This fifth consecutive 10-win season was unlike the other four.
So, of course, this finale, a 25-23 rally past the flat-lined 49ers, had to be unusual.
Seems this Seahawks team wouldn’t do it any other way to set up their wild-card playoff game against Detroit on Saturday at 5:20 p.m. at CenturyLink Field.
Seahawks special-teamer Neiko Thorpe was on the sideline during Sunday’s first half doing what most of you were probably doing: Throwing up in a garbage can.
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Seattle trailed two-win San Francisco, 14-3. The first hours of the new year looked like the Seattle offense from the end of last year.
Coach Pete Carroll professes tunnel vision on winning and finishing and not looking beyond the quarter the Seahawks are playing in.
But he finally listened to voices of reason all around him on the sideline. He pulled starters such as Michael Bennett, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham while up 25-16 in the fourth quarter, once he was told that Atlanta had a big lead and was ending Seattle’s chances to get the NFC’s No. 2 seed and first-round playoff bye.
“I felt like I was in outer space with that. Very uncomfortable,” Carroll said. “I can’t remember really doing it like that.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson exited — in the middle of a drive. Rookie backup Trevone Boykin unexpectedly jogged into Seattle’s huddle with 9½ minutes left.
“I thought maybe he was coming in at receiver,” Wilson joked.
Rookie defensive tackle Jarran Reed got ejected for throwing a punch. Then teammate Frank Clark looked like he wanted to punch Reed on the sideline, screaming and going at his good friend.
Then Baldwin made a leadership catch that jolted the offense to life. Graham made a leaping reception at the goal line by boxing out his man like the basketball player he was in college. And the Seahawks passed all over a 49ers team in disarray all over, before holding on for the victory.
Wilson completed 19 of 32 throws for 258 yards. Boykin went from looking awful to sealing the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs for Seattle with a brilliant drive late. Boykin’s three great throws, two to fellow undrafted rookie Tanner McEvoy, extended the Seahawks’ final drive to save the win.
Atlanta’s home win over New Orleans on Sunday ensured the Falcons the NFC’s second seed and the Seahawks the three seed. Seattle (10-5-1) blew that No. 2 seed and first-round bye when it lost at home last weekend to Arizona.
The New York Giants’ 19-10 win at Washington eliminated the Redskins — and meant the Seahawks are hosting the Lions (9-7), who lost their third consecutive game on Sunday night. Green Bay, the conference’s fourth seed, beat the Lions at home for the Packers’ sixth consecutive win to steal the NFC North from Detroit.
The Seahawks talk about “meat on the bone,” having all they seek to accomplish — including a third Super Bowl appearance in four years — still in front of them despite an inconsistent, sometimes turbulent regular season.
They still haven’t fully chomped on that meat. And now the playoffs are here.
“At times it felt like we were more ourselves, a little bit more. More than we’ve been in the past (and) in the first half,” Baldwin said of Sunday’s second half.
“But it still comes down to consistency. ‘Meat on the bone’ is more so being consistent with it. We have the talent. We have the players and the ability to do it. We just have to do it play in and play out.”
Baldwin’s two catches left him with 94 to end the regular season, tying Bobby Engram from 2007 for the most in Seahawks’ history.
The Seahawks came here with three clear objectives for their regular-season finale: Don’t get injured; find some semblance of consistency on both offense and defense; get lead runner Thomas Rawls going for the playoffs. Or, at least, get the running game in general out of neutral.
Their long snapper, Nolan Frese, sprained his ankle and limped through the rest of the game. He sent one snap far over the head of punter Jon Ryan through the back of the end zone on a fly for a safety. That got San Francisco within 22-16 in the third quarter.
Rawls gained 14 yards on eight carries. But rookie Alex Collins emerged late with 55 yards on seven carries.
Still, the running game is a potentially lethal flaw in Seattle’s postseason hopes. The Seahawks had 11 carries for 20 yards before Collins broke loose for the best afternoon of his short career — albeit against the worst run defense in the league and a team that finished 2-14.
The Seahawks trailed 14-6 midway through the second quarter. Then defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin ripped the ball from backup Niners runner DuJuan Harris. Clark recovered the fumble and returned it to the San Francisco 15. Clark was denied scoring a touchdown by teammate Mike Morgan and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rolled into Clark’s legs in the open field and tripped him.
“I have to get Mike Mo!” Clark joked in the locker room after the game.
Wilson converted that gift into Seattle’s first touchdown, 11 yards on a pass to the right slot to Luke Willson. It was Seattle’s first TD in a first half since the win on Dec. 15 over Los Angeles, and the Seahawks cut their deficit to 14-13.
After nickel back Jeremy Lane ended San Francisco’s next drive by batting down a pass, Seattle had the ball at its own 9.
“We didn’t need a revival,” Wilson said. “We needed an opportunity.”
With the Seahawks scuffling again and needing a big play — and needing to get off their own goal line — Baldwin sprinted down the left side, leaped and pulled down his 93rd catch of the season. San Francisco rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson grabbed at the ball. Baldwin would not let go of it while falling, injuring Robinson in the process.
“Ridiculous play,” Carroll said.
Asked if he was Wilson’s No. 1 read on the play, Baldwin smiled and said: “I was the only read.”
“We knew we needed a play,” he said. “When we were in the huddle and I heard the play call, I was like, ‘OK, this is it. I gotta make this play for our team.’
“And Russ gave me an opportunity to make a play.”
That 41-yard gain set up Wilson’s scramble and jump ball to Graham down to the 1. The 6-foot-6 former University of Miami power forward boxed out 49ers safety Antoine Bethea for 42 more yards.
“That’s a 7-foot-2 tight end that can jump out of the roof. You want to give him a chance,” a smiling Wilson said, showing what he’s learned in two seasons since Graham arrived in a trade from New Orleans.
“I made fun of him. Said, ‘Hey little guy, can’t you get in the end zone there?’ ”
Rawls ran it in from the 1 to put Seattle up for the first time, 19-14. Steven Hauschka’s point-after kick was blocked, Seattle’s sixth missed PAT this season.
The 49ers played while firing general manager Trent Baalke — the news leaked out in earnest during the game — then fired coach Chip Kelly afterward — after one season.
“They played a hell of a game,” Carroll said.
Now, the Seahawks get a reeling Lions team on its way to Seattle to face an NFC West champion that suddenly feels renewed.
If not consistent.
“It’s kind of like a new season now,” Willson said. “Obviously, everyone wants a bye. But that doesn’t really matter to us now. We don’t have it, and we can’t look too far forward.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle