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Seahawks knocked out of playoffs with 24-22 loss to Cowboys

The Cowboys' defense dominated the Seahawks' offense in the first quarter. (AP)

A fourth-quarter K.J. Wright interception in the end zone seemed like it would be the turning point in a memorable comeback postseason win for the Seahawks.

The comeback never came.

O’Neil: Hawks die by the run | Takeaways | Reaction | Photos

A pair of long Dallas touchdown drives in the fourth quarter ended put an end to the Seahawks’ return to the playoffs, as fifth-seeded Seattle lost 24-22 to the fourth-seeded Cowboys in an NFC wild-card game on Saturday night.

The Seahawks led 14-10 going into the fourth quarter after a 4-yard Russell Wilson read option run for a score, but the Cowboys took the lead back on a nine-play, 67-yard drive to open the final frame. And while Wright’s interception gave Seattle new life, back-to-back penalties – holding on Justin Britt, unnecessary roughness on D.J. Fluker – held the Seahawks back and forced them to punt back to Dallas.

The Seattle defense may have stopped the Cowboys if not for its own problems with flags. A pair of pass interference calls on the Seahawks kept alive a Dallas drive alive that eventually was capped by a 1-yard Dak Prescott touchdown run that put the score out of reach, even though Seattle made one last run with a late J.D. McKissic touchdown catch.

Here’s a quarter-by-quarter look at the Seahawks’ season-ending loss.

First quarter

Cowboys 3, Seahawks 0

The Seahawks’ offense showed plenty to cause concern in the first quarter. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say the Seahawks didn’t do enough to not be concerned about their performance.

All three of Seattle’s series in the first quarter ended in a three-and-out, and the frame came to a close with the Seahawks out-gained by Dallas 88-5.

At least the Cowboys’ offense was held down by Seattle’s defense, limiting Dallas to a 3-0 lead. The Seahawks stood up in the red zone on the first series of the day, and the Cowboys had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Brett Maher. The Cowboys were forced to punt after five plays on their second series then went three-and-out on their next one.

Tavon Austin returned a punt 80 yards to the end zone for Dallas as the quarter ended, but a holding call brought it back to deep in Cowboys territory.

Perhaps the biggest story of the first quarter were injuries in the Cowboys’ wide receiver corps. Cole Beasley suffered an ankle injury on the first drive, and while he returned, teammate Allen Hurns wasn’t so fortunate, suffering a gruesome ankle injury that required him being carted off the field and no doubt putting an end to his season.

For Seattle, special teams leader Neiko Thorpe was deemed doubtful to return with a shoulder injury, while Tre Flowers returned after injuring his left ankle.

DAL – Brett Maher 39 FG, 9:54

Second quarter

Cowboys 10, Seahawks 6

After nine offensive plays from scrimmage, five yards of total offense and no first downs in the first quarter, the Seahawks had a much better start to the second quarter.

Seattle opened its first drive of the quarter with a 26-yard pass from Russell Wilson to tight end Ed Dickson. On the very next play, Wilson targeted Tyler Lockett, and the pair’s perfect chemistry produced again for a 40-yard connection that put the Seahawks in the red zone. Two short runs and an incompletion forced them to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, however, tying things up at 3-all.

Dallas had a chance to take the lead back on a 58-yard Brett Maher field goal attempt, and while it was long enough, he pushed it wide right. That opened the door for Seattle, which took possession back at its own 40. Another long catch by Lockett – a pretty spectacular one at that – put the Seahawks near field goal territory with the two-minute warning bearing down.

The end zone continued to elude the Seahawks, though, and Janikowski’s number was called again for a 42-yard field goal that put Seattle in the lead with 1:47 left before the half.

That advantage didn’t last long.

A 41-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott moved Dallas into the red zone, and Dak Prescott found Michael Gallup for an 11-yard touchdown inside the final 30 seconds of the half to put the Cowboys ahead 10-6.

Lockett wasn’t done making big plays, though. Taking the kickoff from a yard inside the end zone, he broke loose for a 50-yard return to the Dallas 49 to give Seattle one more chance to score. And while a Mike Davis run up the middle set up a 57-yard field goal attempt for Janikowski, the 40-year-old kicker hooked it – and limped away – at the end of the half.

SEA – Sebastian Janikowski 27 FG, 7:05
SEA – Janikowski 42 FG, 1:47
DAL – Michael Gallup 11 pass from Dak Prescott (Maher kick), :24

Third quarter

Seahawks 14, Cowboys 10

If there’s such a thing as game-changing field position, this was it.

Neiko Thorpe, the Seahawks’ special teams specialist who had been ruled doubtful to return with a shoulder injury in the first quarter, laid out to keep a Michael Dickson punt out of the end zone, pinning Dallas deep in its own territory. And you can draw a straight line from that play to the Russell Wilson touchdown run that gave the Seahawks a 14-10 lead late in the quarter.

When the Cowboys had to punt back to Seattle, it gave the Seahawks the ball inside midfield – four-down territory. The Seahawks needed all four of those downs, and on fourth-and-5 from the 39, Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on an especially professional play where the veteran wide receiver just got both feet down for a big conversion.

That allowed the Seahawks to keep driving, and a read-option keeper by Wilson gave Seattle a touchdown and the lead. Mike Davis tacked on a two-point conversion run to make it a four-point Seattle lead. Oh, and why were the Seahawks going for two? Because kicker Sebastian Janikowski was ruled out for the rest of the game due to a leg injury, so Seattle decided it was best not to roll the dice on punter Michael Dickson kicking the PAT in that situation.

SEA – Russell Wilson 4 run (Mike Davis run), 1:59

Fourth quarter

Cowboys , Seahawks

Just like when the Seahawks took the lead late in the second quarter, the Cowboys had an answer on their next drive after Seattle moved ahead 14-10 late in the third quarter.

Dallas put together a nine-play, 67-yard drive that ended on a 1-yard Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run to go back ahead 17-14.

Seattle’s offense stalled out on its next series, and the Cowboys threatened to add to their lead. That’s when the Seahawks came up with a huge play that at the time looked like it would turn the tide. K.J. Wright intercepted Dak Prescott in the end zone, giving Seattle the ball back with a chance to get back in it.

It wouldn’t work out that way.

Penalties thwarted the Seahawks on both their next offensive and defensive drives, allowing the Cowboys to take a ton of time off the clock on their way to a 1-yard Prescott touchdown run that put the score out of reach. While Prescott’s TD certainly hurt, it was his 16-yard run on third-and-14 from the Seattle 17 that was the real back-breaker as it prevented the Seahawks from holding Dallas to a field goal attempt that would have kept it a one-score game.

Seattle made a last gasp run, though, thanks to a 53-yard pass from Wilson to Lockett, setting up an eventual J.D. McKissic 7-yard touchdown catch and Chris Carson two-point conversion run that made it a two-point game. But without Janikowski, Michael Dickson served as the kickoff man, and his punt was recovered by the Cowboys, who kneeled their way to the victory.

DAL – Ezekiel Elliott 1 run (Maher kick), 12:28
DAL – Prescott 1 run (Maher kick), 2:14
SEA – J.D. McKissic 7 pass from Russell Wilson (Chris Carson run), 1:22