ATLANTA — This one, finally, was going to be a romp, a much-needed break from the nervous breakdowns of Seattle second halves past.
This was going to be the Seahawks’ catalyst into the stretch drive. This was going to put at bay, at least temporarily, any questions about the Seahawks lucking into their gaudy record and backing into their playoff position.
Well, not so fast. Primed for all of that, set up to do exactly what they should have, and had halfway achieved, the Seahawks inexplicably (and very alarmingly) retreated in the second half.
And so they went home with a muted glow, relieved to avert disaster but frustrated at how dang hard they made it for themselves.
“I think people tend to get comfortable, and that’s the part we need to take out of our game,’’ cornerback Shaquill Griffin said. “Awesome start. The start of the game was terrific. Let’s finish the same way. When you’re able to finish games the same way you start, that’s when teams become great, and that’s what we’re trying to get to.”
Pete Carroll’s famous mantra about not winning the game in the first, second or third quarter was knocked askew on Sunday. The Seahawks won this game in the first half, with a dazzling performance, and then did all they could to lose it.
Yes, the Seahawks escaped with a 27-20 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Yes, they are halfway to 12 wins at the season’s midway point. Yes, they tied the franchise record by winning their fourth straight game on the road, something not done in more than three decades. Those are each notable in their own way.
But never had those achievements felt more hollow than they did on Sunday, when a wounded, one-win Falcons’ team, fighting for coach Dan Quinn’s job (and none too well), thoroughly outplayed the Seahawks in the second half. Trailing 24-0 at halftime and by all signs heading for their most humiliating loss in a season full of them, the Falcons surged while the Seahawks receded.
In the third quarter alone, Atlanta outgained Seattle in total yardage, 155 to 2. They made 38-year-old Matt Schaub, starting his first game since 2015, look like a young superstar. And it wasn’t until Atlanta failed to nab an onside kick with 1:17 to play in the fourth quarter that the Seahawks could finally breathe easily.
“I think the sense of urgency was there in the first half, and we kind of got away from that,” said offensive lineman Duane Brown.
That’s a problem. If not for a fumble caused by Marquise Blair as Atlanta was driving for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, scooped up by Bobby Wagner at the Seattle 1, this outcome might have been different.
Afterward, the Seahawks were choosing to dwell, of course, on a nearly flawless first half. The running game was churning up yards behind Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. Russell Wilson was playing with his usual deadly efficiency, hitting DK Metcalf for two touchdown passes that so confounded the Falcons that no defender was in his vicinity.
Their defense, meanwhile, stymied Atlanta, which missed two field goals and had a Schaub pass intercepted by Mychal Kendricks. It may have been Seattle’s most complete performance of the year, or at least a close runner-up. There was no reason to believe the second half would be any different.
When he came into his postgame news conference, Carroll began with a quote for which he gave an assist to his general manager.
“John Schneider wanted me to say to get this thing started right: That this was really a tale of two halves,’’ he said. “That’s for John. It couldn’t have been more obvious.”
You might even say the Seahawks on Sunday were the best of teams, and the worst of teams. Facing a Falcons defense that had been a sieve all season, they went conservative after intermission, presumably to milk their lead, and it nearly backfired.
The Falcons outgained Seattle 348-82 in the second half as the Seahawks had an inordinate amount of three-and-outs and lost whatever momentum they had built. Schaub finished with 460 passing yards, the third of eight opposing quarterbacks this season to reach 395 or more yards against Seattle.
Carroll was resolute that the Seahawks’ best is still to come. There have been enough flashes of brilliance to back that up. But there have also been enough close calls against seemingly outmanned foes to wonder just if, and when, they will be able to summon the consistency and killer instinct it will take.
“We need to find ways to be better and more sharp,’’ Wilson said. “If we want to go where we want to go, we got to be great every quarter. That’s the reality.”
Carroll called this juncture of the season “the start of the finish.” This is a team that on Sunday needed to do a much better job of finishing what it started.