CHARLOTTE—Even as Seahawks players struggled to come to grips with the fact that their season had just ended at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, they were already looking ahead. Even as they had to accept the painful fact that, for the first time since the 2012 season, they weren't going to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks were excited about their future.
Just as the 2013 team used the previous season's playoff loss in Atlanta as an offseason rallying cry, this team also plans to take the pain of Sunday's 31-24 loss and turn it into something productive.
"One thing I pride myself on, the guys in our locker room pride ourselves on, is the ability to learn from our mistakes, to learn from our losses, and get stronger," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "We did that early on in the season, and I have no doubt that the guys we have on this team, the guys who are coming back are going to refocus themselves, rededicate themselves to the guys in our locker room, and we'll become stronger because of this."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll saw resilience in his team both in the way they came back from a 2-4 start to the season and in the way they responded to a 31-0 deficit Sunday, and because of that, he also believes it is a team that will make the most out of this difficult time.
"We were 2-4 a long time ago, it looked like we were dead and gone, and then we weren't," Carroll said. "This is a real club, these guys are coming back strong—they're already talking about coming back next time around. That's all they know, that's all we are."
How a team responds to season-ending heartbreak, or success, can affect the following season. Carroll has pointed to that fact when the Seahawks started slowly in the seasons following both a dominant Super Bowl win and tough Super Bowl loss. But while the ultimate proof won't come until next season, players were confident they'll turn this loss into a positive going forward.
"I'm looking forward to next year already," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "Looking forward to the challenge, the journey.
"We're excited about coming back next year. Unfortunately we didn't get to win today, but the resilience we showed all year—we've got a lot of winners in that room—hopefully that will continue… I'm extremely optimistic about what's to come."
And while how the Seahawks respond to this loss could affect how they begin next season, good or bad, cornerback Richard Sherman gives a more concrete reason for optimism: there's a lot of young talent on this roster that will be back next season. For everything the Seahawks have accomplished over the past four seasons, advancing to the divisional round all four years, winning two NFC titles and one Lombardi Trophy, it's sometimes easy to forget how young the nucleus of the team still is. Yes, there will be changes in personnel this offseason just as there are every offseason, but so many key players are under contract next year and beyond, and many of those players are just now getting into the prime of their careers. Add to that the growth shown by Wilson and the offense in the second half of the season, and there's no reason why the Seahawks shouldn't be contenders again next year.
That's why, when asked if the Seahawks are still a team on the rise, Sherman answers, "100 percent, because we're still young. I think people get confused sometimes like our quarterback is 38. I think he's closer to 26 or 27, Bobby Wagner is 25; we've got a young core. I think people have been astounded by what we've been able to do in our young careers, but we're far from done.
"Guys are just entering their prime, and we're going to be special for a long time."
The Seahawks postseason run comes to an end in Charlotte with the 31-24 loss to the Panthers who advance to the NFC Championship.