Looking to the future

Posted Jan 1, 2012

The Seahawks battled until the bitter end in Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the Cardinals, but they can see a brighter future because of players like rookie wide receiver Ricardo Lockette.

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Seahawks lost a game they desperately wanted to win on the final game of the 2011 regular season, but they just might have found a needed big-play threat in the passing game that will help them win more often in 2012.

In their 23-20 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals, rookie wide receiver Ricardo Lockette caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Tarvaris Jackson midway through the fourth quarter to tie the score at 20. The Seahawks’ inability to contain Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ big-play receiver, cost them in the end as he had three catches for 44 yards on the 13-play, 71-yard drive to a 28-yard field goal by Jay Feely that won the game nine minutes into overtime.

But Lockette’s big catch, against tight coverage from the Cardinals cornerback A.J. Jefferson, gave a glimpse that better things are to come for the Seahawks in the their season under coach Pete Carroll.

“We’ve seen it happen numerous times in practice,” Carroll said of Lockette’s speed and big-play ability, which was limited to practice until two weeks ago when he was added to the 53-man roster. “That speed, that big-play ability, that’s how we know him. Most of the football world doesn’t know him yet.”

Carroll also knows that this season’s 7-9 team is vastly better than last year’s 7-9 team, which won the NFC West title and then a playoff game with a wild win over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in a wild-card game.

Last season, their nine losses came by an average of 21 points; this season it was by an average of 9.8 points.

Last year, the Seahawks lost games by 34 (to the Giants), 30 (to the Raiders) and 23 (to the Buccaneers) points. This year, their most lopsided losses were to the Steelers (24-0) and Bengals (34-12). In 2010, all their losses were by double-digits. This season, there were four losses by 10-plus points, but they also dropped games by two points (twice), three points (twice) and six points.

On defense, they entered Sunday’s game ranked No. 9 in the league, after finishing 27th last season. On offense, the running game improved from 31st in 2010 to 21st entering their finale.

“Without question, we’re a different team than we were last year,” Carroll said. “The way we’re playing. The margins we’re dealing with are so much better. Even when we got beat, we had chances to win.”

That was definitely the case at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday. As much as the Seahawks wanted to get to 8-8, they didn’t because of a lot of little things and way too much of Fitzgerald – who finished with nine catches for 149 yards.

When the Seahawks had him covered, he still found a way to get to the ball – and catch it at the most opportune times for the Cardinals, and inopportune times for the Seahawks.

“He’s just an incredible football player,” Carroll said. “He’s as good as you can get in this game.”

And Fitzgerald was – despite Feely’s game-winner; 97 rushing yards from LaRod Stephens-Howling, who started because leading rusher Beanie Wells was inactive; and another ample dose of late-game magic by QB John Skelton – the biggest reason by the Cardinals were able to get to 8-8.

The Cardinals also got a 1-yard TD run by Chester Taylor, a 13-yard TD catch by tight end Todd Heap and two more field goals by Feely in taking leads of 10-3 and 20-10.

But in a game where the Seahawks could have shrugged and said it simply wasn’t their day, they continued to battle back. Leon Washington broke a 48-yard TD run to make it 10-10 in the third quarter, Steve Hauschka kicked two field goals and Lockette had his game-tying catch in the fourth quarter.

“I thought the ball was a little ahead of me, so I put it into overdrive to get the play down and make a play for my team,” said Lockette, who also had a 44-yard reception against the 49ers last week.

Asked if Jefferson got a hand on the ball, or him, Lockette smiled and said, “I don’t really know. I just focused in on the ball and had kind of like tunnel vision and just locked it.”

Whatever works, and that play definitely worked at a time when his team really needed his big play – in part because leading rusher Marshawn Lynch was ill during the game, and limited to 19 carries for 86 yards.

But it wasn’t to be on this day, as the Seahawks lost for the second time in two weeks after winning five of six to begin the second half of the season.

Down? Yes. “I’m really disappointed we couldn’t get this game done and finish the way we wanted,” Carroll said. “We wanted to get to 8-8 just because we wanted to.”

Out? Yeah, that too, as the players will clean out their lockers on Monday night and watch the playoffs from home this season.

But dejected? Not this team that continued to battle back all season after its 2-6 start.

“This game is going to help us in the long run,” Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas said. “We know we’ve got a better team this year. We’re young, but this experience we got this year and all the plays we made, we can build on that going into next season.”