In a regular season full of close games and dramatic finishes, it was fitting it came down to this.
Never mind that the Seahawks trailed the 49ers 13-0 at halftime and were down 12 points with 4:04 left in the game, a team that has proven to be resilient above just about every other trait wasn't going to go down without a fight.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, their comeback attempt came up inches short on Sunday night, with tight end Jacob Hollister getting stopped just short of the goal line on a fourth-and-goal reception in the game's final seconds. That tiny distance between the ball and the goal line was the difference between a Seattle victory and the end result, a 26-21 49ers victory that gave the San Francisco 49ers the NFC West title and sent the Seahawks on the road for the playoffs.
At 11-5, the Seahawks are the NFC's No. 5 seed and will play at Philadelphia on Sunday in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Had Hollister somehow found that extra inch or two, Seattle would have won the NFC West and hosted a game next weekend. As disappointing as the finish was, the second-half comeback also left the Seahawks feeling good about the resolve they showed in a game that looked early on like it could have become a blowout.
"As we have kind of grown to understand about our team, we're never out," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We didn't play well in the first half, and just couldn't get going at all. We really felt fortunate to be at 13-zip. Then our guys just did what they do, and found a way to get back and get rolling. We didn't dominate the second half, but we certainly put ourselves in position to win a championship right there. It was a fantastic effort by the whole team, highlighted I think by Russ (Wilson) and the offense and the playmaking and the throwing and the catching, and the protection—we got sacked one time by that crew tonight. We had the opportunities; it was there in front of us. It was, like, a perfect win. To me, it was a perfect way to win the championship, and unfortunately it just came up short by a couple inches. It was an amazing effort, it was an amazing regular season. I don't know how we could ask for much more drama. We already have to go, and get rolling, looking ahead."
That final pass was just part of a frantic finish to the game that will go down as one of the more memorable regular-season games played at CenturyLink Field. After the defense got a stop to give the ball back to Wilson and the offense down 5 points with 2:27 left in the game, the Seahawks quickly moved into 49ers territory, but after getting into the red zone, the Seahawks found themselves facing fourth-and-10 from the 12-yard line.
With the game on the line, Wilson connected with rookie John Ursua, a seventh-round pick out of Hawaii who was active for only the third time this season. Ursua's first NFL catch netted 11 yards and nearly provided the winning score, but he was tackled at the one.
After the Seahawks spiked the ball to stop the clock, they tried to substitute to get a heavier package on the field—a group that included running back Marshawn Lynch—but the play clock ran out, leading to a delay of game penalty that moved the ball back to the 6-yard line, a mistake that Carroll said is "me all the way. There's nobody else to turn to."
After an incomplete pass intended for Tyler Lockett, Wilson tried to find Hollister, and that too went incomplete, though not without some significant contact on Hollister. NFL Senior VP of Officiating Al Riveron told a pool reporter that the play was reviewed in New York for pass interference even though play was not stopped, and said they saw "nothing that rises to the level of a foul which significantly hinders the defender, nothing that is clear and obvious through visual evidence, which hinders the defender."
That non-call set up fourth-and-ballgame for the second time, and while Wilson was able to complete a pass to Hollister, the tight end was stopped inches short by 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw. That play was reviewed, but the call was upheld, allowing the 49ers to celebrate a division title and leaving the Seahawks to contemplate what could have been.
"It's crazy," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said of the finish. "It's unfortunate, it's an unfortunate way to lose. We shouldn't have put ourselves in that position. You're grateful for the guys' resilience to bounce back and put ourselves in that position, but we've got to play better."
The Seahawks obviously wish they would have finished the comeback Sunday, but they also came out of the game confident about what they can accomplish in the playoffs even if they do have to go on the road.
"The game, it was a heavyweight fight," Wilson said. "That's what I really compare it to. We knew it was going to take a lot of rounds, we knew it was going to be a battle. Unfortunately, we didn't get the decision tonight. The thing is, there's a lot more football, hopefully. It takes one day, one moment at a time, learn from what we did well, and we did a lot of things great…
We have everything we want in the locker room. We have everything that we could need. We have everything that it takes. So, it's been a tremendous season. It's been a battle so far. It's been a long one, but it's been a great one so far. The good thing is it's a refresh button, you get to hit the refresh button, start over, 0-0, see how far we can go.
"We believe in that locker room. If anybody believes, it's the guys in the locker room, where we're going, headed, what we think. We just got to keep trying to find ways to stay in rhythm, try to find ways for all three parties—offense, defense, special teams—to click the whole game. If we can do that, then there's no stopping us, I think."
The Seahawks are confident heading into the postseason not just because they won 11 games this season, or because of the second-half grit they showed on Sunday, but also because of how they played on the road in 2019. The Seahawks went a franchise best 7-1 on the road this season, including a Week 12 win in Philadelphia, as well as a Week 10 win over the 49ers in Santa Clara, a potential divisional-round destination should the Seahawks advance that far.
"No questions, we've been road warriors all year," said Carroll, whose team beat the Eagles 17-9 at Lincoln Financial Field earlier this season. "Our guys have handled it well. I know why we've done well on the road… We're not worried about going on the road, that's for sure."
And it's not that the Seahawks wanted to go on the road this postseason and are therefore going to feel OK about this loss—as of Sunday morning, a first-round bye was still in play as well—but they also know that a trip three time zones east is not anything for this team to fear.
"We have a history of it throughout this year, we've done it before," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "We have great leadership. Philly is a great football team, it won't be easy going there, but that's our matchup, so we've got to win."
Added receiver Tyler Lockett, "If we've got to play away every single game, that's fine. We'll figure out how to get it done."