By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — Last year’s playoff loss in Atlanta was an awful memory for the Seahawks, but it’s one they have no desire to forget.
Instead, 11 months after seeing their season end in with a crushing loss to the Falcons, the Seahawks head into Sunday’s rematch as the NFC’s top team — in part because of how that loss has driven them to be better.
“I’ve always had certain games that I don’t want to forget, because they kind of keep me going, and this is one of them,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “… There were 25 seconds left and we didn’t win and we were ahead. We let a game get away that we regret tremendously.”
In a story Carroll has told numerous times since that January afternoon, quarterback Russell Wilson already was looking ahead to 2013 even as he left the field at the Georgia Dome, talking about the potential for greatness in the future. And he was right, the Seahawks, a young team hitting its stride in 2012, are 8-1 this season, putting them in position to avoid a road playoff game like last year’s if they can keep winning. As painful as that last-second loss was, it has helped push the Seahawks to this season’s success.
“Any time this season, personally when I felt like I needed to recharge, or I was feeling like, ‘OK, I need to get up,’ I would think about that feeling after that game,” safety Earl Thomas said. “We were so close, we fought back so hard, and you never want to feel like that again. I’ve been using that all year long. It’s going to be great for us to get back in that same environment, that same locker room — I hope they put me in the same locker — I’m just excited.”
Thomas said last year’s 30-28 loss was the most devastating of his football career.
“I hadn’t cried since my senior year in high school, and after that game I bawled,” he said. “I was hurting, I was drained, you just never want to feel like that again.”
In addition to showing the Seahawks how painful a playoff exit can be, last year’s game also provided an all-too-clear illustration of one the few trouble spots for a talented defense. As good as the Seahawks were last year — allowing the fewest points in the NFL — they were at times vulnerable to surrendering leads late in games, as they did in losses in Detroit, Miami and Atlanta.
Not surprisingly, closing out games became a big offseason focus for Seattle’s defense, and the results have been much better this year, with the defense protecting a late lead in Carolina, getting late stops to send games to overtime against Houston and Tampa Bay, and most dramatically, stopping the Rams on the goal line at the end of a Week 8 win.
“It motivated us a lot,” safety Kam Chancellor said. “We went out with a loss, so it definitely hurt us and was something we thought about all offseason. Just looking at the film this year, looking at all the what-ifs and things we could have done better, it’s crazy, because we could have been better. Hopefully we’ll do that this year. … You want to be a finishing team. That’s the most important part of the game, finishing until the clock says zero.”
In addition to being motivated, several Seahawks have noted that another change this year has been the willingness of new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to play more man-to-man pass coverage late in the games.
“We feel like … we’d rather go out swinging when the game’s on the line, saying, ‘That’s my man,’” Chancellor said. “That’s our whole thing on our defense, when we man up, we stand up. Last year we kind of played it soft, played a zone and stuff like that, and it kind of killed us.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.