SANTA CLARA—As Seahawks players dressed and packed up their things Saturday evening, the mood in the visitor's locker room at Levi's Stadium was not as sullen as one might expect following a playoff loss.
No, the Seahawks weren't satisfied with their performance in a 41-23 Wild Card loss to the 49ers, and no they weren't just happy to be in the playoffs—they came to the Bay Area expecting to win and continue their season—but amidst that disappointment, there was also a sense of optimism about the future, even moments after a season-ending loss.
And it's hard to fault this Seahawks team for wanting to look ahead. Following a 9-8 season that almost no one outside of the organization thought possible, the Seahawks head into this offseason knowing they have a great foundation in place, especially with the emergence of an outstanding 2022 draft class that produced seven players who made big contributions this season, including a Pro Bowl cornerback in Tariq Woolen, a 1,000-yard rusher in Kenneth Walker III, and a pair of starting tackles, Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, who started 33 games between them. Adding to the optimism is what the Seahawks have to work with in the offseason, holding four picks in the first two rounds of the draft, including the fifth overall pick, and decent amount of cap space to add to the roster.
"We beat the odds, we did things that people didn't think we were going to do," said safety Quandre Diggs. "So for us, we want to focus on taking the next step. We all know what it is, we know the draft picks, we know the cap space and things like that, so we want to continue build this team, embrace the guys who come in in the offseason, and I think it could be really special around here if we do it the right way."
Moments later, DK Metcalf echoed Diggs' sentiments, saying, "This year was a good steppingstone for the future for us, because we weren't supposed to make the playoffs, we weren't supposed to win more than two, three, four games, and we did that with this team. So all we've got to do, like Nino said, is just build during the offseason, just continue to grow, because we're going to be something to look out for next season."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll opened his postgame press conference calling it "a really frustrating day," noting that his team was able to overcome a 10-point deficit to take the lead at halftime. "We're down 10-nothing on the road, they're going crazy and all that, and our guys just bounced right back into it and put us ahead at halftime. We felt great about it."
That halftime lead vanished as the 49ers offense proved to be too much for a Seahawks defense that has two of its best players, Jamal Adams and Jordyn Brooks, on injured reserve, but as quickly as the season ended, Carroll set about getting his team focused on the future.
"The suddenness of this finish is what's so striking right now, that all of a sudden we're done," he said. "We weren't thinking that way; we were thinking something good was going to happen and we were going to knock these guys off and keep going.
"What has happened during the course of this season, there's been a tremendous amount of progress that we've made. We've had so much growth and so much yet to occur here in the next turnaround as we come back for this next season, all of these young guys are going to see the world totally differently than they see it right now. They're going to be amazed at how much they didn't know in their first season of playing NFL football. So I'm not dwelling on the negative part, I'm going to what's coming. That's how we talked in the locker room, that there's future and all kinds of promise and all kinds of cool things that are going to occur here as we bounce back around and get back on track for another season."
Geno Smith, arguably the best story of what was a memorable season overall for Seattle, was conflicted on Saturday, knowing he and his teammates could have done even more, particularly had they played the second half like they did the first on their way to a 17-16 lead, but also knowing that he and his teammates helped lay the foundation for what could be a very good team for years to come.
"A part of me wants to say, man, we came such a long way," said Smith. "Overcame so many obstacles, of course the naysayers, beat their expectations. But I don't think we beat our own expectations; we had far greater expectations for ourselves. What I see for this team is a team with a bright future. A lot of young guys on this team got a lot of experience, first playoff games, my first playoff start. So we've got a long ways to go. I'm excited about the future. I know we can be a lot better, it's just going to take a lot of commitment, so I'm in it for the long haul. I'm ready to go."
Safety Ryan Neal tipped his cap to the 49ers and to head coach Kyle Shanahan for getting the best of Seattle's defense on Saturday, but he also ends his season knowing the 2022 Seahawks have a lot to be proud of, no matter how painful the ending.
"The only thing I can think of is how proud I am of this team and what we put together this year," Neal said. "We did everything that everybody said we wouldn't do. At the end of the day, I can hang my hat on that. I've been an underdog my whole career, my whole life, and this couldn't have been a more perfect team to be a part of. From the top down, from the vets to the young guys, there's nothing but heart and desperation from this group. Out of my four years here, this is probably the team I love the most, every guy in that locker room, from the vets on down. There's a lot going on in my head right now, but I can't do nothing but just look back on the year and be proud of what we put together. Everybody wrote us off. Fans wrote us off, our own fans wrote us off, the whole league wrote us off, and we did some things that no one though we could do, and I can hang my hat on that any day. I'm just proud of this team.
"This group is going to be a group to be looking out for next season, and everybody knows that. I'm just excited to see what we put together next year… (The future is) super bright. If you can't see it, you must not have your eyes open. This team is going to be a really, really great team. I think the city Seattle knows it, and to be honest with you, they should just be freakin' excited. I mean, that rookie class, smoking, veteran pieces, great. We add a couple more pieces, get back together and get healthy, this team is something to be scared of. So very, very, very bright future for this organization for sure."
Check out some of the best action shots from the 2022 Wild Card Round vs. the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on January 14, 2023. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery.