whose identity has been rooted in defense since he entered the league, he'll silence a lot of his remaining critics.
As for the unfamiliar sound of silence on the field without Sherman, it'll be interesting to see what his Seattle future holds. Remember, he was reportedly dangled this offseason and will be 30 and entering a contract year coming off a serious injury in 2018.
Sherman has a $13.2 million cap hit with only $2.2 million in dead space, per spotrac.com, so it's possible he'll be approached about a restructure. Sherman had maintained an extremely high level of play prior to his injury this season, yet his value on the trade market will be greatly diminished.
Carroll called Sherman an "iconic player" on Thursday night, and Sherman has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory with a league-leading 34 interceptions since entering the league in 2011. But there will be ample time to address Sherman's long-term future in Seattle.
On the immediate horizon, the Seahawks host Julio Jones and the Falcons in 10 days without their lockdown corner for the first time ever. It's a reality likely still sinking in for the Seahawks on Friday.