TIM BOOTH,AP Sports Writer
RENTON, Wash. (AP) — While the rest of his teammates were throwing shoes, shirts and other belongings in boxes, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was in an upstairs meeting room watching film of the finest performance of his rookie season — one that ended in a loss.
Wilson can’t wait for next season to begin. Neither can the rest of his Seahawks teammates.
“We’re good. And we know that,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “And we know we’re capable of winning any game and matching up against anybody that we play against, but we also know we have work to do. There is progress to be made.”
The Seahawks were clearing out their lockers Monday, a day after nearly staging one of the biggest playoff comebacks in NFL history before losing to the Atlanta Falcons 30-28 in the divisional round. For the fourth straight time in the postseason, the Seahawks were ousted one game shy of the conference championship game.
Yet none may be as painful as the roller coaster the Seahawks went through Sunday.
Down 20-0 at halftime and 27-7 to start the fourth quarter, the Seahawks rallied behind Wilson’s sterling play. He completed his first 10 passes of the second half, and finished 14 of 19 for 241 yards and two touchdowns over the final 30 minutes. He added another touchdown run and when Marshawn Lynch scored on a 2-yard run with 31 seconds left, the Seahawks had taken a 28-27 lead.
Then Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took over with 25 seconds left and two timeouts, and he connected on a pair of completions when Seattle’s blitzes didn’t get enough pressure on the passer. Matt Bryant then made a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds left to give Atlanta the lead.
And even still, the Seahawks season wasn’t done until Wilson’s desperation pass on the final play of the game was intercepted by Julio Jones in the end zone. It seemed an appropriate final chapter to a Seahawks season that was anything but boring.
“The thing I said to the guys afterward is 25 seconds isn’t going to define this team,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “It was one of those moments that we had captured the night and they found a way to finish it. But this has been a great year for us in growth and accomplishment and coming to grips with what we’re capable of doing and the kind of play we’re able to put out there week after week.”
Wilson set an NFL record for the most yards passing in a playoff game by a rookie with 385, which also set a Seahawks franchise record. It capped a remarkable season for Wilson, who didn’t earn the starting nod until after Seattle’s third preseason game and wasn’t given full reign of the Seahawks’ offense until midseason.
While some franchises continue to search for a solid foundation at quarterback, the Seahawks go into next season knowing that the position is all but locked up for the foreseeable future. That’s why Wilson spent some of Monday morning watching film rather than packing up his locker.
“Obviously, there are very high expectations for our football team now, and that’s great to have,” Wilson said. “That means that we’ve got to work that much harder in practice, we’ve got to work that much harder in the offseason, and we’ve got to play that much better come game time. I look forward to those challenges and that’s what I wait for.”
Wilson was outshined by Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III for most of the season, but if the rookie of the year vote included playoff performances, Wilson might be the favorite.
Yet it was Seattle’s defense, which got most of the attention early in the season, that let the Seahawks down. While it’s hard to criticize a unit that led the league in scoring defense, the loss to Atlanta was the fourth time during the season that Seattle allowed tying or winning points in the final 30 seconds of regulation.
Seattle couldn’t hold a late lead and gave up scores against Detroit and Miami, then let Chicago tie the game on the final play of regulation after allowing a 56-yard pass play to Brandon Marshall — a game the Seahawks eventually won in overtime and started them on a six-game win streak the Falcons finally snapped.
This time, it was a 22-yard pass to Harry Douglas followed by a 19-yard strike to Tony Gonzalez that put the Falcons in position to pull out the victory. Carroll said Monday he didn’t regret going for a fourth-and-1 deep in Atlanta’s end in the first half that cost Seattle a field goal attempt, but there was some second-guessing about the zone coverage and blitzes Seattle chose to call on the final two plays.
Another area of concern was the lack of a pass rush without defensive end Chris Clemons, who suffered a torn ACL in the playoff win over Washington. Seattle got very little pressure on Ryan and was held without a sack for the third time this season. In 12 of their 18 games, the Seahawks had two sacks or less. And an Atlanta run game that ranked in the bottom half of the league for most of the season rushed for 167 yards. The Falcons averaged 6.4 yards per carry against Seattle after averaging 3.7 in the regular season.
Those are areas the Seahawks will address, while also relishing the success of a season that was supposed to be a foundation for the future and instead became a year where they were left disappointed they weren’t playing for a chance at the Super Bowl.
“This is something great to build on for next season,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. “We’ll have new parts, that’s just the nature of the game, but we definitely have a great core here and something to build on.”
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