I feel terrible for bringing this up but I have to: if at the start of this season, I would've asked you how you'd feel if the Hawks went 11-5, won a playoff game, and then lost a close one to the #1 seed, away, while their rookie quarterback breaks the Seahawks single-game playoffs passing record? The mildest response would probably be "pretty good", the more typical response would be "burn all pants, no pants needed!!"
I'm not someone who lets the emotion from any game linger long (except Super Bowl XL). The emotion of the moment is intense, but win or loss, my mind quickly starts rationalizing and finding nuances. There's advantages to that, but I'm also fully aware this isn't always welcome. I hope some nuance and perspective is already welcome on this bright, chilly Monday morning (afternoon here, and I just came back from a brisk walk. I love chilly air). If not, use the comments section to shout at me.
The last three playoff trips all consisted of a wild card win and a divisional loss, yet to me this one doesn't even remotely feel like the losses of 2010 or even 2007. Not just because both were more decisive losses, or that the 2010 exit was met with a universal shrug as not even Seahawks fans truly believed in a post-season run by that 7-9 team (would've been something, though). It's because those two losses were all about the past, and this run was all about the future.
With this team, it doesn't take me long to move on and look to the bright, bright future. And I don't think I'm alone. Look at this fan energy as the Seahawks teams returns home. It brightens my day to see a fanbase so appreciative of a stunningly successful season, even one closed with a loss. But 11 playoff teams close their season off with a loss, as Ray Lewis would remind us.
That doesn't mean I'm settling or being complacent, nor should any fan, player or coach. But it was a thrilling, fun season to be a Seahawks fan, and considering we're really just a few years into a full-on rebuild it's definitely good enough, to me. What's more, we've got as good an opportunity to keep building on it as you could hope for; the team is young, key players are all under contract for at least one more season, there's cap space, and this season was rich with very valuable learning experiences for this young team, from learning how to deal with winning blowouts to having to come back from a 20 point deficit in just one half, to learning to win on the road, to winning games in the 4th quarter time and again. This Seahawks team isn't just going to get better next season, they already got much better this season.
Also... this was a great, great game. The Falcons hung on only by a fingernail to win out over one of the most stunning comebacks I've seen in the playoffs. They deserved to win, there can be little doubt about that, and with the classiness of the Falcons fans that visited our blog and the sympathy-inducing push from the media to pimp out the "Falcons can't win in playoffs" story, well...it doesn't exactly soften the blow much, but every little bit helps. Salute, Falcons!
But count your blessing, Hawks fans. Getting a franchise quarterback of Russell Wilson's caliber in the third round remains nothing short of miraculous. It just doesn't happen. I have some thoughts on Wilson's sophomore chances I'll share at a (much) later date, but for now let me just say he has proven even my mild skepticism wrong, and I was a fan of his going into the draft. A very good arm, great pre- and post-snap reading, crazy elusiveness, solid decision making, a cool demeanor, and the ability to lead his teammates, he's got everything you want from a franchise quarterback.
He was carefully managed for much of this season, but we saw here what he does when the running game fails to contribute; he just takes over. Against a pretty good passing defense, and on the road. And it's hardly the first time he's done that this season. That's something you might to expect from a high-level quarterback from his third season onwards. A rookie? Crazy! We started the season fearing the quarterback position would be the main thing holding us back, instead it's one of our biggest strengths. A modern NFL franchise run begins and ends there.
The list of excellence just goes on and on. All-pro Lynch, his pro bowl blocker and backup flashing excellence. Zach Miller went on a tear in the playoffs and will hopefully be utilized more in the passing game next season, he clearly doesn't lack the skills. The offensive line has been a messy rotation yet it still maintains a high level of play, containing two pro bowlers. The secondary has been amazing all season, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman both having legitimate claims to being the best at their position. Our linebacking group is talented but mistake-prone due to age, but that's no biggy, Wagner and Wright have only been getting better all season, and should continue to polish their game next season. The wide receivers fell off a bit and haven't shown all that much, but at worst they're "good enough". The DL is probably our weakest link, and they still flashed excellence at times.
I don't want to analyse too much or cast forward to our future too much. Coaching is easy to criticize, and while I think ours has been good in general there remain certain aggravating habits on offense and defense. But that's just the nature of being a fan, over-analyzing coaching. I wouldn't call for nor do I expect any changes.
On the players side I am hoping for some improvement. The continued falling off of the rungame down the stretch needs to be examined, though it might well just depend on a DL upgrade (see below) and LB experience. The run defense was just awful this game, and that made it impossible to focus on stopping the pass. The pass-catching group can still use investments. Even if only for depth rather than absolutely needing a new number one playmaker. That difference is pretty significant, between it being an absolute, can't-miss pressing need or just a ok but not great group we can build on.
I noted before the game that I felt the lack of pass rush would make our excellent secondary fairly irrelevant, no secondary can hold up forever. Matt Ryan was shaken into a pick by a very well-designed blitz, and out-excellenced by Earl Thomas for another, but otherwise had an excellent game, the need to blitz to create pressure opening up the passing game too much. We lost Jason Jones and Chris Clemons prior to this game. Each loss was sharply felt, but both losses together was just too much. It's hard for any team to overcome the loss of their two most important pass rushers (I think Irvin is a better player than Jones, but right now Jones was more important).
That's no real excuse, but it is - to me - the core explanation for the way this game went. I don't want to go "it's not them, it's us", the Falcons grabbed and deserved the win, but as a Seahawks fan I do have to factor this in, and it counts for a lot. So that's priority #1 in the draft: more DL! MOAR! Back-to-back OL, now back-to-back DL! Don't expect this FO to trade up for a perfect 3-tech, let's just hope whatever weird unexpected "reach" pick they want is still there when they pick. Other FOs are getting wise to our MO, and it's a copy-cat league. If any team ends up hiring Bradley, it'll be for him to implement the PC blueprint of defense, and that gives us competition in a marketplace that was of higher value because we were the only buyer, but that's the price of success.
Hell of a season, guys.
Hell of a season!
It's not odd we all got into a 3elieve, Team-Of-Destiny mode. These past few weeks everything just seemed to fall into place. But three road games to get to the Super Bowl...it's a tall order, especially for a young team. I was mad as hell, and now I'm still kind of bummed, but at the end of the day, this was an amazing season for a young team, and the priority now is to keep building on it. Anything can happen in the NFL, and maybe this team will fall apart at the seams next season. But there's honestly no reason to think so.
Rant and rail on the team's mistakes as you will, they certainly made their fair share of them, and it was a painful loss to watch as a fan. Shout at me if it helps, that's what I'm here for. But promise me that at some point this week you'll pause and take a moment to realize "This team is talented, well-run, ahead of its rebuild schedule, and about to be competitive for years." Pause and rally under that unifying call...