The Seahawks “won” their divisional playoff game against the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday, only to not win when they couldn’t stop one of Matt Ryan’s two fateful passes in the final 30 seconds.
Earl Thomas was boring a hole in the floor of the locker room with the intensity of his stare. A few feet away, Richard Sherman’s gaze through the towel wrapped around his head – a la Lawrence of Arabia – was piercing, yet distant.
The images of the Seahawks’ All-Pro defensive backs at the Georgia Dome on Sunday are those kinds of mental pictures that were worth far more than even a thousand words. The fact that neither wanted to discuss what had just transpired was even more telling.
The Seahawks’ rally-from-way-behind to fall-from-momentary-lead 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs placed a crumpled bow on a season that mirrored Sunday’s game.
The Seahawks spotted the Falcons a 20-0 halftime lead, and then seemingly won the game when Marshawn Lynch wedged his way into the end zone with 31 seconds to play. The Seahawks opened this season of unexpected expectations 2-2, losing to the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams on the road.
The Seahawks took that brief lead on Sunday by scoring four second-half touchdowns, two on Russell Wilson passes, another on a Wilson run and then the final score by Lynch. The Seahawks closed the regular season by winning five in a row, and seven of their final eight. They then rallied for a 24-14 victory over the Washington Redskins in an NFC wild-card playoff game last week.
While the future for this team is so bright all the players should be fitted for shades, that wasn’t the sense in the locker room. This team wanted this game, and the one that would have followed – the NFC Championship game, against a San Francisco 49ers team that they defeated 42-13 on Christmas Eve eve.
“We felt like this was our year,” is the way veteran fullback Michael Robinson put it.
It wasn’t, as it turned out, because the Falcons’ Matt Ryan completed two quick passes for 41 yards in 23 seconds, setting up a 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant that sent Atlanta to the conference title game.
If that scenario sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The Seahawks also took fourth-quarter leads against the Lions in Detroit and Dolphins in Miami before allowing those teams to score even later and steal the wins.
With those victories, the Seahawks would have won the NFC West and never would have been playing in Atlanta over the weekend.
And each time, they were done in by a Matt. Or a Ryan. Or some combination of the two names.
In Detroit, after the Seahawks took a 24-21 lead on Wilson’s 16-yard TD pass to tight end Zach Miller with 5½ minutes to play, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford was 10 of 15 for 75 yards on a 16-play, 80-yard drive to his 1-yard TD pass that gave the Lions their 28-24 victory. On that oh-no drive, the Lions converted on third-and-5, third-and-10 and third-and-1.
In Miami, after the Seahawks had taken 21-14 lead on Leon Washington’s 98-yard kickoff return with eight minutes to play, the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill led a six-play, 80-yard TD drive to tie it and then a seven-play, 65-yard drive to a game-winning field goal as time expired. Tannehill was 5 of 6 for 98 yards on those decisive drives.
Then came Sunday’s division playoff game, when Matt Ryan hit Harry Douglas for 22 yards and Tony Gonzalez for 19 yards to get Bryant close enough for his game winner.
And it came in a game where Sherman and Brandon Browner basically did their things against the Falcons’ productive duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White. Jones had six catches for 59 yards, after averaging five catches for 75 yards during the regular season. White had five catches for 76 yards, after averaging almost six catches for 85 yards during the regular season.
So it wasn’t the expected suspects who did in the Seahawks, which only made the way the game ended that much more maddening, especially for a defense that had ranked No. 4 in the league – and No. 6 against the pass – during the regular season.
As Miller put it in the locker room, “Russell is a guy that wins games for you. We saw that today. He should be credited with a comeback win today.”
Instead, Wilson and his teammates are going through Exit Monday – disappointed, but also motivated, by the way things ended on Sunday.
“It’s probably a good thing this happened,” right tackle Breno Giacomini said as he and his teammates were cleaning out their lockers and heading into the offseason.
“It’s a huge, huge learning experience for all of us. We’ll get better. We’ll learn from this. We’ll just grow and keep getting better, just like we did all season.”
In a season that ended with a loss that was way too similar to the way the entire season played out.