As Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and Russell Wilson all walked from the locker room to the auditorium where the Seahawks would hold their final team meeting before their offseason begins, Lockett was already looking ahead.
"We're going to be back," Lockett proclaimed loudly. "We're going to be back, and we're going to be better than ever. I'm going to tell you that right now. We're going to go to work. I'm telling you, we're going to do whatever we've got to do, because at the end of the day, it's all about being great, not for ourselves, but for each other, and being great in our faith. So as we go to this meeting, this is not our last meeting. This isn't the last meeting of last season, this season has already begun, and we'll be back."
Yet while the Seahawks are optimistic about the future, that doesn't mean that Sunday's 28-23 loss to the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs doesn't hurt. Any postseason run that ends short of a Super Bowl can feel like an abrupt, unexpected ending to a season, which is why Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wandered back onto the Lambeau Field turf in the snow long after the game had ended to soak in the scene one more time before boarding the bus that would take the team to the airport.
"Well, as it happens, the season comes to a finality that is striking," Carroll said. "It's just hard. I don't know what to do with myself. It's just a mess coming back because you are just cranking for the next and the next and the next… I really regret that this thing's over. I love this team. I love the way they played. I loved what they stood for, the character that they demonstrated over and over again. All of the elements of great character where there. They were passionate, they persevered, they're true to who they were, resilient. I mean all the great attributes and they would just not give it up.
"It was worth going back into the stadium after the game. It was all cleared out, it was snowing and all, to look up there and you see the Lambeau sign is up there. It looks like it's in the sky. You can't even see that it's part of the stadium the way it looked, It looked like it was floating up there. To just recognize we were so close to doing something really extraordinary last night. Man, it was just hard to walk out of there and leave, leaving that opportunity behind."
In a lot of ways, 2019 was a very good season for the Seahawks. They went 11-5 and made the playoffs for eighth time in the last 10 seasons, and they made the divisional round for the seventh time in 10 years under Carroll and general manager John Schneider. The Seahawks also finished inches short of an NFC West title in a Week 17 loss to the 49ers that saw a potential game-winning score stopped just short of the goal line. That they did all that despite a ton of late-season injuries, particularly on offense, left players feeling proud of what they accomplished, but not satisfied with the end result.
"I think this season, a lot of people think that we overachieved; I think we underachieved, in my opinion, because I think that the goal should always be winning the Super Bowl," Wilson said. "That's got to be our standard. That's got to be our focus. I think the reality is we've been very, very good for the past, in reality, the past eight years or so. I think to go to the playoffs in seven in eight (years) and do all those things, those are special, special things. To go to two Super Bowls, to win one. We've got to capture that throughout the whole entire season going into next year. We've got to find ways to get better. We've got to find ways to get past just the first or second round of playoffs and get to the final push. That's the reality. I know that's why I play the game. I know that's why a lot of guys in this locker room try to play for that and everything else. So we've got to get better and we will try to do everything we can to figure that out. It was a really good season. Would I say it was a great season? No. I would say it was a really good one. We got a lot more to do and a lot more things we want to focus on."
Carroll and a few players noted on Sunday that the loss to Green Bay and the 2019 season as a whole were reminiscent of 2012 when a young Seahawks team fell behind big in a road divisional round game, then fought back in an eventual close loss to Atlanta. But they also know that the 2012 comparison won't mean much if they can't make the leap that the Seahawks did from 2012 to 2013.
"We walked off the field in Atlanta (in 2012) and we felt like we could do a lot of great things," Wilson said. "We took the next step, I know that, of going from 2012 to 2013. We took the next step as players, as coaches, as an organization. We took the next step to go where we wanted to go. The question for us is, what are we going to do to take the next step? I think that's what we got to figure out as players and as coaches and the whole organization as we continue to try to be the best in the world. To be the best in the world, you got to do all the necessary things to get there. I think that we have a lot of those things; we need a few more things here and there to get that done. I think that's just the reality. It's a good one to be in because we're not far off. But it's also not a good one to be in because we're sitting here today. I don't want to be sitting here today anymore. I think as you go throughout your career, you get to the point where you want to win championships, you want to help everybody else win them, and you want to do everything you can to be great. I think we got enough. I know for last night's game for example, we were able to lay it all on the line, especially in the second half. And come up short, to me—I don't mean this in a bad way—but it's unacceptable. We've got to be better. We've got to find ways to be better and we got to make sure we make that happen for years to come.
"The reality is, we had a really good season. We had a really, really, really good season, and we were a few plays away from being really special. The thing in this game is it seems to be that you can be a few plays away from making yourself special, and you can be a few plays from being almost special. We've got to make sure we take that almost out of it. Our only option is to win. That's the only thing we've got to be focused on. This division is getting better as you can see. The NFC West has always been great—the 49ers are a good team, the Rams are going to be good again, the Cardinals are going to be better, and we've got to make sure the Seattle Seahawks are better than the rest. We've got to find out how we're going to do that for years to come."
One way the Seahawks can improve in 2020 is to feel the pain of Sunday's loss and let them fuel them in the offseason, linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
"I think guys need to go into the offseason with a chip on their shoulder," Wagner said. "They have to make sure they feel that loss, don't just throw it away, don't just mark it as another loss. Really feel that loss all offseason, feel how close we could have been to going and potentially playing the 49ers for the third time, and you need to look yourself, even myself, in the mirror and see what areas of your game you can improve, what areas of your game you can get better at, and get better at it before you come back. Be relentless about it and come back better than you were this year."
Said Carroll, "We did talk about--it's worth feeling the pain. It's worth feeling the shock of it, because some of the guys, that will motivate you. Not everybody, but some guys, it'll motivate you to work harder and be more in tuned and committed and all that. Use that if you can. I'm not real worried about them. They got plenty of time to get turned around. These guys will come roaring back."
But while this season wasn't good enough, as Wilson noted, he sees plenty of reasons to believe the Seahawks can indeed take that next step, citing the 2019 play of teammates like Lockett, Metcalf and Wagner, as well as the fight the Seahawks showed late in the season dealing with so many injuries.
"Those are the things I look forward to," Wilson said. "I look forward to being back on the podium holding the Lombardi Trophy, that's where my head is at. I think about that every day, I think about doing everything I can personally to make sure our team is that way."