SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It was supposed to be a culmination of the Seahawks’ ever-growing momentum. It was supposed to be the final, giddy step into the promised land of the playoffs. It was supposed to be a perfunctory defeat of an overmatched foe.
It was supposed to be a party. A coronation.
Instead, the Seahawks left Levi’s Stadium on Sunday with drawn faces after their 26-23 overtime loss to the 49ers, muttering about “shooting themselves in the foot’’ so many times you expected to see bloody tracks back to the team bus.
The Seahawks left knowing that not only had they let a golden opportunity slip away, but they had no one but themselves to blame. And that their hopes of a stress-free finish to the regular season had, at least for one more week, gone up in smoke – or in yellow flags.
“No one was oblivious to what was on the line here,” said offensive lineman Duane Brown. “Whenever you have a chance to clinch a playoff berth and you don’t get it done, it’s very disappointing. But the most disappointing part is how much we assisted in the loss.”
It was, in fact, the John Stockton of defeats for Seattle, aided and abetted by all sorts of sloppy play, but mostly attributable to 14 penalties that accounted for more free yards than they had ever bestowed in team history – 148.
Pete Carroll was chewing on that number when he met with the media after the game, and it went down like rancid meat. Carroll pointed out all the things the Seahawks did right, and yet seemed in disbelief at what went wrong, specifically the 10 penalties after halftime that undid much of the good.
“I don’t know how that could happen,” Carroll said of the penalties, the resurfacing of an old problem he thought the Seahawks had put away for good.
The theme of the past month has been an awakening by the Seahawks – the growing sense of who they are, and the burgeoning confidence that resulted from homing in on their identity.
And as the Seahawks’ wins mounted – four in a row heading into Sunday – it began to feel like they were touched by providence. Every result around the NFC seemed to mystically enhance their playoff chances, until they reached a point where a victory against the three-win 49ers would have made it a fait accompli.
Instead, the Niners put forth playoff-like intensity to undo their 43-16 thumping just two weeks ago.
“If you could have been in this locker room before the game, we were so juiced that nothing could have fazed us, and it showed,” said San Francisco tight end Garrett Celek.
Ominously, a result last Thursday also played against Seattle. Kansas City’s loss to the Chargers ensured that the Chiefs will come into CenturyLink Field next Sunday highly motivated for a victory as well.
In other words, instead of the Going Through the Motions Bowl that could have resulted if each team had won and thus locked in their playoff berths, much will be on the line for both. Any gliding into the postseason by Seattle, with a chance to heal up, will have to wait. The Chiefs have spent much of the season anointed as a Super Bowl favorite, so it will take the Seahawks’ best effort to beat them.
Now, let’s not get too melodramatic here. Things still look rosy for the Seahawks. They can wrap up a playoff berth by beating the truly woeful Arizona Cardinals at home in the finale.
“We’re well aware of that, but just not today,” Carroll said. “There’s no silver linings in this today.”
Carroll said there were “huge lessons for our team” in the defeat. Maybe it was the bucket of ice water they needed to jolt them going into the playoffs. You had to wonder if their intensity and preparation faltered against a bottom-dwelling 49ers team they had handled so easily earlier in the month.
“Rightfully so. Anybody watching the game would think that,” said Doug Baldwin. “But I don’t think that was the case.”
Baldwin made an impressive return to the lineup with a sensational, twisting catch in the second quarter that he turned into a touchdown by diving over the goal line. He also scored the game’s first touchdown to give Seattle its only lead of the game – for all of 12 seconds.
Chris Carson’s game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, requiring a second, third and fourth effort to free himself from a wall of 49ers, was a monument of will and determination.
But all that was sabotaged by a holding penalty here, a pass interference there, an unsportsmanlike violation thrown in, all at seemingly the most inopportune times.
Mixed in with the missed extra point by Sebastian Janikowski that proved vital, and the 97-yard kickoff return by the 49ers’ Richie James Jr. that swung momentum in San Francisco’s favor for much of the game, it was just too much to overcome. Seattle had two possessions at the end of the fourth quarter and another to open overtime, each with a chance to put the game away, but vital penalties thwarted them.
“We need to get back on the details,” Baldwin said. “The energy level has to be higher, because typically when you have penalties like we had today, I don’t want to say laziness, but it’s a misstep here, a misread here, a misjudgment here. You can’t have those, especially in a playoff situation, playoff scenarios.”
And that’s what the Seahawks are still in, with a resulting urgency that they could have saved and harnessed for the postseason.
“Everything we want is still in front of us,” Brown said.
“It sucked the way it happened, but we have to move forward,” added Shaquille Griffin. “We still have life left.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson said “there’s no panic mode … I don’t want to say wake-up call, but maybe it was a great sense of a lesson learned where we can get better, because if we want to go where we want to go, we have to be the best when it matters.”
And for one more week, it now matters greatly for the Seahawks.
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