Three things we learned
1) Marshawn Lynch’s foot injury was more serious than advertised.
He didn’t look like the same guy who had rushed for more than 100 yards in five successive games. He gained 46 yards on 16 carries in Atlanta, matching his second-lowest rushing total of the season and notching his second-worst per-carry average. The Falcons deserve credit. Their defense sold out to stop the run, but the fact that Lynch’s longest rush of the game came on Seattle’s second possession and resulted in a fumble spoke to the fact he wasn’t in top form. Coach Pete Carroll didn’t make a big deal out of Lynch’s sprained foot, but the fact the injury caused Lynch to miss two days of practice during the week was a pretty good sign it had a bearing on Sunday’s performance.
2) Russell Wilson is the face of this franchise going forward.
Seattle began the season wondering how far it could go with a rookie quarterback to seeing how far that rookie quarterback could take the team. When the offense became focused around Wilson in December, the result was a three-game scoring binge unlike anything the NFL had seen in 60 years. And when Seattle trailed by 20 points in the second half at Atlanta, Wilson was the reason the Seahawks rallied so impressively. Seattle was 31 seconds from becoming the fourth team since 1970 to play for a conference championship with a rookie quarterback. The difference is the role Seattle’s rookie played. Because while Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez were essentially game-managing caretakers as rookies, Wilson became not only the rudder that steered Seattle’s offense, but the engine that powered it from December on.
3) Zach Miller is one tough hombre.
The guy tore his plantar fascia on Seattle’s third play of the game. He went to the locker room, took a pain-killing shot on the bottom of his foot and returned to have the most prolific receiving day in not only his two-year tenure with the Seahawks, but his six-year NFL career. We’ve made a big deal out of how seldom he has been targeted in the passing game since coming to Seattle. He caught 50 or more passes in three successive seasons with the Raiders only to come to the Seahawks and catch a career-low 25 passes in 2011. He had 38 receptions in 2012, but had not had more than 59 yards receiving in any game for the Seahawks. Until Sunday. He showed exactly what he can do if the opponent neglects to account for him. Miller caught eight passes for 142 yards, most of any player in a game that also featured Atlanta’s Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Oh, and if you want to get an idea of what that foot injury is like, please read Dan LeBatard’s moving account of what former Dolphin Jason Taylor endured to play after injuring the tissue in his feet.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out
1) What to make of Seattle’s defense?
It’s hard to call a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league bad. But after losing a fourth-quarter lead in five different games this season, it’s impossible to call that same defense good, let alone great. It started Week 1 with the touchdown drive Seattle gave up to Arizona’s relief pitcher Kevin Kolb and continued in road losses to Detroit and Miami. Not only that, but the defense allowed the Chicago Bears to force overtime in early December in a last-minute drive that was even more unlikely than Atlanta’s on Sunday. If this were baseball, Seattle’s defense would have lost its closer’s role. Too many blown saves.
2) What happened to Seattle’s run defense?
This was Seattle’s strength. For about six games. But ever since that Thursday night loss in San Francisco, it ranged from being a concern to a full-fledged problem. On Sunday in Atlanta, Seattle didn’t tackle well and ended up roadkill against a team not known for its ground game. The Falcons ranked No. 29 in the league in rushing yards during the regular season, worst among all playoff teams. They gained more than 100 yards as a team in six of 10 games and never had more than 146 in any one game. They ran for 167 yards as a team, and Michael Turner was responsible for 98 of those, his most in any game since Nov. 4.
3) How Seattle is going to generate a pass rush?
Seattle’s season ended the same way its offseason began: with the Seahawks desparate to get more pressure on the quarterback. It’s why Seattle drafted Bruce Irvin in the first round last April and the reason defensive tackle Jason Jones was signed in free agency. And when the season ended on Sunday, the Seahawks were trying to get pass pressure any way possible, blitzing defensive backs on the Falcons’ final two offensive plays from scrimmage. Chris Clemons’ absence because of a season-ending knee injury loomed large on Sunday, but even with Clemons, Seattle had only three sacks over the previous three games. Improving the pass rush will be a priority for the second consecutive season in Seattle.