What made Rocky Balboa so admirable?
It wasn’t because the fictional boxer was the heavyweight champ. It wasn’t because of the shiny metallic belt he wore around his waist.
What made Rocky a movie icon was no matter how many times he got knocked down, no matter how many devastating punches he took to the head, he always pulled himself back off the canvas and got back on his feet.
Much like Rocky’s first fight with Apollo Creed, the Seattle Seahawks may not have won Sunday. However, they were worth every bit of the crowd’s adoration.
It takes a special set of circumstances for a team that’s been to two straight Super Bowls to do itself credit with a loss. But while the Seahawks fell short of their goal of reaching their third straight NFL championship game by losing 31-24 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, they can hold their heads high from refusing to succumb to repeated knockout blows.
This was a Seahawks team that had to be punch drunk when it stumbled into the locker room at halftime. Seattle trailed Carolina — the team which finished with the best record in the NFL at 15-1 and beat the Seahawks in Week 6 — by the absurd score of 31-0. Seattle found itself in a 14-0 hole before four minutes had elapsed. Had Mills Lane been the referee instead of Tony Corrente, this one would have been stopped in the first round to prevent anyone from ending up in the hospital.
But the Seahawks are renown for their stubbornness. Going into Sunday’s game Seattle trailed by nine or more points in a playoff game seven times since 2010. In five of those games the Seahawks came back to win.
And on Sunday, just like Rocky, Seattle refused to stay down.
It would have been so easy for the Seahawks to take their 10 count and quietly capitulate after the way they were knocked into next week during the first half. Only one time in NFL history has a team come back to win after trailing by as many as 31 points — the legendary playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and Houston Oilers in 1993, when the Frank Reich-led Bills overcame a 35-3 second-half deficit in what’s universally considered the greatest comeback in NFL history.
It’s not like Carolina’s 31-0 lead was deceiving. The Panthers stomped the Seahawks in every conceivable aspect of the game in the first half. Seattle’s supposedly-improved offensive line was no match for Carolina’s defensive front, with Panthers pass rushers teeing off on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Seattle’s run defense, which ranked first in the NFL in allowing just 81.5 yards per game, gave up 59 on the first play from scrimmage and 118 in the first half alone. When Carolina made it 31-0 the Panthers had outgained the Seahawks 213-17. Had this been a high school game the coaches would have agreed to using a running clock in the second half just to get the game over with.
But instead of mailing in the second half, the Seahawks decided to go for it.
Wilson, a liability in the first half by throwing two interceptions, including a pick-six, came out on a mission. Wilson’s second-half performance — 21-for-31 for 255 yards and three touchdowns — was a snapshot of what he’d done throughout the second half of the season to make himself an MVP candidate. Meanwhile, Seattle’s receivers continued to make a mockery of the “average” label slapped on them in the past, with Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett all making big-time catches, despite the Panthers knowing the ball would be in the air on every down. These Seahawks, despite the damage taken, were still able to throw some roundhouses of their own.
After Carolina found the openings in Seattle’s defense in the first half to put the Seahawks against the ropes, Seattle easily parried every tepid punch the Panthers threw in the second half as Carolina attempted to see out the fight and win on points. The Seahawks, who allowed 220 yards in the first half, surrendered just 75 in the second half and forced four straight punts to give the offense a chance.
In order to pull off the improbable comeback the Seahawks needed to score on every single one of its second-half drives, while stopping the Panthers on every single one of their second-half possessions. Seattle went 5-for-5 on defense, but just 4-for-5 on offense. And unfortunately for the Seahawks, unlike last year against Green Bay, there was no miracle onside kick toward the end of regulation this time.
“There wasn’t a guy in the locker room who didn’t think we were going to win the football game,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said afterward. “There wasn’t a word in that direction for a moment. The demonstration of what happened in the second half proved it. These guys totally believed that they can do whatever they’ve got to do, they believe in one another, they love each other, they care about it so much they would do stuff like that. They showed who they were and what they’re all about.”
No, the Seahawks won’t be booking their trip to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for Feb. 7. Seattle won’t be the first team since Buffalo from 1991-94 to reach three straight Super Bowls.
But the kind of attitude displayed during the second half Sunday is why the Seahawks, just like Rocky, should get their shot at another title bout.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/seattlesidelines, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.