SEATTLE—The Seahawks knew coming into this game than an uncomfortable and unfamiliar fate might await them when the regular-season came to an end Sunday afternoon.
Regardless of what the Seahawks did in their Week 17 game against the Arizona Cardinals, they also needed help to make the postseason for a sixth straight season. And by the time the dust had settled Sunday, not only did the Seahawks not get the help they needed from Carolina, which lost to Atlanta, they also failed to take care of things on their end, falling 26-24 to the Cardinals.
Yet even though the Seahawks knew this was possible, that didn't make Sunday's result at CenturyLink Field any easier to stomach. The Seahawks did finish with a winning record for the sixth straight season, but that's little consolation for a team that had gone to the playoffs five straight times and in six of seven seasons under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider prior to this year.
"I had prepared myself for the worst-case scenario," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "But when it actually came to fruition, I didn't realize how painful it was going to be."
As has been the case so many times this season, the Seahawks struggled to get on track offensively, then turned things around in the second half, though on this afternoon it wasn't quite enough. And as was so often the case in Seattle's losses this season, the Seahawks got in their own way with avoidable errors, be it the eight penalties for 100 yards, a few of them proving particularly costly, or a missed field goal to take the lead late in the game, or a dropped pass in the red zone on a ball that was also underthrown, to overall issues on offense contributing to a 1 for 12 night on third down.
"This has been a really challenging season for us," Carroll said. "We saw a lot of things happen during this year that we needed to overcome and endure and get through. I think this game today was almost a microcosm of this season. The slow starts, the getting in our own way, making it hard on us at times when it wasn't about the opponent, it was about us. There is a lot of stuff that kind of showed up again today. Us roaring back in the second half and coming back, well, that doesn't surprise anybody. We know we can do that, not that it still isn't exemplary to do stuff like that, but it took that today, and our guys rallied, and we came roaring back and gave ourselves a chance to win the football game all the way to the last moment. That's not surprising. It's disappointing, though, that we weren't able to change the narrative of the way the games went. We looked terrible in the first half today. Then, we came roaring back, and it didn't even look like the same team."
This season was a challenging one for the Seahawks for a lot of reasons, but perhaps none was more obvious than the injuries they had to overcome, particularly on defense. Seattle lost Pro-Bowl defensive end Cliff Avril to a neck injury in Week 4, then in Week 10 two more Pro Bowlers on defense, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, were also lost to season-ending injuries. Earl Thomas missed a pair of games as well, and fellow Pro-Bowler K.J. Wright missed one as well. Bobby Wagner, who had a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season also battled a hamstring injury for most of the second half of the season, though he somehow never missed a game. And while a number of factors contributed to the struggles in the running game, the season-ending leg injury sustained by rookie starter Chris Carson in Week 4 was an issue as well.
"I say it's a difficult year, and that's because of the guys that we were unable to keep with us," Carroll said. "They were in the locker room today, but they couldn't help us. It's just unfortunate. We weren't quite there to get it all together the way we want to. I understand that Atlanta won today and we weren't going to have an opportunity to move on, but really that wasn't a factor at all in the way we played or the way we prepared. I'm so surprised that we played like we did today, because we were so ready and we practiced so well and prepared so well. It just didn't come out right until the end. It's unfortunate. It's a difficult time for our fans. I'm disappointed for them, because they came out there ready to crank it up and win a big game today with the highest of hopes as we did, and we didn't sync it up the way we wanted to."
Inside the Seahawks' locker room, a lot of players weren't sure how to process the result, particularly because so many of them have never missed the postseason in their careers.
"It's tough," center Justin Britt said. "I don't know what to do with myself right. I don't know what to say right now. I'm kind of at a loss for words, you know? It's tough. It's just tough."
Added Wagner, "It's kind of hard to put into words right now. It's something that we have never experienced before. There were a lot of ups and downs, but you have to appreciate the moments, the good and the bad. Hopefully we grow from here."
Quarterback Russell Wilson, who with last week's win became the first quarterback in NFL history to help his team to a winning record as a starter in each of his first six seasons, also wasn't sure how to process his first NFL season without a playoff berth.
"I just hate losing and I know there are a lot of guys in the locker room that do too," said Wilson, who finished the season with an NFL high 34 touchdown passes. "It's disappointing, we put so much work in… I think that we had all the pieces at the beginning of the year. I thought this was going to be our best team, actually."
After the game, Carroll talked to his players about the resolve they showed, even if in the end it wasn't quite enough.
"The way that they showed the fight and the belief and the resolve to keep coming back despite everything and all the odds that we had stacked up against ourselves in the first half, and they turned it," Carroll said. "They turned it and came right back and you could feel the energy and the juice and the change and all of that shift that happens so classically for us in this stadium, and the fans felt it, and we rode the energy and all that. I was really proud that it happened again. But, unhappy that at the end of it, we got in our way again and didn't finish the game like we wanted to."
And if there was a silver lining in all the injuries that hampered Seattle's defense, it was the way so many players stepped up in larger-than-expected roles this season, whether that was Bradley McDougald starting nine games, two at free safety for Earl Thomas and the final seven at strong safety in place of Chancellor; or Frank Clark taking on a starting role for Avril; or rookie Shaquill Griffin combining with veteran Byron Maxwell and trade acquisition Justin Coleman to give the Seahawks strong cornerback play even with Sherman, one of the game's very best corners, sidelined with an Achilles injury.
"Look at all the stuff that's happened," Carroll said. "Look at the great play that we got from Shaq during this season, from Bradley McDougald in this season, and Frank Clark taking over for Cliff as the lead rush guy. All the guys that were able to step in and do wonderful things. Justin Coleman, playing great for us. On the defensive side in particular, that's where it showed up because that's where we took the biggest hits. These guys were stellar in the way that they stepped up. These are great players that they replaced, and they played like it and allowed us to still be there battling and clawing and scratching all the way throughout."
Yet in the end, all of that battling and scratching and clawing wasn't quite enough for the Seahawks in 2017, which is why Sunday was such a hard day to process for a team not accustomed to sitting out the postseason.
"We have so much talent, we have expectations," Baldwin said. "We have a certain standard going into every seasons; the guys in the locker room work so hard. I think the biggest thing is that we work so hard throughout the course of the year, and for it to end this way is really just disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for all the years that we have played in the playoffs, for getting nine wins, I'm grateful for that. But there's more out there. There's definitely more out there for us."
The Seahawks fell short to the Arizona Cardinals with a final score of 26-24 to finish the 2017 season.