By John Boyle Herald Columnist
Sorry, coach, but the start does matter.
That became very evident Sunday as the Seahawks dug out of a huge hole, only to lose to the Atlanta Falcons in excruciating fashion.
The deciding score in Sunday’s thriller came when Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant drilled a 49-yard field goal in the final seconds to give his team a 30-28 victory, but in a lot of ways, Seattle lost this game before halftime.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is constantly preaching to his team that it’s all about the finish, that you can’t win a game in the first quarter, or the second quarter, or third quarter, but Sunday was a reminder that the start is important too. Maybe a game can’t be won in the first half, but a team’s chances of a victory can take a big blow in the early going, which is what we saw unfold in Atlanta.
A week after the Seahawks overcame a 14-0 deficit to beat the Washington Redskins, they again found themselves in trouble early and trailed 20-0 at halftime. Like last week, the Seahawks had a comeback in them, but unlike last week, it wasn’t enough in the end.
“We’re not in here to be heroic in the last few minutes of the game; we come to win games,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said on the Q13 postgame show. “… I’m a big proponent of, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, but at the same time, you can’t come out and start like that every game and expect to win, especially against a good team.”
The Seahawks have proven over and over again that they’re one resilient football team. On Sunday they’d have been a lot better off if they didn’t need to show so much resolve just to make back into the game.
Until they allowed the Falcons to complete the two passes that got them into field goal range, the Seahawks were, to Carroll’s delight, finishing incredibly well. Quarterback Russell Wilson was playing some of the best football of his impressive rookie season, and the offense scored four touchdowns on five possessions to open the second half, including three in the fourth quarter. The defense then stepped up after allowing a touchdown early in the half. And for most of the final 15 minutes, right up until the Falcons’ final possession, the Seahawks played a nearly flawless fourth quarter. But when you start as poorly as the Seahawks did, when you spot a good team a 20-point lead, nearly flawless doesn’t always cut it. When you’re down three scores at halftime, the margin of error becomes so slim that a season can be undone by one last-second field goal.
It’s true that the Seahawks could have still won despite that poor start, but it’s also true that they could have won by double digits if not for that sloppy first half. So yeah, the start did matter this time.
Carroll refused to blame a second trip east in as many weeks or the early kickoff for his team’s sluggish start, but there was no arguing that the Seahawks weren’t the same team early as they were in the second half.
“This was lost opportunities in the first half and a lot of not very good defense in the first half,” Carroll said in his postgame press conference. “The second half we just finished, that’s all.”
What went down in the fourth quarter was nothing short of an amazing comeback. Wilson was spectacular, passing for a Seahawks playoff record 385 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 60 yards and another score. But that emotional roller coaster just wasn’t necessary. If the Seahawks didn’t have two empty trips to the red zone in the first half, if Marshawn Lynch hadn’t fumbled, if the defense hadn’t put on one of its worst displays of tackling of the season, the Seahawks could have been in a position to win comfortably.
“We just didn’t play well in the first half,” Seattle tight end Zach Miller told reporters. “We had some drives but we didn’t get points out of them. Obviously that came back to haunt us. I thought that we played really well in the second half and put us in a position to win, but it didn’t happen.”
Of course, the good news for the Seahawks is that, despite a painful loss, their future is bright. The Seahawks hit a home run finding Wilson in the third round of the draft, and they’re young all over the field. Based on the way the Seahawks finished the year, winning seven of eight in the second half of the season, there’s no reason to think that they can’t be even better next year.
“I’ve never been more excited about a team,” Carroll said. “I love the way they battle and fight and compete like they do, so our chances are pretty good for the future to be good.”
But just as a strong finish to the season wasn’t enough to earn a division title and the home playoff games that could have come with that, a strong finish Sunday wasn’t enough to make up for an error-filled first half. The Seahawks did briefly lead in the final minutes. Start better, however, and they don’t need that furious comeback, nor are they vulnerable to the final-drive heroics of Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan.
Carroll is right when he says you can’t win a game in the first quarter. The Seahawks could have, however, made life a lot easier on themselves with a better start Sunday.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.