GREEN BAY, Wis. – Instead of fretting about how close they were to what might have been the greatest comeback in team history – a dropped pass here, a controversial spot of the ball there – Seahawks coach Pete Carroll preferred to think about how far they had come.
And how far, he thinks, they can still go.
“I’m moved by these guys,” Carroll said Sunday after a 28-23 loss in an NFC divisional-round playoff to the Green Bay Packers that ended one of the team’s most improbable seasons in its 44-year history.
A time or two, his emotions seemed to catch up to him as he talked about Seattle’s comeback from a 21-3 halftime deficit, and a 28-10 deficit midway through the third quarter that saw Seattle get the ball back with less than five minutes left and a chance to go ahead.
“There was not a guy on that sidelines that we were connected to that thought we weren’t going to win that football game all the way until we didn’t,” Carroll said. “And that is what this thing has felt like the whole time, the whole year. It’s an amazing chemistry and it’s an amazing group.”
Indeed, Seattle had come back from deficits of 10 points or more three times to win this season in going 11-5 and moving on to the divisional round of the playoffs for the seventh time in Carroll’s 10 seasons as coach.
“I was real disappointed that we put ourselves in a situation where we had to come flying back,” Carroll said.
Indeed, that will be one of the questions of the offseason, why Seattle so often had to show its resiliency.
“Just got to start faster on the road than that,” said veteran linebacker K.J. Wright, who insisted the Packers hadn’t shown Seattle anything it hadn’t seen on film. “You don’t want to play catch up in games like this. It’s always tough.”
But while the Seahawks allowed the Packers to march 60 yards or more for TDs on three of four drives in the first half while Seattle had a lone field goal, Carroll said he felt nothing but faith and belief in the locker room at halftime.
“As crazy as it seems we went in at halftime, these guys were jacked up to go ahead and take on the challenge of coming back.”
That Seattle did, with three drives of 69 yards or longer for touchdowns the first three times they had the ball in the second half to cut the lead to 28-23 with 9:33 remaining.
All were orchestrated by the hands, feet and heart of Russell Wilson, who may never have played better than he did in the final 30 minutes, rushing for 46 of his game-high 64 yards in the second half and completing 15 of 18 passes for 172 yards in the second half.
Only four times before in Seahawks history had they come back from 18 points or more to win a game.
Seattle went for two and didn’t get it following the TD and that seemed to enliven a Lambeau Field crowd that was suddenly on pins and needles.
Still, Seattle stopped the Packers on the next drive and got the ball back at its own 23 with 4:54 remaining.
And when Wilson hit Lockett for 14 yards on first down, what had seemed fanciful at the half suddenly seemed like reality.
But on the next play, Malik Turner dropped a perfectly thrown pass at about midfield.
Carroll declined to say that play cost Seattle a chance to win the game but said “there’s no question we had it going. I don’t know about that play (being the difference) but we had it going and I’m sure everyone in the stadium could tell and could feel it.”
A short pass and a Wilson sack created fourth-and-11, and the Seahawks decided to punt with 2:41 left.
Carroll said before Wilson took a 6-yard loss on the third-down sack the Seahawks were thinking of going for it.
“We thought our odds were so low (needing 11 yards),” he said. “We had all the time, we had the timeouts, we had all of the opportunities to stop them and get the ball back. So we didn’t want to pin it all on one play.”
But Seattle never got the ball back as Aaron Rodgers first hit Davante Adams for 32 yards to convert a third-and-eight, taking advantage of a favorable matchup on Seahawks rookie Ugo Amadi, who said later, “I feel I failed my teammates tonight,” but when asked specifically about the play said only “it was a good play call.”
Three plays later, facing third-and-nine with two minutes left, Rodgers hit former Seahawk Jimmy Graham, matched up on reserve Lano Hill, who was in the team’s dime package. The ball was ruled to have just crossed the line for a first down following a review, even if the Seahawks protested vehemently it hadn’t.
“My guys were just telling me it was short,” Carroll said. “It looked short and had they called him short then it would have been short (meaning it would not have been overturned).”
That Green Bay clinched the game with two third-down conversions was fitting since that’s also basically where the Packers won it.
A week after Seattle was 8-15 on offense on third down while holding the Eagles to 3-11 the tables were reversed – Seattle was just 3-9 while Green Bay was 9-14, scoring all three TDs in the first half on third down. Among those was a 20-yard TD pass to Adams on the first possession, which foreshadowed a night when he dominated Seattle defensive backs catching eight passes for 160 yards and two TDs.
“They were really great on third down (and) we stunk,” Carroll said. “We couldn’t get off the field on third down, unfortunately and we didn’t win on one-on-ones. Most of those were one-on-one wins and we needed a little but more pressure to complement and he (Rodgers) got to hold the ball just for a second, just enough to make the great plays that he made.”
Green Bay ran out the remaining time, leaving the Seahawks a few brutal minutes to accept that the season was over.
To Carroll, it brought back memories of 2012, Wilson’s rookie season, when the Seahawks fell behind Atlanta 20-0 on the road in the divisional round only to come back before losing 30-28.
“I think this is the start of this team,” said Carroll. “I think this is, it feels like 2012 all over again.”
Then, Seattle came back the next year to win its only Super Bowl.
“We are still terribly disappointed cause we should still be playing,” Carroll said. “We were an inch away. A couple of weeks ago (against the 49ers) were an inch away on that one, too. One way or the other, that’s how close it is sometimes and we have to make those inches become yards on our sides.”
His manner left no doubt he thinks next year Seattle will do just that.