SEATTLE — It was a drama-filled afternoon at CenturyLink Field, one that ultimately ended with the Seattle Seahawks losing 26-24 to the Arizona Cardinals and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
But in the view from the press box, the most dramatic moment wasn’t anything that happened on the field. The most dramatic moment came while watching the computer screen for the real-time updates from Atlanta, where the Falcons played host to the Carolina Panthers in a game that had just as much effect on the Seahawks’ fate as the one in front of us.
Who would have thought a virtual football splitting digital uprights for a 56-yard field goal would be the day’s key moment?
Indeed, it was a fascinating day of scoreboard watching for those following the Seahawks, with the results of five different games playing roles in where or whether Seattle would play next weekend. Seattle needed a victory over the Cardinals coupled with an Atlanta loss to Carolina to earn the NFC’s final wild-card playoff berth. Then if Seattle got in, games between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, and New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers would affect Seattle’s first-round opponent.
The Seahawks weren’t paying attention to what was happening elsewhere as they were busy trying to take care of their own business.
“I had no idea,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said about the Falcons game. “Nobody said the score, nobody said anything, I didn’t want to know.”
But everyone else was glued to their phones and computers in what was an absorbing sequence of events. Here’s a chronicle of how it all went down:
— It started shortly before the Seattle-Arizona game began, when the Vikings completed a 23-10 victory over the Bears in an early kickoff, thus eliminating Minnesota as a possible first-round playoff opponent.
— There couldn’t have been a worse combination of starts for Seattle, as almost simultaneously the Cardinals and Falcons scored touchdowns on their opening drives to take 7-0 leads, putting the Seahawks in a hole for both results.
— Tyler Lockett’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown got the Seahawks right back in it at 7-7. Seattle was beginning to do its part.
— But then the Seahawks’ first half deteriorated as Seattle fell behind 20-7. The Seahawks received some good news as Carolina tied Atlanta 7-7 with 50 seconds remaining in the first half. But Seattle wasn’t doing what it needed, with a 17-yard sack on the final play of the first half summing up the Seahawks’ predicament.
— In Tampa, the game was close throughout, with New Orleans leading the Buccaneers 14-13 at halftime. That result affected the Panthers more than anyone, as a Saints victory would clinch the NFC South, but a New Orleans loss meant a Carolina win would give the Panthers the division. A close game at the half meant Carolina still had incentive to play for the win at Atlanta.
— The second half brought a change of fate for Seattle, as the Seahawks drove 80 yards on 10 plays on the first drive of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 20-14. A the same time, the Falcons had a touchdown overturned by a video review and had to settle for a field goal, but still took a 10-7 lead.
— While Seattle was busy going three-and-out and shanking a punt, Newton threw an interception that led to an Atlanta field goal that gave the Falcons a 13-7 lead. Moments later Phil Dawson drilled a 53-yard field goal for Arizona to put the Seahawks down by two scores again at 23-14.
— Matt Bryant was having a day for the Falcons, with a 30-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter giving Atlanta a 16-7 lead. It was looking bleak for the Seahawks …
— … or was it? Carolina came to life, with some quick strikes setting up a field goal that made it 16-10, while in Seattle J.D. McKissic came down with a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage to set up a Blair Walsh 49-yard field goal that made it 23-17. Both results were now within reach for the Seahawks.
— Then came the moment that had everyone in the press box refreshing his or her computer repeatedly. The Falcons were attempting a 56-yard field goal with 6 minutes, 37 seconds remaining. Make it and it was a two-score game and Seattle’s playoff hopes were all but dashed. Miss it and Carolina had just 54 yards to travel to take the lead. And Bryant? No problem. He was Atlanta’s real Matty Ice on this Sunday as he made it 19-10.
— Seattle was doing its part. Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin or a 29-yard touchdown as the Seahawks went ahead 24-23. But help was still needed from the Panthers, who were using timeouts on defense to save clock, forcing Atlanta to punt.
— But ouch! Newton was picked off on Carolina’s next play, setting up yet another Bryant field goal that made it 22-10.
— Meanwhile, the Seahawks were busy losing their own lead as Arizona took advantage of a Wagner roughing-the-passer penalty on a third down incompletion to set up Dawson’s go-ahead 42-yard field goal that made it 26-24.
— Carolina made one last desperate push, but Newton was intercepted in the end zone. Too bad for the Panthers, as New Orleans was in the process of losing 31-24 to Tampa Bay. The Falcons had beaten Carolina and Seattle’s playoff hopes were over.
— Not that the Seahawks knew that. Wilson completed passes to Baldwin and Jimmy Graham to get Seattle in field-goal range inside of 2 minutes. But with 37 seconds remaining Walsh’s 48-yard field-goal attempt faded just right, and the Seahawks lost.
In the end Seattle didn’t get either of the results it needed to get into the playoffs.
“Nobody said anything,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said about the Atlanta result. “I probably would have felt even worse if we won it. We didn’t end up winning anyway.”
Yes, it was a disappointing series of results for the Seahawks and their fans. But it sure made for a dramatic final afternoon of the season.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.