The most damning words to come out of Sunday's Seahawks debacle in Tampa Bay came out of the mouth of Buccaneers offensive tackle Demar Dotson. In the afterglow of the Bucs' 14-5 victory, and armed with the satisfaction of holding Seattle without a sack, Dotson let 'er rip.
"Those guys talk, man," Dotson told the Tampa Bay Times. "That's 11 guys up front that run their mouth. I don't think they're as tough as they talk. At the end of the day, we guys up front won the battle. (Offensive line) coach (George) Warhop said it all week: 'Let's go out and punch these guys in the mouth and see what they're really made of.'"
That is the gauntlet that has been put down for the Seahawks after one of their most tepid performances in recent memory. Following the robust sock to the jaw that characterized Sunday's defeat, we indeed will get a glimpse of their makeup.
There were no such inflammatory quotes to be found from a Tampa Bay defensive lineman, but after their constant harassment of Russell Wilson, resulting in six sacks, a dose of gloating would not have been surprising. The undeniable fact is that the Seahawks' offensive line was dominated by the Bucs, throwing the offensive rhythm into disarray.
"Once they punched, we didn't have a big punch back," guard Germain Ifedi said. "We got to come back with the same type of hammer. They were hungry to play today. Once we got out of our way and started to get going, it was a little late. A little late."
The Seahawks' response to this game will be telling. They are not used to being outmanned, if not manhandled, up front. They pride themselves on being the ones who set the tone, dictate the action, bend the will of their opponents. They believe they should out-hammer, and out-hunger, teams, not the other way around.
To have those roles reversed, particularly at this time of year — in the second half, when the Seahawks, under Pete Carroll, traditionally have soared — is disturbing. But it doesn't have to be debilitating. Carroll's postgame message to the team, several players said, was to flush the loss and move on.
Carroll himself didn't want to even acknowledge the notion that the momentum they had built through three consecutive victories had been lost.
"I've never used that phrase, so I'm not going to use it on this one," he said. "We got to get back right. We'll go right back to work. We got a big finish coming up on this season. The main thing was to admit that this was not the way we want to play."
The potential return of Michael Bennett on the defensive line, Mike Morgan at linebacker, and Earl Thomas and DeShawn Shead in the defensive backfield — Carroll hopes all can be ready for Sunday night's home game with Carolina — would provide a major boost for a defense that played admirably after giving up two quick scores.
The offensive line appears destined to be an ongoing enigma, though Sunday's regression came after several weeks of steady improvement. The loss of center Justin Britt, having an All-Pro caliber season by some estimation, definitely hurt. But the Seahawks are paying the price for not paying the price; or, more accurately, delegating their money to lock up Wilson and their defensive nucleus, while piece-mealing the least expensive O-line in the NFL out of salary-cap necessity.
That's a formula for inconsistency and occasional opponent dominance, which is precisely what we've seen. With Britt out, the Seahawks started three rookies, plus a recently converted basketball player in George Fant. And the fifth starter, tackle Gary Gilliam, was benched in favor of Bradley Sowell early in the game.
That's not going to cut it against a defensive line as talented as Tampa Bay's, not even with Wilson finally getting his legs back. Ifedi said of the game, "We don't call this a setback; it was just a little hitch." The Seahawks need to work toward making that a reality, but at this stage the optimal goal for the offensive line is functionality, not superiority.
Many Seahawks expressed the notion that the defeat would be a positive, in the sense of a wake-up call. It's hard to fathom they actually needed one this deep into a season that hardly has been a romp, but they have a history of responding well to adversity and reacting positively to defeat. Certainly, the Seahawks are positioned to absorb a clunker with scarcely a dent in their comfortable playoff hopes.
"Everybody needs these types of games," receiver Tyler Lockett said. "It's not something where we're going to put our heads downs and give up."
Added running back Thomas Rawls: "I'm not going to say we really need it, but it keeps us humble. It keeps us locked in and detailed and working hard. It's fine; we're going to come back next week and show what we can do."
Said Wilson: "It's nothing we haven't been through before. That's the good thing for us. … Sometimes you've got to look forward to the challenges, and you've got to look forward to the struggle to see what's on the other side. I think that's what we will be able to do."
The Seahawks got punched Sunday, no question about it. Now we'll see if they are capable of punching back.
"There are going to be some downs," receiver Jermaine Kearse said. "How we respond to those downs is going to tell you the character of this team."