The Seahawks’ season didn’t end when kicker Blair Walsh’s field goal attempt sailed left in the final seconds of a must-win game against the Cardinals, though it did leave them with a 26-24 loss and a 9-7 record.
Any shot of Seattle making it to the postseason ended three minutes prior to that when, 2,600 miles away, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Falcons cornerback Robert Alford. The pick sealed the win for Atlanta (10-6), who held a tiebreaker over the Seahawks for the final wild card spot even if Seattle had beaten Arizona.
“Honestly, before the game this week I was kind of preparing myself… I had prepared myself for the worst-case scenario,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said of the Seahawks’ road to the playoffs.
They entered Week 17 with their postseason fate not entirely under their control: to get a wild card spot, it would require a win over the Cardinals and for the Panthers to beat the Falcons.
“When it actually came to fruition, I didn’t realize how painful it was going to be emotionally,” Baldwin said.
Seattle entered halftime down 20-7 to Arizona, with just one first down and 36 net yards to its credit. Quarterback Russell Wilson was 4 of 8 passing and had targeted his top two receivers just three times – twice to Baldwin, and once to tight end Jimmy Graham.
The second half was a different story – not unlike previous games. Wilson and Baldwin connected for a pair of touchdowns, Graham was targeted for a 20-yard gain on a pivotal fourth-and-6 conversion attempt, and Seattle took a 24-23 lead with just over three minutes remaining.
Ultimately, they fell short after a made field goal by the Cardinals’ Phil Dawson and a missed one by Walsh.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll called the game a microcosm of the season.
“The slow starts, the getting in our own way, making it hard on us at times when it wasn’t about the opponent, it was about us,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot of stuff that kind of showed up again today. Us roaring back in the second half and coming back, well, that doesn’t surprise anybody… It’s disappointing, though, that we weren’t able to change the narrative of the way the games went.”
The Seahawks are now denied a playoff berth for the first time since 2011, and the team enters a postseason with plenty of uncertainty surrounding the fates of a few starters.
Carroll himself was the subject of a rumored departure Sunday morning, when FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer speculated about head coaching positions next year.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 31, 2017
“It’s gonna be Pete’s decision whether or not he moves on,” Glazer said. “They could be in a rebuilding year here, but Pete may or may not actually retire.”
Carroll responded to the rumor with a tweet shortly afterward.
“People talking about retirement… I ain’t old enough to think about retiring!” he quipped.
People talking about retirement… I ain’t old enough to think about retiring! 🕺
— Pete Carroll (@PeteCarroll) December 31, 2017
So, questions of his departure were quelled early. But the coach returns in 2018 with a roster that could look quite different, and to players who are looking for a way to recapture NFC West dominance.
The goal isn’t difficult on its face. Baldwin, after all, rightfully noted that Seattle’s squad is loaded with talent. But whether it’s due to injuries, age, the lack of a running game or sheer luck, they’ve been unable to remain consistent.
Those offseason changes will come; free agents may sign elsewhere, a handful of starters may leave, players will be waived. But the hope is that this team returns with a formula that can keep them competitive and propel them back into their more familiar status – that of a perennial contender.
“We have a certain standard going into every season,” Baldwin said. “The guys in our locker room work so hard… Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all the years that we have played in the playoffs, and getting nine wins, I’m grateful for that.
“There’s more out there. There’s definitely more out there for us.”