Been a hell of a ride, hasn't it?
We'll have seven months to debate whether the Seahawks should have kicked the field goal on 4th and 1 in the first half (shouldn't) or whether they should have played prevent defense (probably, but not that soft), or whether Pete should have tried to ice Matt Bryant before his game-winner (a million times no), but for now let's take a moment to appreciate what an incredible season it's been.
I went into this September thinking the Seahawks would be an eight or nine win team, ten if things really broke their way, but I did not expect the unbelievable trip they would take us all on this season. For the last two months, the Seahawks have traipsed along a gilded path, always executing well enough, always coming through when necessary. Heck, they did it again today, against their most daunting odds, coming within seconds of continuing this angelic odyssey.
That said, the 'Hawks did lose today and there are a litany of things that the loss can be attributed to. I'm certain the comments section will flesh out all of the second-guessing, but for now let's go back and look at exactly how this classic playoff battle played out.
Today is not, for me at least, the day to break down every drive, moment, and play; but it's definitely worth reliving one of the greatest Seahawks games I've ever witnessed. This one started out much the same way last week's game against Washington did; that is to say with a lot of points by the opposition and none by Seattle. Last week, Seattle spotted a pretty good team 14 points on the road. Today, they spotted a very good team 20 on the road. That is about as high of a deck as you can have stacked against you with any reasonable chance of overcoming it.
It's not like Seattle was getting dominated per se, it's just that Atlanta's drives were ending with points and Seattle's were ending with malfunction. On their first drive, the Falcons wrung 5+ minutes off the clock and ended up with a Bryant field goal to go up 3-0. Seattle then treated possession like a disease and quickly sent a short Jon Ryan punt back to the Falcons. This time, Atlanta used their five minutes to end with a one-yard touchdown pass to
Atlas Tony Gonzalez and set the Georgia Dome on it's ear with a 10-0 lead.
Seattle moved the ball a bit, but a nice chunk run from Marshawn Lynch was ruined when he was stripped from behind, which led to another Bryant field goal and a 13-point lead for the home team. It was on the Seahawks' next drive that the first real cause for second-guessing appeared. On 4th and 1 from inside the Falcons' 15 yard line, Carroll elected to go for it instead of taking the three points. I support the decision to go for it and so do, as I understand them, the numbers. I wasn't crazy about the playcall, however, as Michael Robinson's plunge was stuffed by a blitzing safety. Questioning playcalling is a fruitless and exhausting exercise so I won't dwell, but I am surprised that neither Lynch or Russell Wilson was the ballcarrier for either 3rd and 1 (Turbin) and 4th and 1 (Robinson).
Regardless of what I think should have been done in that situation, Atlanta took over and, shortly thereafter, scored their second touchdown on a 47 yard bomb to Roddy White. White, for his part, immediately beckoned for Richard Sherman, who had broken up a few passes and talked more than a little trash, and gave him his own earful (to which Sherman politely applauded). At that point, the score was 20-0 and the party in my living room had become sullen. Seattle battles their way back down the field, as Atlanta seemingly forgot all about Zach Miller. With time running down and after Carroll had used the team's final timeout with 25 seconds left, Russell Wilson took a backbreaking sack on third down deep in Atlanta territory, allowing the clock to run out and leaving Seattle empty-handed at the half.
In the second half, everyone at my place switched seats, and the newly feng-shui'd mojo seemed to work. Seattle marched quickly down the field with the help of some nifty scrambling by Wilson and more Zach Miller. With a little under ten minutes remaining in the third quarter, Wilson found Golden Tate down the left sideline for a 29-yard score and life was breathed back into the 12th Man. The excitement didn't last too long, however, as the Falcons continued the aversion to punting and scored their third touchdown on a two yard shovel pass to Jason Snelling on a delightful misdirection play.
Down 27-7 entering the fourth quarter, the Seahawks magic began to secrete itself onto the Georgia Dome turf. Russell Wilson shed the suit and tie he had been wearing and straight up comic-booked the 'Hawks back into the game. With 13 minutes left, Wilson rolled left and, not seeing anyone open, but also seeing the backs of a lot of Falcons jerseys, tucked the ball into his glorious right armpit and scooted in for the score.
Now down 27-14, the excitement was ratcheted up even higher when Atlanta bewilderingly abandoned their super successful run game (6.4 YPC) to run an ill-fated reverse to Julio Jones followed by a bomb into double coverage that Earl Thomas expertly picked off. The interception was a thing of exquisite beauty from a playcalling standpoint, as Gus Bradley (who probably called his last game for the Seahawks today), lined Marcus Trufant up by himself against Roddy White. Matt Ryan saw it, obviously, and after the snap, didn't look anywhere else. Ryan probably knew he had been had as soon as he took the bait, since Thomas glided over as soon as the play started and was able to snag the ball with the ease of a centerfielder moving under a fly ball.
Wilson then found Zach Miller (who finished with 8 catches for 142 yards and a TD) in the endzone for a short score and the hope in the Emerald City turned to a restless fervor. Seattle would punt the ball back to Atlanta, who then returned the favor a couple of minutes later. This time, Seattle didn't miss it's chance as Wilson, dodging a seemingly inevitable sack on third and eight, found Lynch in the flat who then torpedoed his way down inside the five. Lynch capped off the drive with a near-fumble-that-was-actually-a-TD and the restless fervor became an explosion of delirium.
With only 31 seconds left, Seattle had just pulled off the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in the history of playoff football. All that was left was the formality of Atlanta's desperation drive. No one I was with, and there were many of us, could believe what we were seeing. Russell Wilson, the diminutive miracle-worker sent to us from football heaven, had just done the unthinkable. He had 385 yards passing, 60 yards rushing, and three total TDs. We were going to get to watch the Seahawks play the 49ers for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Then the formality became a nightmare, as Seattle's prevent defense was just a tad too soft. A long sideline completion to Harry Douglas was followed by a long seam-route completion to Gonzalez. That set up a 49 yard field goal attempt for Matt Bryant. This is where everything went to hell.
I stood, shivering with nerves, in front of my TV pleading with Pete Carroll not to try and ice the kicker. I've said it here and elsewhere that I think it's among the worst ideas in football, as it gives the kicker a practice run. And frankly, these highly-compensated professionals aren't going to be rattled by a timeout just before the snap. Now, to be fair, i thought Carroll probably called the timeout early enough that Bryant shouldn't have gotten a practice run, but he did, and he missed it.
His second attempt, the one that counted, was such a no-doubter that Bryant didn't even watch it go through the uprights, choosing instead to begin celebrating the instant he finished his follow through. The kick gave Mike Smith, Matt Ryan, and Tony Gonzalez their first career playoff victories and crushed hope and wonder that was swelling in our breasts.
I don't want to dwell on the decision-making in this game, because I think it was more good than bad, but you guys have the arena to do so in the comments section. Inasmuch as I can separate the pain from this game, what we saw today was one of the most fun, most exciting, most memorable games I've ever seen. Everything I've felt throughout the season was present in this one. The Falcons played well enough to win. The Seahawks played well enough to win. That game was magical and I'm grateful to have been able to watch it.
We are now entering a period of blessed fanhood. I wish the season hadn't ended today, but this run was not the end of something special as much as it is the beginning. This Seahawks team is unlike any other; this Seahawks team is better. The city of Seattle will be a cradle of football excellence for the next few years and I, for one, can't wait.