RENTON, Wash. –Doug Baldwin and the Seattle Seahawks landed back home sometime around midnight as Saturday turned to Sunday.
By 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Baldwin was awake playing an NFL video game, his way of decompressing from seeing the season end earlier than hoped for a second straight season.
“In Madden I can control everything and in the game of life and the game of football you can’t. It’s kind of like an outlet,” Baldwin said.
The Seahawks’ season ended likely where it should have with a 36-20 loss to Atlanta in the NFC divisional round on Saturday.
They were a talented, yet flawed team that simply couldn’t overcome a season-long pattern of inconsistency and some key injuries that exposed a number of Seattle’s shortcomings.
So while there was a healthy dose of optimism as players cleaned out their lockers on Sunday, there was also the reality that Seattle’s core group is aging and its opportunity to reach another Super Bowl with this unit could be waning.
“I think for the team in general, because we’ve been here so many times, the older guys we all feel it now,” Baldwin said.
“It’s like all right, we’ve been successful in terms putting ourselves in position to compete, but it’s so hard to do that.
“It’s going to be difficult for the fans and the media to realize how difficult it is to do that, but for us in here it’s an overwhelming, unbelievable emotional part that goes into it to get to this point. And I think all of us felt it this time, the gravity of not being able to finish.”
The Seahawks lost on the road in the divisional round of playoffs for the fourth time under Pete Carroll.
It’s been an unprecedented run of success for the franchise, yet unfulfilling the past two years after falling short of getting back to a Super Bowl.
“We were on the losing side, so it’s just always about staying in the lab, staying focused, staying true to ourselves and understanding that we can get better,” said Seattle running back Thomas Rawls, who started strong against Atlanta but finished with only 34 yards rushing on 11 carries. “We don’t have all the answers, we’re going to keep pushing.”
This Seattle team never appeared Super Bowl worthy over an extended period. There were too many issues that surfaced at various times of the season that kept Seattle from fully reaching its potential.
And that’s what left Baldwin and his teammates so frustrated after the loss to Atlanta where those issues were exposed by the Falcons.
Whether it was the loss of standout safety Earl Thomas to a broken leg in December, or the struggles of the offensive line to adequately protect quarterback Russell Wilson the Seahawks couldn’t overcome their flaws.
“We always want to win it all and we believe that we can. We have high standards here, that’s always been the best thing for us is to have high standards,” Wilson said.
The loss leaves Seattle in a strange position going into the off-season. The past few years the Seahawks off-season was well defined.
After winning the Super Bowl, the question was whether they could repeat.
After losing to New England in the title game, it was how Seattle would respond.
And after losing to Carolina in the divisional round last season, it was acknowledging the reality of a Super Bowl hangover and the difficulty of reaching the title game in two straight seasons?
So what’s the next step?
Seattle’s core group is getting older, but has all the key pieces under contract for at least one more season and most of them are locked up through at least 2018.
Seattle’s biggest unrestricted free agents are tight end Luke Willson and kicker Steven Hauschka.
It’s still an extremely talented team that at times this season showed flashes of being elite, whether it was Seattle’s impressive victory at New England in early November, or even the first drive on Saturday against Atlanta when the Seahawks drove down the field and took a 7-0 lead.
But those moments were too fleeting for a franchise where competing for a Super Bowl has become the expectation.
“I’m getting older, realizing that this is not forever and these opportunities that you get they are few and far between,” Baldwin said.
“I’ve been blessed to be on a great team, going to the divisional (round) five years in a row and that’s special, but not everybody gets an opportunity to do that and you’ve got to cherish those moments. Realizing that we’re done now and it’s all going to start over, that was the more difficult part realizing this late in my career.”