Sunday’s most costly lessons could pay dividends in 2013

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comJanuary 15, 2013 

RENTON – Just watch, the Seahawks will be the popular preseason pick next season to make it to the Super Bowl.

And how close they come to achieving that goal might depend on how much they learn from their experiences in this postseason, particularly Sunday’s bitter 30-28 loss to Atlanta.

If painful lessons are those best learned, the Seahawks will not forget the outcome in the Georgia Dome.

Pain? Oh, yeah. The locker room after the last-minute loss felt like a sweaty wake. Most of the players sat facing their cubicles, many with towels covering their heads.

This was no time to go tap on the shoulder of an angry 300-pounder and ask: “Hey, mind if I ask you a couple of questions?” These guys were still processing the nearly historic, certifiably wild, afternoon in which they trailed by 20 with 17 minutes remaining, and rallied to take the lead with 31 seconds on the clock.

They had come from such depth, so fast, they were probably suffering from the bends. And when the Falcons passed for 43 yards in just 12 seconds to position themselves to boot the Seahawks out of the playoffs, the crash was resounding.

“Hopefully we’ll get stronger from the experience,” coach Pete Carroll said at his season-ending press conference Monday afternoon.

The lessons:

 • Three points early equal three points late. I know, sometimes you think if you can punch in a touchdown early it will set a trend. But if you get nothing, you’ll always wish you had kicked the field goal.

Ending up with a two-point loss makes passing up a chip-shot field goal in the second quarter seem extraordinarily costly.

“As it turns out, it would have been nice to have a field goal,” Carroll said. Yes. He might recall that next season.

 • Another lesson about going for it on fourth down: You might not want to run the same play that has been your fourth-down staple all season. Fullback Mike Robinson got stonewalled for no gain at the Atlanta 11 with 5:38 remaining in the first half.

Robinson said he liked the call because that play had worked on short yardage all season. Yes, but the Falcons knew it was coming as surely as if they’d been in the Seahawks’ huddle when the call was made.

 • End-game and end-of-the-half strategy and clock management has not always been polished and proficient. The Seahawks marched again, reaching the Atlanta 6 with 25 seconds to go in the first half.

But they had two incomplete passes, a false start and a sack as time ran out, yielding no points again.

Carroll talked about that, and also the final frantic 31 seconds when the lead changed hands twice.

“It’s amazing how important those few seconds are,” he said.

Yes, they are often the difference between winning and losing.

 • Carroll stressed that the defense went after Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan aggressively on the last two pass plays that set up the winning field goal, bringing blitzes rather than sitting back in a prevent package.

Late defensive lapses cost the Seahawks games at Detroit and Miami earlier in the season, so this had the feel of a bad replay.

“We’ll get that in hand,” Carroll said. “I’m not worried about figuring that out.”

As he pointed out, those losses might have made the difference between the Seahawks going on the road in the playoffs or winning the division and getting postseason home games.

And that was one of his main points to the Seahawks before they adjourned Monday afternoon. Win the division, and the postseason can look a lot different when other teams are having to travel to CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks did not lose all season.

 • The Seahawks got very little pressure on Ryan, who went unsacked in 35 pass attempts. Seattle playing without injured defensive end Chris Clemons was an issue, and it highlighted the lack of depth at a critical role.

Carroll reminded that the Seahawks have 10 draft picks in the upcoming seven-round draft, not to mention a reported $18 million-plus in salary cap space available. When asked if he expected to add a pass rusher, he suggested that the real answer might be “a couple guys.”

Carroll was clearly still disappointed a full day after the dramatic defeat.

“We had captured the night, but they found a way to finish it,” he said.

It’s a lesson in how small things, minor mistakes or miscues, can have such a huge impact. A painful lesson, which should make it all the more memorable.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 @DaveBoling

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