ATLANTA — For the Seahawks, spinning it forward seemed simpler than looking back. As Pete Carroll and his players were quick to point out, over and over again: “The future is bright.”
And it is.
But for a wall-to-wall affair that ultimately will be remembered for Falcons kicker Matt Bryant’s 49-yard game-winning field goal, the Seahawks’ 30-28 loss in the NFC Divisional Round will forever invoke memories of a stunning comeback followed by the squandering of one of the greatest rookie performances in NFL playoff history.
Russell Wilson — Seattle’s impromptu signal caller who so many have likened to Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton in recent weeks — brought his team back from a 20-point first-half deficit only to answer questions of “What If” in the postgame media session.
What if the Seahawks did not walk away from two red zone opportunities with zero points on questionable play calling?
What if the team had not traveled all the way from Washington, D.C., to Seattle and back to the East Coast in just one week?
What if no plays haunted this team in this moment?
Carroll and his charges weren’t interested in such discussions. The coach quickly defended his red zone decisions, then spent quality time relating his thoughts and emotions on his team’s resiliency and refusal to disappear when it was on the ropes. For Wilson, individual plays tell smaller (albeit important) stories, but not all-encompassing tales.
“That play has worked for us so many times; it didn’t define the game,” Wilson said of a failed fourth-down conversion in the second quarter. “I thought it was a great call … I think what defined the game was our attitude.”
Wilson is dismissing a few facts, though.
After packaging a rookie showcase with a monumental comeback, Wilson ultimately defined the game for Seattle. In a standout rookie class that includes Nos. 1 and 2 picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, it was only Wilson still standing on the playoffs’ second weekend. On Sunday, he proved why.
The 5-foot-11 Wisconsin product broke Sammy Baugh’s rookie playoff record with 385 yards on 24-of-36 passing. He finished with two touchdowns and an interception, which came on his desperation Hail Mary attempt to end the game.
Wilson befuddled the Falcons’ defense in the second half, leading the Seahawks to four touchdown drives in 30 minutes. He finished 14-of-19 for 242 yards and three total scores.
For a young man who speaks in cliches — “I like when the game’s on the line,” “The separation’s in the preparation,” “Play in the now” — his ad-lib play nearly grouped him with Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, an impressive group of quarterbacks who knocked Matt Ryan and the Falcons out of the playoffs.
“He ain’t a rookie,” Pete Carroll said, basically summing up the mindset of everyone in the Georgia Dome. “You can’t look at anything he did and put a star on it. He handled everything from the inside out. It’s so unheard of.”
And yet, the Seahawks are going home with disappointment, pride, “What-ifs” and optimism. They have 2,500 miles to think about a hard-fought loss and what is still to come.
They appeared proud of — if not satisfied with — their overall performance in Atlanta, but it still will be a few months before the football world knows what exactly the future holds.