The Seattle Seahawks haven't advanced past the divisional round in four playoff appearances since coming within a yard of repeating as champions in Super Bowl XLIX.
They're going to have a hard time ending that disappointing trend of early exits unless coach Pete Carroll can fix his defense over the second half of the season.
That might seem like an overreaction to anyone who merely sees a 6-2 record and first-place standing in the NFC West but hasn't paid attention to how the Seahawks have gotten there: mostly brilliant play from Russell Wilson and mostly terrible play from their defense.
That group hasn't looked more broken than it did in Sunday's 44-34 road loss to the Buffalo Bills, even with its flurry of sacks against Josh Allen. He otherwise had his way with Seattle's defense en route to 415 passing yards, four combined touchdowns and no turnovers, as the Seahawks allowed the most points in any game since 2009, the year before Carroll arrived.
"They made it look easy," the coach said.
Things were looking up for the Seahawks' defense a week ago. It had shown signs of improvement in a 37-27 win over the San Francisco 49ers, playing three strong quarters before backup quarterback Nick Mullens led a late rally to make things interesting. The return of All-Pro safety Jamal Adams from his four-game absence and the addition of Pro Bowl pass-rusher Carlos Dunlap were two more reasons to be optimistic Sunday about a defense that had allowed the most yards through the first six games in NFL history.
One of the bright spots from the 49ers game was a pass rush that generated three sacks thanks to one of the most blitz-heavy game plans the Seahawks have executed under Carroll, a 180-degree turnaround from the sit-back-in-coverage approach that had failed them in their overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals a week earlier.
But Sunday's game made it clear that more blitzing isn't an automatic cure to everything that's ailed the Seahawks' defense, not against a quarterback with better weapons and more mobility than Jimmy Garoppolo had last week while playing on a bad ankle.
After blitzing the 49ers on 51.1% of their dropbacks -- Seattle's highest rate in a game since 2010 -- they sent at least one extra pass-rusher 60.4% of the time against Allen. The results were mixed. Allen was sacked four times on those plays but completed 19 of 24 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Seahawks actually managed three sacks when sending three or fewer pass-rushers at Allen, but he completed 12 of 14 attempts for 161 yards and a touchdown on those plays.
"We've got to make sure that we can adjust," Carroll said. "These guys didn't even try to run the football ... We didn't expect that to happen. We didn't think they would just totally abandon their running game, and we had a real nice plan if they were going to run it. So we have to be able to adapt better to make sure that we can turn it around faster. If we turn the ball over four times, it's going to be a hard day ... That just adds to a day when you're already struggling a little bit. That's enough to make a game look like that."
To be fair, Wilson committed four turnovers, three of which set the Bills up with short fields, as did a long kickoff return to begin the game. The Seahawks were also without Shaquill Griffin, while their other starting cornerback, Quinton Dunbar, tried to play through a sore knee before he was pulled midway through the fourth quarter.
Adams (1.5 sacks) was playing for the first time since Week 3, and Dunlap (one sack, three tackles for loss) was making his Seahawks debut.
"I'm not happy with my performance," said Adams, whose illegal contact penalty on a third-and-9 play extended a Bills touchdown drive that pushed their lead to 14 points in the fourth quarter. "Obviously I ... had a lot of rust for myself, just [based on] my standard. And obviously just not getting a win, that definitely hurts and it stings, but the good thing about this game is that you can move on and you have another opportunity the following week, so that's my focus."
The Seahawks still have a one-game lead in the NFC West over Arizona (5-3) and the Los Angeles Rams (5-3), their next opponent. They still have a quarterback who has played like an MVP for six of their eight games. And they still have plenty of talent on defense -- too much of it to be getting gashed as badly as they are.
"We're going to hang together," said Carroll, whose latest contract extension was reported earlier Sunday by ESPN's Adam Schefter. "We're not going to point the finger. We're not going to be calling anybody out. We're going to stay together, stay tight and turn it back around again."
It would not be in Carroll’s nature to make a drastic move such as firing defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., especially in the middle of a winning season. He's known for being exceedingly loyal to his staff and is particularly fond of Norton. Besides, this is Carroll's defense. He's heavily involved in running it alongside his coordinator.
And he's going to have to fix it.