By Mike Salk
This story is supposed to be about Russell Wilson.
Heroes are made in the playoffs and Wilson’s performance had all the ingredients for hero nomination. Or coronation.
Yardage? Check. Three-hundred and eighty-five yards is a heckuva day. Crazy comeback? Check. The 21-point fourth quarter sure qualifies. Signature play? Check. His ability to escape a sure sack on third-and-5 and deliver to Marshawn Lynch, who raced down to the 2-yard line, was vintage Wilson.
There was just one element missing: the victory.
Wilson did his job. He gave the team a lead with 31 seconds left in the game. His defense, an elite defense, is supposed to finish that off 100 out of 100 times. As it turned out, Matt Ryan didn’t even need that much time and that is the story.
This was a gut-punch loss. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory after it had seemingly been snatched from the jaws of defeat.
It hurts and everyone will attempt to deal with that differently.
Some fans will criticize Pete Carroll’s unfortunate attempt to “ice” the kicker, but they are just transferring their anger. In fact, ESPN Stats & Information says that since 2001, iced kickers made 74.5 percent of kicks, while those not iced in that span made 81.6 percent.
The reality is that NFL kickers tend to hit 49-yard field-goal attempts in domes with the game on the line. The truth is that this defense allowed 41 yards on just two plays to set up the kick. Calling a timeout (or not) is grasping at straws. This game was out of Seattle’s control once the Falcons got to the 31-yard line. Sorry.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of reason for aggravation today.
Seattle’s depth was tested in Atlanta. Chris Clemons missed the game because FedEx Field is a joke. That forced Bruce Irvin to play nearly every down, but it also meant that Mike Morgan and Greg Scruggs were called upon to rush the passer in key spots. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get to the passer as Ryan was not sacked and was only hit once (in the first quarter by a cornerback).
It won’t surprise me if we find out that Lynch’s foot was worse than we knew. He wasn’t himself this week, fumbling and averaging just 2.9 yards per carry while taking himself out of the game on a key third down early. I won’t be shocked to find out that Red Bryant’s foot woes were significant as well. The Falcons were able to run to his side with great efficiency.
Russell Wilson came out on the losing end despite outdueling Falcons counterpart Matt Ryan. (AP)
But most of the hand-wringing will be reserved for the coach, and specifically for two decisions in the second quarter.
Let me be clear: I have no problem with Carroll’s decision to go for it on fourth down. He was down 13-0 at the time, but the game felt like it was slipping away. Seattle’s defense was getting steamrolled and Atlanta was just starting to open up its high octane passing game.
But it was more than that.
Seattle is built as a physical, run-first football team. A team built like that, especially one playing against a finesse group like Atlanta, should be able to gain one yard on two plays.
If they had tried to throw on those plays, I would have questioned it. But the Seahawks stuck to their identity only to see it fail. I won’t criticize a coach for asking his team to do what it’s designed to do.
That said, I would have preferred to see Lynch or Wilson carry the ball on those two plays. Unfortunately, Lynch had taken himself out of the game on third down so the first carry went to Robert Turbin. As for the decision to hand it to Michael Robinson on fourth down? Let’s just say I would have opted for something else.
The other criticism has more merit.
Time management at the ends of halves has been a bugaboo for the Seahawks all year long and the end of the first half was another example.
On third down from the 11-yard line, the only thing keeping the Seahawks from finishing the half with points would have been a sack. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened as J.R. Sweezy was blown up by Jonathan Babineaux, who hit Wilson the moment he turned around.
I question the clock management that got them into that position, but more so the decision to have Sweezy in the game. I understand that his upside may exceed John Moffitt’s, but this is no time to worry about upside. I’d prefer to see the better pass protector in the game and that cost them three points.
But these quibbles should have been moot.
Some fans will choose to be positive today and while they sure aren’t wrong, it isn’t my style. I need time to be angry before I remember what a great position they are in for the future. There will be plenty of time to discuss everything that went right for the team this year. From the decision to draft Wilson, to the emergence of a franchise quarterback, to the strides made by the young secondary. The Hawks are in good hands with Carroll and John Schneider and they’ve found a quarterback worth building around.
But Russell Wilson should have been crowned today as the future of the quarterback position. His speed, accuracy, arm strength, creativity, preparedness, leadership and decision making were all on display in a game where he should have come out on top. Unfortunately, his defense let him down in the final 31 seconds.
Unfortunately, he’ll have to wait. We’ll all have to wait …
Until next year.