GREEN BAY, Wis. — A blowout would have been much more merciful. A butt-kicking would have spared a whole lot of suffering.
All the joy the Seahawks spawned during that comeback Sunday morphed into an offseason of pain.
This column should be about how this team has no regrets — how it overcame injuries, youth and a monstrous strength of schedule to pole vault above expectations. But after that 28-23 loss to the Packers, it’s about something different. It’s about how Seattle could have won it all.
“If someone told me last week we weren’t going all the way, I’d tell them they were lying,” Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “When we started rolling, I was like ‘I know this is the year.’ I just had that feeling.”
But after Sunday’s divisional playoff loss at Lambeau Field, Clowney wasn’t celebrating with his teammates. He was shaking his head and telling them how much he was hurting emotionally.
Linebacker K.J. Wright expressed similar discontent, sitting at his locker with his head in his hands for a good 10 minutes.
These guys know that a play here or an inch there could have put them in the NFC title game against a team they’ve already beaten. These guys know they had a quarterback with endless rabbits in his helmet.
Valiant as their effort was after trailing 21-3 at halftime, the Seahawks left all of their fans wondering: “How far could this team have gone?”
“Tough pill to swallow. Especially at the beginning of the fourth quarter — I thought we were really rollin’,” Seahawks tight end Luke Willson said. “Even at half, I thought we were gonna pull it out, but like you said, we didn’t finish.”
The “R” and the “I” were engraved on the Seahawks’ tombstone after the first 30 minutes of Sunday’s game and maybe even the first line of the “P.” Their lead running back, Marshawn Lynch, was held to 14 yards on six carries while QB Russell Wilson went 6 for 13 for 105 yards. Their defense, meanwhile, allowed two 75-yard touchdown drives and a 60-yarder to boot, as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers played an uninterrupted game of catch with receiver Davante Adams.
But then, in what seemed emblematic of their entire season, the Seahawks surged back into the contest. They scored touchdowns on the their first three drives of the second half and cut the deficit to five with 9:33 left in the game.
In terms of Seahawks’ comebacks, if started to look a lot like when — especially when Seattle got the ball back with all of their timeouts left less than five minutes later. Then, receiver Malik Turner dropped a pass that would have given the Seahawks a first down in Packers territory. Then, Wilson took a sack on third-and-five, which led to a questionable decision to punt.
Then, Adams burned rookie defensive back Ugo Amadi for a 32-yard completion on third-and-eight. And finally, Green Bay tight end Jimmy Graham caught a third-down pass that, upon review, stood as a first down.
That iced the game as the Packers ran out the clock. And the Seahawks left the field with an entire streaming service of “what ifs” playing in their heads.
They know they could have won. And they know they could have beaten the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium, as they did earlier in this season. Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker summed up the locker-room spirit best when he declined an interview after the game.
“I got nothing for you,” Fluker said. “I’m pissed off.”
It’s true that the Seahawks (12-6) did better than almost any pundit predicted they would this year.
They were the fourth-youngest team in the NFL to start the season, had the second-hardest schedule, and may have suffered more injuries than any other squad. This was one of Pete Carroll’s finest coaching jobs, one of general manager John Schneider’s finest executive jobs, and one of the organization’s most inspiring stretches. You don’t tie an NFL record for one-score wins (nine) without exemplifying grit.
Still, there is something here that seems unfinished. There is potential that feels unfulfilled. Left tackle Duane Brown may have said he feels no regrets after Sunday’s loss, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t more wins for the taking.
No doubt this will go down as one of the more surprising seasons in franchise history. With just two Pro Bowlers (Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner), the Seahawks came just a few plays shy of reaching the NFC Championship Game.
Logically, they should be brimming with pride. But realistically, they’re reeling from pain.