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O’Neil: Seahawks’ commitment to run that saved their season sinks them in playoff loss

The Seahawks were held to their lowest rushing total since Week 1 of the season. (AP)

The Seahawks’ commitment to the run saved their season after an 0-2 start.

That commitment to the run also sunk Seattle in its 24-22 loss in Dallas in Saturday’s wild-card playoff game.

Cowboys 24, Seahawks 22 | Takeaways | 710 Reaction | Photos

The Cowboys’ defense deserves a ton of credit. Dallas was steel-toed tough, standing up to the league’s top rushing offense from the regular season. Seattle finished Saturday with 73 yards rushing, its fewest since Week 1 of the regular season.

But Seattle’s stubbornness played a role, too, and that traces all the way up to head coach Pete Carroll. The first half provided ample evidence the Seahawks weren’t running anywhere, and yet Seattle stuck with it. And so the team that vowed to live by the run died by it.

The result was that the Seahawks failed to win a playoff game for the first time in the seven seasons in which they’ve qualified for the postseason under Carroll.

Other factors certainly contributed to the Seahawks’ demise. Four fourth-quarter penalties unplugged Seattle’s chances at a comeback, especially two pass-interference penalties against Seattle on Dallas’ game-winning touchdown drive. Both resulted in third-down conversions and neither was all that questionable. There was also a 16-yard scramble by Dak Prescott for Dallas’ final third-down conversion of the game, setting up the Cowboys’ final score.

The fact that kicker Sebastian Janikwoski was out for the second half because of a strained hamstring certainly didn’t help Seattle. Neither did an ill-advised replay challenge in the fourth quarter.

But the reality of this game is that it featured two teams that wanted to run the ball first, second and sometimes third. The Cowboys were able to do that thanks largely to Ezekiel Elliott, who gained 137 yards on 26 carries. The Seahawks were not, but more than that, they never stopped trying.

Seattle ran the ball 24 times, gaining 73 yards for an average of 3 yards per carry. Of those 24 carries, only two resulted in gains of more than 5 yards.

The reality was evident pretty early on. Seattle failed to gain so much as a single first down on any of their first three drives. Five of the Seahawks’ nine offensive plays on those three drives were called runs, with a sixth rush coming by way of a Russell Wilson scramble.

The Seahawks’ offense only got going with a play-action pass to tight end Ed Dickson on their fourth possession. That pass gained 24 yards. The next play was a 40-yard completion to Tyler Lockett. Those two completions accounted for 64 of the 112 yards Seattle gained in the first half, providing every indication Seattle should have needed to change the focus of the offense.

Didn’t matter.

The Seahawks got the ball to start the second half and ran the ball on the first two plays. The Seahawks punted after an incomplete pass on third down.

There were some bright spots. Well, at least two.

Rashaad Penny had a 28-yard run in the third quarter though that was promptly followed by a 7-yard loss on the following play. Wilson also had a pair of key runs in the third quarter, both coming on the read option. The first time he kept it, he gained 7 yards to convert a third down – one of only two third-down conversions in the game for Seattle. The second time he kept it, he scored Seattle’s first touchdown of the game.

That turned out to be too little, and when the Seahawks finally stopped running the ball, they were down 10 points and it turned out to be too late.