A day after participating in his team’s most lopsided playoff defeat since 2008, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril was asked what he thought about upon waking up Sunday.
“I was sore,” Avril said. “That’s what I was thinking about.”
The aches and pains, Avril assured, will be gone in a few days. Psychological healing — the recovering-from-humiliation healing — presents a less certain timetable.
While the Seahawks were clearing out their lockers Sunday, emotions ranged from “mourning,” as Doug Baldwin put it, to Russell Wilson’s suggestion that the operative word should be “morning.”
What nobody could deny was the sense that an arduous season — it began amid the high hopes of returning to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years, and ended with a 36-20 clunker at Atlanta — had left the Seahawks drained.
“I don’t want to take away from anything anybody else does in this world, or in this life, but to get where we got to this year was difficult,” said Baldwin. “It was extremely hard — exhausting — and then to know everything ended so abruptly, now we have to start over again.
“There’s some happiness in that, because there were a lot of things we couldn’t fix during the course of the season. Now we can work on those things, because it’s the offseason.”
It’s no secret that the Seahawks were not the NFL’s happiest family in 2016. Training-camp spats are to be expected — players get tired of dueling in drills against the same opponent, day after day, and tempers flare — but the Hawks’ discontent was visible on the sideline during games.
A defense proud of annually leading the league in points-against scoring average often found itself overworked when the offense couldn’t stay on the field. An offense built around the quarterback’s mobility found itself running in neutral after early-season injuries limited the quarterback’s mobility.
Still, there were some positives to be gleaned from a 10-win regular season that concluded with a fifth consecutive appearance in the divisional-playoff round.
Justin Britt, drafted as an offensive tackle before he was asked to play guard, asserted himself as the reliable center of a developmentally challenged interior line whose progress resembled a rudimentary dance-class procedure: one step back, two steps forward, two steps back, another step forward.
“What I look back on and appreciate is how hard these young guys worked,” Britt said Sunday, referring to left tackle George Fant, a former Western Kentucky basketball player, and right tackle Garry Gilliam, a tight end for most of his career at Penn State.
“You look at George, he can have a vision this offseason of what he wants to improve on and how he can get better,” said Britt. “He actually knows what football is like.”
Rookies Germain Ifedi and Joey Hunt, Britt continued, “have a background in football, but to get a year under their belt in the NFL is huge. I’ve been through it. The sky is the limit and it starts with the offseason, and how you go about it.
“I told them that next year, we’re gonna be the best offensive line we’ve ever had — and one of the best in the league — if we can take the offseason seriously. We’ll see what happens.”
What happened Saturday against the Falcons revealed 2016 in a nutshell. The line opened up room for running back Thomas Rawls to lead the Seahawks on a 14-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 7-0 lead.
The holes soon were sealed by a fast and physical Falcons defense, and Rawls finished his once-promising day with 34 yards on 11 carries. Despite Atlanta’s containment of Rawls, there’s a lot to like about his determination to replace retired running back Marshawn Lynch.
“I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks of rest,” said Rawls, who salvaged his injury-plagued season with a 161-yard rushing effort in last weekend’s wild card victory over Detroit. “I’ve worked so hard, now I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor and ease my mind.”
An offseason has its perks. Rawls arrived at team headquarters Sunday with a bag of the kind of fast-food fare that Seahawks trainers discourage.
“I walked in here with some McDonald’s and said, ‘I don’t work for you anymore,’ ” Rawls admitted with a smile. “I’ve been craving McDonald’s for a while.”
Rawls’ first offseason lunch consisted of two double cheeseburgers — no onions, extra pickles — along with french fries “and a lot of barbecue sauce.”
A fitting epitaph for the 2016 Seahawks, isn’t it?
Some football seasons end with a Super Bowl parade. Others wind up in a drive-thru lane where the clerk is implored to make sure extra pickles are put on the cheeseburgers.