Like the number of injuries suffered by Seattle players on Sunday, the Seahawks’ 19-17 loss to San Francisco was painful but not fatal.
An opportunity was forestalled but not foregone.
“When you lose, it doesn’t define you,” safety Earl Thomas said. “You prepare for the worst and you prepare for success. And then you get back to work. We’re still in great position and we’re going to move on to the next opponents.”
Even in the aftermath of the Seahawks’ first loss since Oct. 6, it was fair to point out a few bright spots.
The Seahawks could have clinched the NFC West Division, but they’re already in the playoffs. They still have the best record in the NFC, 11-2, and have three games remaining to secure the advantage of home playoff games. It was a game they could have won with a cleaner performance – their nine penalties for 85 yards being an example of a problem that could cost them dearly in the future.
But it certainly got their attention in enough time to correct the issues.
“We’re good enough to overcome the penalties we had tonight, but we’re also good enough not to have those penalties that ultimate cost us,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “When you’re playing such a good team like the San Francisco 49ers, you can’t have those mistakes. Those penalties are going to be crucial, giving away yardage and points.”
San Francisco was flagged often, too (seven times for 70 yards). But the Seahawks couldn’t overcome the mistakes aside from the penalties – settling for a field goal rather than getting a touchdown in the red zone in the fourth quarter, and allowing running back Frank Gore to burst through a gap for a 51-yard run that set up San Francisco’s winning field goal.
“When you’re playing a good team in a playoff atmosphere – and this was kinda like that – those mistakes are going to be vital in whether you win or lose games,” Baldwin said. “Adversity (like this) will help us when we get to the playoffs because we’ll probably have a game like this.”
The Seahawks have been on a roll, winning seven games in a row since that early-October visit to Indianapolis. Maybe they’d forgotten what it was like to get a fat lip.
“We haven’t had a tough game in recent weeks,” Baldwin said. “If you try to take positives out of negatives, the positive is that this will make us stronger down the line. We’re going to be a better team because of it.”
Both coaches – Seattle’s Pete Carroll and San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh – came away loving the way the game was played, at least in terms of intensity if not always artistry.
“It’s a terrific football game, really hard-fought and tough,” Carroll said. “It was one of those really cool kind of matchups.”
Harbaugh did an even better job of capturing the painful joy of the game.
“It feels like you go to the dentist chair (for) three and a half hours of getting root canal work done,” Harbaugh said. “These games are only for the tough. Both teams played extremely hard, played extremely well.”
Uncharacteristically, the Seahawks had a missed assignment on punt protection that led to a block. “That never happens to us like that,” Carroll said.
And quarterback Russell Wilson, who has mastered the fourth-quarter rally, led the team into position, but only for a field goal.
“We battled today,” Carroll said. “It was really marred by the penalties … we needed to get out of our way and we didn’t do it.”
San Francisco played a huge role in that. This team has won the past two NFC West Division titles, and is not going to surrender easily. The Niners, after all, hadn’t been beaten in their previous 15 divisional games at home.
And with the Seahawks having secured their playoff berth and the Niners left to fight for a probable wild-card spot, San Francisco was playing with a great deal more at stake.
There was no shame in a narrow loss to a tough and talented team. But there had better be a few lessons learned as a result.
The biggest one was that when you line up against San Francisco, these games are only for the tough.