Three feet from a repeat.
This five-word footnote provides a succinct description of how the Seahawks' unforgettable 2014 season will best be remembered. That's because the defending Super Bowl champions were 1 yard from pulling off a rare title repeat in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XLIX. But instead of becoming the first team since the 2002 and 2003 New England Patriots to capture back-to-back Super Bowls, the Seahawks fell to the Patriots 28-24 as Russell Wilson's pass was intercepted.
As bitter losses go, this one lingered as the nightmarish end to what had been a dream of a Super Bowl — and season, for that matter.
|2014 IN REVIEW
Record: 12-4 (first in the NFC West)
Playoffs: 2-1. Beat Carolina in a divisional game and Green Bay in the NFC Championship game, before losing to New England in the Super Bowl.
Owner: Paul Allen
Captains: QB Russell Wilson (offense), SS Kam Chancellor (defense), K Steven Hauschka and P Jon Ryan (special teams)
MVP: not awarded after the 1998 season; but RB Marshawn Lynch was selected by Seahawks.com
Man of the Year:Wilson
Leading passer:Wilson (285 of 452 for 3,474 yards, with 20 TDs and seven interceptions)
Leading rusher: Marshawn Lynch (1,306 yards)
Leading receiver:Doug Baldwin (66 for 825 yards)
Leading tacklers: LB K.J. Wright (107) and MLB Bobby Wagner (104)
Special teams tackles:S Jeron Johnson (8)
Interception leader: CB Richard Sherman (4)
Sack leader:DL Michael Bennett (7)
Leading scorer: K Steven Hauschka (134 points)
Pro Bowl selections:Chancellor, Lynch, Sherman, Thomas and Wagner
All-Pro:Sherman, Thomas and Wagner (first team); Chancellor and Lynch (second team)
"For it to come down to a play like that, I hate that we have to live with that, because we did everything right to win the football game," coach Pete Carroll muttered moments after that final play in the deafening silence that was the Seahawks' locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium — a scene that was the polar opposite to the bedlam that engulfed the Seahawks' locker room at MetLife Stadium after their dominating victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Ah, a play like that. With everyone in the stadium expecting the ball to go to Beast Mode back Marshawn Lynch with the game — as well as the season — not only on the line but the 1-yard line, Wilson's pass to Ricardo Lockette on a quick slant ended up in the hands of Patriots nickel back Malcolm Butler for a Super Bowl-clinching interception.
But Carroll also quickly shouldered the scrutiny that came with that call by offering, "There's really nobody to blame but me."
The finish capped a Super Bowl for the ages, and also was a disappointing end to another exhilarating season for the Seahawks.
"I thought it was a touchdown, honestly," Wilson said of the Seahawks' final play of the 2014 season. "It looked like it worked. But the guy made an incredible play. That's really what it came down to. We were right there. We fought so hard all game. I've watched a lot of Super Bowls. In my opinion, that was one of the better ones. We just didn't win."
The Seahawks fell behind 14-7 in the first half, only to rally and take a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter. That's when Tom Brady played like, well, Tom Brady. The Patriots' QB directed 68- and 64-yard touchdown drives in the final quarter to give New England its four-point lead.
But in fairness to a Seahawks defense that led the NFL in average points and yards allowed for the second consecutive season, it was far from full strength in the Super Bowl. The All-Pro tandem of free safety Earl Thomas (shoulder) and cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) played with injures they got in the NFC Championship game. All-Pro strong safety Kam Chancellor injured a knee at the end of Friday's final practice before the Super Bowl. Nickel back Jeremy Lane was lost in the first half (forearm and knee), while pass-rushing end Cliff Avril left the game in the second half (concussion).
"Last night was an extraordinary game," Carroll would say the morning after. "It was an extraordinary effort from guys who played through unbelievable issues. And you didn't even know it during the game. Earl and Sherm, to make it through this game and play with the problems they have is one thing that was notable. For Kam Chancellor to play in this game was just superhuman stuff. He shouldn't have been able to go.
"It was a heroic thing that those guys did to play. They wanted to play for their teammates and they did exactly that, and they did it in great fashion."
But then the Seahawks already had fashioned so much greatness on the road they traveled to reach Super Bowl XLIX.
After starting 3-3, the Seahawks went on a 9-1 run to finish 12-4 in overtaking the Arizona Cardinals for the NFC West title and the Green Bay Packers for the top seed in the conference for the postseason.
That top seed allowed the Seahawks to play at CenturyLink Field in their playoff opener — a 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers; and host the Packers in the NFC title game — which the Seahawks won 28-22 in overtime.
"I think the resilience of our football team is unmatchable," Wilson said after the win against the Packers, where he followed a for-crying-out-loud performance (6 of 7 for 114 yards and a TD on the team's final three possessions) by actually crying out loud.
"And the character of the guys that we have, that's what makes the difference."
Until that final play in that final game, so much had gone so right for those resilient Seahawks.
The offense led the NFL in explosive plays during the regular season (135), while the defense allowed the fewest in the league (76). The offense also rushed for a franchise-record 2,762 yards, with Lynch supplying 1,306 and Wilson adding 849.
Wilson spent the season going where no quarterback had ever gone before. In a Week 5 road victory over the Washington Redskins, Wilson became the first player in the 45-year history of "Monday Night Football" to run for at least 100 yards (122) and pass for at least 200 yards (201) in the same game. Two weeks later, Wilson became the first player in the 95-year history of the NFL to pass for at least 300 yards (313) and run for at least 100 yards (106) in the same game. He also threw game-winning TD passes in overtime in the Week 3 Super Bowl XLVIII rematch with the Broncos and the NFC Championship game against the Packers.
And if it wasn't Wilson tormenting opposing defenses with his arm and his legs, it was Lynch giving new meaning to the term "smash-mouth football." In addition to leading the NFL with his 17 touchdowns, the Beast Mode back also produced career-highs in rushing TDs (13) and receiving TDs (four). He was, simply, the driving force in the offense.
"Marshawn is a very special, special, special — did I say 'special'? — special running back. He really is," running backs coach Sherman Smith said in agreeing with the selection of Lynch as the team's MVP by Seahawks.com. "He's one of the best who ever played for what he does. And we shouldn't take that for granted. He's a very unique guy. And he means the world to our team."
The same could be said for what the defense provided in the late-season surge that propelled the Seahawks to the NFC West title, the NFC Championship and that oh-so-close loss in the Super Bowl. The unit became only the third defense in NFL history to lead the league in average points allowed for three consecutive seasons, and the first since the Minnesota Vikings in 1969-71. That will happen when you yield an average of 6.5 points during the six-game winning streak to end the regular season.
Despite missing five games at midseason with a toe injury, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was voted to the Pro Bowl and also All Pro — joining Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor in this double-honor category.
The special teams also remained just that — special. While kicker Steven Hauschka was producing the third-highest point total in franchise history (134), Jon Ryan was adding to his more-than-just-a-punter resume. He threw a TD pass on a fake field goal in the NFC title game, ran for a first down on a fake field goal against the Redskins and launched a 79-yard punt on a free kick following a safety against the Broncos.
All of which made it even more difficult to accept when the Seahawks came within three feet of a repeat.
"That's our mentality," left tackle Russell Okung said after the Seahawks were just short to end what had been another long and successful season. "We truly believe that we're going to win the game and we're going to finish it playing Seahawks' type of ball. That wasn't the case."