Seahawks coach Pete Carroll described Monday as "a pretty tough day" after players had packed up their lockers following one final team meeting.
Yet as much as there was still a bad taste in everyone's mouth about the way this season ended with a 31-24 loss in Carolina a day earlier, there was also a lot of optimism about the future coming from Carroll and his players.
"This season was one that we didn't quite capture all of the opportunities that were there," Carroll said. "We know that there's a lot of future, and there's a big upside for us. I think (Richard Sherman) said some things to that effect when he was interviewed last night, that this is a very young club. We have leadership, and big time players, and leadership from the quarterback position, which is so hard to find. The connection of what these guys are like on defense really gives us a hope as we go into this offseason that we're going to do something really special in the future, and continue to work at that. So more than you might think, everybody left here with the thought of 'let's have a great offseason, and let's get this thing cranked up and let's go.' They were already thinking that way. They're ready to turn the page and want to get going."
One reason Carroll feels so good about where this team is headed is because of how it captured a winning formula during the season after some early struggles, something he doesn't think will be as fleeting next year. As Carroll has said repeatedly over the last two years, there are big challenges that come both with winning and losing a Super Bowl, challenges that contributed to sluggish starts in each of the past two seasons, and Carroll doesn't see this offseason as one that will be as difficult as the previous two have been.
"It's not the same," Carroll said. "This is not the same. It will be a different season, as they all are different. There are similarities, but this one's different. We'll watch how the offseason goes, and I'll be totally on point watching what is going to occur as we go through it, but I don't foresee anywhere near the effect of coming off the season."
If anything, Carroll and some players have said this feels more like the 2012 season, which ended with a divisional-round loss in Atlanta. That season, and in particular the way it ended, served as a springboard into the 2013 offseason, a year that ultimately ended with a Super Bowl victory.
"That's why I go back to Atlanta, I think it feels more like that season," Carroll said. "We're very disappointed about the outcome, but yet knowing that we have a chance to be really good. That's really valuable going into the offseason, as well as being healthy, is a great asset."
As painful as their season-ending loss was, the Seahawks also could still appreciate the resilience they showed both in a season that saw them start 2-4 before recovering to make the playoffs, and in a game in which they fell behind 31-0 before rallying in the second half to make it a one-score game before running out of time.
"It was definitely a journey," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "It was a year that you battle and every year is going to be like that. It's one of those things that I thought we had a great year. We had an opportunity to do something really special. We came up just a little bit short. It's a little bit disappointing, but at the same time you look forward to the next opportunity. You smile about that. There's no way I can be upset because of the adversity that we faced and the overcomers that we have on our football team, the challenges that we were able to defeat. It's been a great year. Like I said to you guys last night in Charlotte, it was one of my most fun years because of the hard work that we put into it, the preparation and growth as a player and as a teammate. It's been a fun, fun journey. You use that as an acceleration, as a catalyst into the next year."
Wilson was far from alone in appreciating what was an up-and-down journey in 2015.
"I definitely feel like we appreciate that, because I feel like if it was any other team, I don't think any other team would've gotten through what we went through," Wagner said. "But me personally, I feel like we left some things out there. I feel like we could've started that game better and I feel like it would've had a different outcome. But it gives us something to reach for, something to play for. Definitely adds a chip to our shoulder, and you know, we're not a team that needs a chip on our shoulder."
A bittersweet day at VMAC as the Seahawks players clean out their lockers for the offseason and spend their final moments together as the 2015 squad before heading off in separate directions for their Championship Offseason.