Well, that’s a cruel way for a season to end.
The Seahawks had no business making this a close game after an error-strewn first half. Marshawn Lynch’s fumble, odd play calling in the red zone and bad time management all combined to give Atlanta a 20-0 lead at half time. Somehow this team came back. They fought their way back into the game. And with 30 seconds to go, they led. 28-27.
Unfortunately, 30 seconds was enough for Matt Ryan. He completed two big passes and Matt Bryant kicked a field goal. Game almost over. The Falcons decided to give the Seahawks one more chance with a bizarre on-side kick attempt, but the game had gone.
One stop… one stop away from one of the greatest playoff comebacks in the history of the NFL. A pass rush, a brilliant play in coverage, a mistake from Ryan. That’s all it would’ve taken for a victory. In reality it was always going to be a tough ask. Atlanta’s two timeouts were crucial. They could send receivers deep to drive open the field in a prevent formation, and the ability to stop the clock kept the middle as an option. The last big play went to Tony Gonzalez – probably the last player you want to try and cover in this situation.
There won’t be any trip to San Francisco next week. Instead, the 49ers travel to Atlanta for the NFC Championship game. San Francisco has to feel good about its chances. The Seahawks never truly exploited Atlanta’s weakness against the zone read, something Colin Kaepernick won’t have much trouble doing. They’ve just seen how badly mistakes cost the Seahawks so expect a tight game. The 49ers can’t ask for a better match-up to try and make a Super Bowl. This is no New York Giants outfit playing inspired football.
Looking back it’s hard to know what to think about the first half mistakes. Without such a miserable initial two quarters, there’s no heroic second half comeback. The end result could’ve been the same even if it wasn’t 20-0 at the break. Even so, we saw how fragile the Falcons are under pressure. When the Seahawks asked the question, they struggled. They couldn’t stop Russell Wilson. Suddenly in the fourth quarter, they struggled on offense. It would’ve been interesting to see how this game would’ve played out had the Falcons conceded early points.
Still, it didn’t happen. And there’s little point dwelling on uncharacteristic mistakes. The result won’t change.
It’s better to savour the great face-saving effort of the second half. At one point it looked like the Seahawks were being exposed. It looked like it was going to be a long off-season, with people second-guessing just how good this team really is. A beat-down on the big stage isn’t a good look. Instead, respect was earned. Wilson’s star quality is extended. It was very nearly a victory for the ages.
The defeat means the Seahawks will pick 25th overall in the 2013 draft. They had the same pick last time they made the divisional round of the playoffs in 2011. James Carpenter was the choice on that occasion. Baltimore’s victory against Denver on Saturday ensured the Seahawks jumped up a spot. Green Bay will pick 26th overall.
This season will be defined as the year Wilson appeared on the scene. It’s been one of the most enjoyable years in franchise history, mostly because of the teams rookie quarterback. The greatest question mark for any franchise is finding a quarterback. The Seahawks don’t just have a good one, they have a great one. The Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl this season, but they found a long-term franchise quarterback. That’ll do for now.
It’s a young roster already punching above its weight. The secondary looks set for a generation, the offensive line has shown great promise and there are playmakers on both sides of the ball.
There also improvements to be made. The pass rush simply isn’t good enough. Ryan wasn’t sacked today and the defensive line has had issues all season trying to create pressure — even against the bad teams. If the defense ever wants to be known as truly elite, you have to be able to press the leagues best quarterbacks more than the Seahawks are doing. The Falcons pass rush wasn’t much better, and it might prove to be their downfall next week.
The injury to Chris Clemons is a big concern, because Bruce Irvin didn’t look ready to be a full-time LEO today. It might be time to appreciate Irvin for what he is — a specialist pass rusher for obvious passing downs. He will get 8-12 sacks a year in this role, which is still a good enough return to warrant a first round pick in my view. If Clemons misses considerable time with an ACL injury, they have to look at alternatives. Osi Umenyiora might not cost the earth aged 32 and seems like a reasonable free agent addition if the terms are fair. Alex Okafor is a more orthodox pass rusher who can play the run and should also be an option in this years draft. An Estonian pass rushing discuss thrower? No other explanation is needed to tout Margus Hunt as a possible Seahawks pick.
It also extends beyond the possible need to replace Clemons if he faces a long recovery period. The interior pass rush is the biggest need on the roster. They have to find a more orthodox three-technique to rush inside. It’s surely the number one priority, because it’s the only position on the defensive line other than the LEO with consistent pass rushing responsibility. If we’re going to play the 4-3 under, let’s at least do it justice by using a proper three-technique. The Seahawks have to do what it takes to get the pass rush going next season.
On offense, it’s all about adding weapons for Wilson. Providing the quarterback with the best environment to progress will be the key to consistent winning season. Another strong target wouldn’t go amiss. The ambition for this team next season has to be to regain the NFC West, secure the #1 seed and home field advantage. The best way for this team to get back to the Super Bowl is to play home games and keep Wilson rocking.
There’s enough talent to be optimistic about the future, but there’s also the key needs to keep the long off-season interesting. We’ll cover it all on seahawksdraftblog.com.
Updated 2013 draft order
1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
3. Oakland Raiders
4. Philadelphia Eagles
5. Detroit Lions
6. Cleveland Browns
7. Arizona Cardinals
8. Buffalo Bills
9. New York Jets
10. Tennessee Titans
11. San Diego Chargers
12. Miami Dolphins
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
14. Carolina Panthers
15. New Orleans Saints
16. St. Louis Rams
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
18. Dallas Cowboys
19. New York Giants
20. Chicago Bears
21. Cincinnati Bengals
22. St. Louis Rams
23. Minnesota Vikings
24. Indianapolis Colts
25. Seattle Seahawks
26. Green Bay Packers
27. Houston Texans
28. Denver Broncos