ARLINGTON, Texas—The disappointment was obvious in the visitor's locker room at AT&T Stadium Saturday night. The Seahawks' season had just come to an end following a 24-22 Wild Card playoff loss to the Cowboys, and players knew they let an opportunity get away from them.
The Seahawks, who finished the season so strongly in large part because of a league-leading rushing attack, had one of their worst rushing performances of the season, gaining just 73 yards on 24 carries. And while the Seattle defense did a lot of things well throughout the night, most notably a red-zone takeaway in the form of a K.J. Wright interception, that unit also gave up too many big plays, including a 16-yard Dak Prescott run on third-and-14 that set up the touchdown that gave Dallas a 10-point lead with just over two minutes left on the clock.
But while it will take a while for the pain of this loss to go away for the Seahawks, they also end their year knowing the future is bright. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider always pushed back against the notion that their team was rebuilding in 2018, but they were unquestionably a different team, one that went through a significant amount of roster turnover while also making changes at offensive and defensive coordinator, as well as offensive line coach. Despite all that change, which in turn created lower expectations outside of team headquarters—though never inside the building—the Seahawks overcame a slow start to the season, won six of seven down the stretch and earned a playoff berth with a 10-6 record.
"I think the story of this season just continues to be told, at least in our locker room," Carroll said. "Our guys know and they just keep coming back and keep coming back and keep battling. We're really building something that's really special. Really excited about that. The connection and the spirit of what we're trying to get done, it's so unfortunate that we weren't able to take this next step today to continue to grow it. But it's really special… It's very disappointing to be done right now. Nobody wants to go home. Guys are ready and raring to go. I feel like we're just getting warmed up, but that's the way it is. I couldn't be more forward-thinking about these guys. I couldn't be more positive about what's here in this locker room, what can happen for these guys. We'll have to give some time up, we'll come back around and get cranking again. That's a very special group."
While the Seahawks didn't run the ball very well on Saturday, they established over the course of the season the type of offensive identity they were looking for after a slow start, and over the second half of the season they averaged 30.0 points per game, the second-highest total in the league. The defense, which saw several Pro Bowl players depart due to trades, free agency, and injury, wasn't perfect by any means, but improved as the season went on and with so many young players contributing, should only grow next season.
"We had all these doubters and opinions, but one thing we believed in was the guys in this organization, in this room," cornerback Shaquill Griffin said. "We believed in that and we made it this far. It's only going to get better from here. We're not going backwards next year. We're going to be a team to be reckoned with and I can't wait to see it."
Frank Clark, who set a career high with 13.0 sacks in the regular season and added one more on Saturday, lamented the things the defense did wrong, most notably big penalties late and Prescott's third-down run.
"The teams that go far in the playoffs are the teams that stay consistent, are the teams that do the little things the best, and unfortunately we weren't that team tonight," Clark said.
But in his fourth season, one that saw him take on a bigger leadership role, Clark saw enough to know that the Seahawks will be in good shape moving forward.
"Look at the guys we've got, how young we are, it just screams potential for what we can have in the future, how special we are," he said. "We took a group of quote-unquote nobodies and made us contenders. Took a group of guys that everybody counted out and nobody had faith in but the people in this locker room. That's the most special part about it all. When you can build that type of camaraderie in the locker room, and you can build that unity amongst the team, that's special for a football team. We've got so much more, we've got so much we can do with this. Guys just have to keep the faith. If we keep the faith, man, you never know what's going to happen in the future."
And perhaps more than anything else, Carroll and his players feel like this team had a special connection that can carry over to 2019.
Asked what he was most encouraged by about this season, Carroll said, "Without question, it's this connection that our guys have. Their willingness to keep going the extra step, the extra mile, whatever it takes to keep adding. Really, it comes down to these guys fighting to be great teammates. They care so much. We said in the locker room that you don't ever lose if you get better by the things that happen. You always have a chance to get back on course and get going again. There's always something positive you can keep building on. These guys, that's how they think and that's how they operate. It's a great mentality. It gives us a chance no matter what. I mean, nobody thought we were going to be here. So we're miles ahead of where expectations were, which doesn't mean anything to me because that's not my expectations. It was everybody else's. But it still happened. It was important that it did. We finished really well in the season. Six out of the last seven was a big deal. But it wasn't quite enough to get us at home in the playoffs, which we know is so valuable."
Added receiver Tyler Lockett, who finished the best season of his career with 120-yard performance that also saw him pile up 74 return yards, "We've gotten so much closer as a group, as a unit, helping each other throughout the problems of life. Stuff like that that people don't understand that goes on behind closed doors. The brotherhood that we built is just so amazing and it's kind of hard to describe it, it's kind of hard to talk about it because this was probably one of the closest groups I've ever been a part of."
The Seahawks also demonstrated on Saturday one of their best traits, one that has been part of almost all of Carroll's best teams—the ability to fight until the end and be in every game. The Seahawks lost seven games, including Saturday's, but none by more than one score. And down 10 points with time running out Saturday, the offense quickly moved down the field for a touchdown and 2-point conversion that at least gave the Seahawks a chance at an onside kick and possible winning drive. Michael Dickson's drop-kick didn't end up where he intended, so that final drive didn't happen, but the Seahawks again showed their resilience to the end.
"They never think they're out," Carroll said. "They don't believe they're out of anything. They're going to keep coming back, fighting and clawing and scratching and figuring a way. When you believe like that, your belief is that strong that you're going to create something, things happen. It was magic in the moments where it was happening. I wish Mike could have found a better place to drop that kick so we had a shot at it. It was unfortunate. We had 1:18 left. We get the ball right there, we're going to have a real shot to win that game. Unfortunate."
In the end, everyone was frustrated by what transpired Saturday night. As receiver Doug Baldwin put it, he was "sad, confused, frustrated, that's about it." But out of the season-ending loss also comes a lot of optimism for 2019.
"Look out," Baldwin said. "This team, we've got everything we need. We've got all the pieces, we've got all the right mindsets, the personalities, everything. It's just, we're a young team, and with time comes progression, comes growth, comes learning, even in hard situations, and this team will be better for it."
Added Wilson, "It was an amazing season for us. Everybody played together. Nobody thought we'd be where we were and where we are. We did, we believe that, and we worked for everything. Unfortunately only one team was able to win tonight and it wasn't us. The thing I reflect on is how we came together, how we played for each other all season, how we kept believing in one another; how when everyone thought we were down and out early on, we just kept fighting, we kept practicing the right way and playing the right way. I said this to you guys in training camp that this team really reminded me of the 2012 team just how we were able to fight through everything. We were able to get pretty far that year and be successful in that sense, and the next year we ended up winning the Super Bowl. So if precedence has any truth to it, hopefully we can find a way to do something good like that."
Game action photos from the Seahawks' 24-22 loss against the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card game of the NFL Playoffs.