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John Blanchette: Seahawks passed on opportunity to continue season of surprises by sticking to the run

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 5, 2019, 11:33 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas – You want the good news first?

The Seattle Seahawks won’t have to take this game plan to New Orleans or L.A.

Also, they now have months to sign a place-kicker instead of a couple of days.

And that about does it.

That, of course, is the narrow view, the only one that seems appropriate in one-and-done football. The playoffs opened and closed for the Seattle Seahawks in one day, no better a showing in the National Football League than it is on Broadway.

Except, you know, for all those teams that didn’t make it.

But now there is no next week for the Seahawks, just next year. Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys took care of that Saturday night in Jerryland, escaping with a 24-22 victory over a team that did not bring its best game at a moment in which at least that much was needed.

It was reflected on the yardstick, the play-calling and the pivotal plays, both made and muffed.

And it was a departure from what sustained the Seahawks during this surprise of a season.

“It hurts,” admitted safety Bradley McDougald. “Even before training camp, I was back in Frisco, Texas, in the heat, two times a day – 115 degrees one day – and I’m working for moments like this. It’s so funny to come back and play here, for that playoff moment.

“I think of all I did this season and that it wasn’t enough. So I have to find a way to do more.”

Such self-awareness needs to find its way upstairs, too.

That the Seahawks made it this far in their makeover season is nothing short of remarkable, regardless of linebacker Bobby Wagner’s assertion that the team only “exceeded your guys’ expectations. We expected us to be here.” Let’s recite again the long roster of once-core members of the Seahawks lost to injury, defection or disaffection before and during the season: Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril. Doug Baldwin was in and out of the lineup, K.J. Wright mostly out.

Losses at Denver and Chicago to open the season – close as they were – suggested looming calamity.

“They argued about how much we lost and how this team was only going to win four games,” said cornerback Shaquill Griffin, “but look where we are now.”

Central to Seattle’s startling recovery was a recommitment to coach Pete Carroll’s treasured run-centric mentality. The club finally committed to more spending and better scheming for its offensive line, Chris Carson became a 1,000-yard back and Seattle topped the NFL in rushing. That the Seahawks were even in the playoffs was due, assuredly, to running the football.

And it’s why their season is over now.

Because they couldn’t run against the Cowboys – among the top-five most-stout NFL teams against the rush – and Carroll all but refused to give in to what could work. Trailing 10-6 at halftime, the Seahawks doubled down – run-run-nothingburger pass for a total of 3 yards on the first series, run-run-run for 5 on their next three downs.

It’s one thing to establish the run, and another to establish third-and-7.

They fired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell last year for this?

Only a stunning toe-drag catch by Doug Baldwin on fourth down kept the second drive alive for their go-ahead touchdown – a necessary dare because by then the Seahawks had no kicker, Sebastian Janikowski having pulled his hamstring trying to goose a 57-yard field goal just before half.

The plays quarterback Russell Wilson made later on – running for that go-ahead touchdown, the long ball to Tyler Lockett that kept hope alive in the final 2 minutes – only underscored that Carroll had been riding the brake when he should have thrown downfield.

“Yeah, I would have liked to,” Carroll said. “The protection was good on the passing plays, and Russell threw some strikes. Yeah. It’s easy to say that now.”

It was just as easy to recognize it then.

No matter how surprising the season, success without a final payoff always leaves a team hungry for more. Now it will nag the Seahawks all off-season.

“We’ve still got a lot to grow from,” McDougald said. “We did a lot of great things this year. But there’s things we have to manage in the off-season. You remember this feeling and bottle it up. The guys who aren’t healthy? Get healthy. The guys not all the way into the playbook? You get in the playbook. If you were practice squad, do something to get on the 53. Time for everybody to grow.

“Pretty soon there’s going to be no more ‘young’ talk.”

Just as long as there’s some talk about distinguishing between identity and necessity.

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