GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was as miserable a start as could be imagined for the Seahawks, and for much of the game it seemed like a rousing season was coming to an inglorious conclusion.
And yet there they were at the end, right where they always seem to be, with a chance to steal another victory. There they were, waiting for quarterback Russell Wilson to conjure one last miracle and put them on the brink of another Super Bowl appearance.
Only this time, on a frigid night on the tundra, Seattle’s magic ran out. Their dream died in a 28-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers that was exponentially more frustrating by the knowledge of all the moments, small and large, that could have altered the outcome. And of just how close they came to pulling off one of the more remarkable comebacks in team history.
“It’s tough we didn’t finish it off, because I’ve seen so many games with the Seahawks — me watching as a fan myself — seeing this organization being able to pull things off like that,’’ said safety Quandre Diggs, who joined the team at midseason.
Trailing 21-3 at halftime and thoroughly outclassed by Green Bay, the Seahawks scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half. And when the defense forced a punt after twin brothers Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin burst through the line to harass and sack Green Bay’s quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, they seemed fully poised to pull off the improbable.
It was a scenario tailor-made for another chapter in Wilson’s handbook of late-game heroics: Seahawks trailing by five, ball at their own 23-yard-line, all three timeouts remaining, four minutes and 54 seconds left to play.
“I had no doubt,’’ said offensive lineman Duane Brown. “Not a doubt. As soon as we scored that first touchdown in the second half, we felt that momentum switch. The defense kept giving us a chance to get back in it. And when we have Russ under center, we feel like anything’s possible.”
But this time, the script was written with invisible ink. An eminently catchable pass to Malik Turner for a potential first down clanked to the ground, a crushing blow. And on third-and-five from the Seattle 42, Wilson was sacked, forcing Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to make the distasteful decision to punt with under three minutes to play.
Seattle never got the ball back. Rodgers converted on third-and-eight and third-and-nine — the final one so close it required a measurement — to ensure that the clock would run out with the venerated quarterback kneeling in victory formation.
The Seahawks, who had tied an NFL record with 10 wins this season by a one-score margin, went out the same way, and pondered a litany of “what-ifs.”
“A couple of inches away and we might get the ball back,’’ said tight end Luke Willson. “There’s plays all over the place I’m sure everyone wants back.”
The Seahawks were also lamenting their propensity for slow starts, which manifested itself once again with Rodgers repeatedly exploiting the Seattle defense to find his favorite receiver, Davante Adams. Adams finished with eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. That’s the same number of yards that Seattle rookie DK Metcalf had a week ago to lead the Seahawks to a playoff win in Philadelphia.
The Seahawks’ rushing attack had struggled in that game against the Eagles and it did again on Sunday. Running backs Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer combined for 39 yards on 15 carries, though Lynch did get his third touchdown in as many games since coming out of retirement.
“That’s a group you don’t want to be one-dimensional against,’’ Brown said of the Packers. “We kind of played into their game.”
That left Wilson to take the bulk of the offense on his shoulders, a familiar scenario. He completed 21-of-31 passes for 277 yards (including nine catches for 136 yards and a TD by Tyler Lockett) and also rushed for 64 yards on seven carries.
But in the end, the Seahawks’ slow start Sunday did them in, and a season that began with 10 wins in their first 12 games ended with four losses in their last six.
“If someone told me last week we weren’t going all the way, I’d have told them, ‘You all lying,’ ’’ said defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. “It’s a great team, great organization, a great quarterback in Russ. I told him: ‘I’m riding with you. As long as you can go, I’m going to go.’ “
Looking at the big picture, you can see the flaws and holes that must be filled for the Seahawks to take the next step. You can point out all the adversity they faced as one of the youngest teams in the league, with one of the toughest schedules, and one of the hardest hit by injuries — and facing a rested Packer squad in one of the most difficult road venues with the elements working against them.
But viewed from close range, the Seahawks were bemoaning one game that got away in agonizing fashion.
“We’ve just got to make plays when it’s our turn to make plays,’’ Diggs said. “It was definitely not the spot we want to be in in the first half. We’ve just got to get better and come back with an attitude and a chip on our shoulder.”
In the locker room after the game, Carroll and general manager John Schneider locked in a heartfelt embrace. Veteran linebacker K.J. Wright sat staring into space for a long while before addressing the media.
“We just wanted to win,’’ he said. “Wanted to win bad and we got after it. We tightened up on defense, the offense made some big-time drives down there and we gave them the ball back. We couldn’t go out like that. That’s not the character of this team. So I’m proud of the way we fought back.”
“We made it a game when it wasn’t in the first half,’’ Brown added. “I’m not too frustrated. We had a lot going on, bro. We have injuries — we were down to our rookie left guard (Phil Haynes, who hadn’t played an offensive snap all season before going in for an injured Jamarco Jones), and he came out there and battled.
“We had a lot going on. This team battled. I have no frustration about this game, no regrets about this game. Obviously, we would have loved to have made a couple more plays, but it is what it is. We have to build on it.”
Again, that’s the macro view. In the heat of the moment, it was a micro mentality in the locker room. Clowney was asked if he felt the better team was advancing to play San Francisco in the NFC title game.
“No, the better team went home,’’ he replied.