Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has had two mostly sleepless nights to reflect on his team's season-ending loss in Atlanta, but a little bit of time hasn't done much to change how he felt about that game or about his 2016 team.
On one hand, there is disappointment that the season ended short of the team's ultimate goal, as well as in the way the Seahawks were unable to capture the type of consistent play that has been a key element of their most successful seasons, not to mention a couple of emotional displays by players that Carroll referred to as distractions that "took us to a place we don't want be." On the other hand, Carroll remains incredibly excited about his team's future, in part because of the talent on the roster, but also because of what he saw this year in the way his players were able to connect with one another. And interestingly, for the second straight year, Carroll saw in his team's final game something of a microcosm of their entire season.
"In the locker room after the game, it just was so obvious to me that we had had a season that kind of looked like the game," Carroll said in his year-end press conference Monday. "The inability to be consistently on it throughout the game where we saw that we had tremendous opportunity and had chances to do some great things, then they got away. Then we had our opportunity to come back, then we didn't quite get it finished. It felt like the season, in a sense. The line of consistency that we need to play at to play at the top level of this game, it just eluded us a bit. We saw a great glimpse in the Detroit game of exactly how we want to play and precisely how it's supposed to look firing in all cylinders, then we needed to carry that into the next week, but we ran into a buzz saw and weren't able to get those guys."
But as difficult as a season-ending loss is to take for coaches and players, Carroll also was able to see the good that came out of this season, including the way he saw his players come together on and off the field.
"By the time we walked out of that locker room, because of the year that it has been and the things that we've gone through and the things that we overcame, the connection of our players is unbelievably tight, as much so as any team that we've had in the time we've been here," Carroll said. "And I wanted to make sure that we were all clear about that so we could take that connection and the efforts that we made to get there as we step into the beginning of this next season, which we already have stepped into that and are going and here we are, we're already into offseason. Because we have places to go and things to do and a lot of work ahead of us, and a lot of great challenges that we have to overcome, and based on the character, based on the connection, based on the love that they have for one another, I think we're in the middle of something really special. I continue to feel like that, because that's how they are and that's how they have responded. The appreciation for one another, it was amazing and emotional and all of that. We knew we didn't get what we wanted to get done, but we've got a lot of work to do. That's kind of how we enter this offseason."
From the way he has seen veterans emerge as leaders to the growth he is expecting to see from young players between now and next season, Carroll has plenty of reasons to feel good about the future of a team that has already accomplished so much under his and general manager John Schneider's watch.
"I can't tell you how excited I am about going forward," Carroll said. "When we look at this team, the young guys who have a chance to come up and add to it, the ones who showed us stuff and the ones who almost got a chance to show us stuff, we're going to get so much better that to think otherwise would be crazy. I think we have a great chance to put together a terrific squad.
"John has done a fantastic job of managing (contract situations) and we're in position to have another really good team coming back in another year. Not every team can say that, and we're proud of that, but we're not satisfied. That's just where the starting point is as we embark on this next year coming up."
The Seahawks have won 10 or more games for five straight seasons, advancing to at least the Divisional Round of the postseason each of those years, winning three NFC West titles, two NFC championships and one Super Bowl. Carroll said after Saturday's game that he doesn't think this current group is anywhere near the end of its run, but rather right in the middle of it, and if anything he only felt more strongly about that point two days later.
"We do have the opportunity, we have the opportunity to be a really good team over a long period of time," Carroll said. "I don't know how many years that is or how long that takes or what you have to do to prove that, but we're close and we were close again this year, and save a couple situations, I think we were right in the middle of it again. We have a good defense, we have a good quarterback and we have the elements to build around all of that to make those guys good."
There were the inconsistencies this year, many of them caused by injuries, some of them by other factors, but the Seahawks were still able to do enough to win the NFC West, though Carroll did lament the fact that they fell one victory short of the No. 2 seed, which would have meant a bye and a home game in the Divisional Round.
"That's what we need to do, be available for it, win that dang division, give us our chance in the playoffs to be at home," Carroll said. "We missed our chance to have the second game at home, how valuable is that? We missed that opportunity. Of all of the things that happened during the season, not being able to do that might have been the most significant thing that happened. We couldn't get that second home game here. That gives you your best chance."
Maybe with a home game last week, the Seahawks would be in a different place right now. But their reality is that the season is now over, and while that is a disappointment for players, coaches and fans, Carroll remains very upbeat about what the future holds for his team.
"I think again we're going to be poised to have a great run at it and we have a chance to be a great team," Carroll said. "I would think when people look at us, when you see our roster come back, outsiders are going to look and see that again. We're called upon to live up to that and beyond. That's why I'm excited again. I'm fired up as ever and I can't wait to get started."
Following their 36-20 season-ending loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.