ARLINGTON, Texas - Sad. Confused. Frustrated.
That's how Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin described his emotions Saturday night following the Seahawks' 24-22 loss to Dallas in a wild card playoff game played in front of 92,851 at AT&T Stadium.
The Seahawks (10-7) were the slight underdog. They were on the road. They weren't supposed to be in the playoffs this season to begin with. Yet, the belief inside a somber Seattle locker room following the game was that the better team didn't show up and allowed the lesser team to prematurely end the Seahawks' season.
Plenty occurred in this game to disbelieve from Seattle's perspective.
- Seattle led the NFL in rushing with 260 yards per game. Tonight, the Seahawks managed just 74.
- Seattle converted on 38.9 percent of third downs during the season, it converted on just 2 of 13 (15.4 percent) tonight.
- The Seahawks limited their penalties for much of the season and committed just one through three quarters tonight. But four huge penalties in the fourth quarter (holding, personal four and two pass interference calls) dramatically hindered their chances of winning.
- Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson seemingly had the clear edge over his the younger and more inexperienced counterpart, Dak Prescott. Yet it was Prescott who made more big plays in this one and made the arguably the biggest play of the night to ice the game late.
Yet, despite all of its misfortunes, Seattle had a chance to win up until the very end. So what do we make of it all?
Was Seattle simply not that good to begin with and lucky to even be in the playoffs. Or, is this a young team on the rise that will use this defeat as fuel for a deeper run next season? The bulk of the evidence suggests the latter and that's what this team will take with it into the offseason.
Seattle tight end Ed Dickson, who won a Super Bowl title with Baltimore, said he sees championship traits in this group but also said he recognizes the areas where the team needs to mature and improve.
Quarterback Russell Wilson this season has repeatedly compared this year's team to the 2012 Seahawks that went 11-5 his rookie year and then the following season won the Super Bowl. He reiterated that belief tonight.
"If precedence has any truth to it hopefully we will find a way to do something good like that," Wilson said.
The makeup of these Seahawks is one that thrives under adversity so much that it's almost as if they seek it out. How else does one explain how they routinely transform seemingly unwinnable situations into winnable possibilities then cash in? Tonight they faced about as much adversity as they have all season but were unable to seize big moments when they presented themselves.
"We weren't able to run it the way we wanted to tonight," Wilson said. "It was unfortunate."
It was everything. Seattle's entire existence is built on running the football. No run usually equals no win. But when the running is struggling, the best way to get it going is to keep running it and that requires having the ball and that requires converting on third down.
"The crux of the matter was third down," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "you don't get the third down conversion you get your next shot to call all your stuff. The game plan gets left in the bag a little bit. So, that's just how it always had gone."
Seattle trailed 17-14 in the fourth quarter and that's when the penalties kicked in. The most costly were two pass interference penalties on third down as Dallas worked to eat the clock. Even with those penalties, Seattle had Dallas sitting on a third down with 14 yards to go from the Seattle 17.
All Seattle had to do was stop the Cowboys on third down, hold them to a field goal then, while trailing 20-14, watch Wilson lead the team down the field to win the game 21-20. It's not like similar scenarios haven't played out many times before.
Instead, Prescott ran an unexpected quarterback draw play that middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said caught the Seattle defense off guard and darted and juked his way to a first down at the Seattle one. On the next play he scored from one yard out with 2:14 remaining in the game.
That resiliency is what Seattle coach Pete Carroll said makes this team special.
"They never think they're out," he said. "They don't believe that they're out of anything. They're going to keep coming back and fighting and clawing and scratching and figure out a way. And when you believe like that, you're belief is that strong that you're going to create something, things happen."
On this night, Seattle failed to make that one thing happen in order to win the game. An onside kick attempt failed miserably, Seattle had no more timeouts remaining and Dallas ran out the clock to end the game and the Seahawks' season.
Soon, reflection began.
Baldwin spoke to the team in the locker room and urged this young team to cherish this as a learning moment and commit to get better.
"When you're in these moments it's kind of hard to cherish them because you're focused on the task at hand....You don't want to miss those moments because you can get better in those moments," Baldwin said.
Wilson said he expects this team to do just that.
"I think if we can eliminate some of the little mistakes here and there," Wilson said, "I think there's nowhere we can't go."