For a Seahawks team desperate for assistance, it was a Tale-of-Two-Cities Sunday.
12:36 — The Seahawks pregame warm-up begins with the players forming a huddle and jumping up and down. Inside the huddle, head coach Pete Carroll, a few hours after going on Twitter to deny rumors of his retirement, is jumping and down with everybody else.
Retire? In what other profession does a 66-year old man prepare to work by jumping for joy?
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1:15 — Defensive end Michael Bennett is the first Seattle starter introduced for the final home game of the season, soon followed out of the locker room tunnel by defensive tackles Jarran Reed and Sheldon Richardson. And I wonder: How many of these guys are wearing a Seahawks uniform for the last time?
1:32 — At the precise moment Arizona concludes a 10-play, 73-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Drew Stanton to Jaron Brown, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan connects with Devonta Freeman for a 19-yard touchdown. It’s been seven minutes since the simultaneous kickoffs in Seattle and Atlanta, and this dueling-banjo thing is going about as bad as possible.
1:36 — Tyler Lockett catches the Cards’ kickoff at the 1-yard line, bursts through a blocking seam and then outraces all the guys in white jerseys. When the NFL decides to eliminate the kickoff return, we’ll miss moments like this.
1:44 — Arizona’s second possession ends with a Phil Dawson field goal. The Hawks defense is looking a half-step slow, Cards quarterback Drew Stanton is looking like Drew Brees, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, at age 34, is looking Larry Fitzgerald.
2:00 — The Seahawks begin a drive at their own 20-yard line and, three plays later, Jon Ryan is punting from the Seattle 11. When the 32-yard boot dribbles out of bounds at the Arizona 43, I hear booing for the first time.
2:07 — Arizona’s Elijhaa Penny encounters minimal resistance on an off-tackle run for a 4-yard touchdown. The pep talk head coach Bruce Arians gave his players last week — about how they owned the Hawks at CenturyLink Field — apparently has managed to motivate a team with no playoff chance.
2:35 — Some fans respond to still another three-and-out Seahawks possession by booing, some tough-love commentary that underscores the abysmal state of the offense.
2:45 — Cam Newton’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Devin Funchess, in the last minute of the first half, enables the Panthers to tie the Falcons. Although updates from 14 other NFL games are displayed on the out-of-town scoreboard, there is no update from Atlanta, as that would distract a Seahawks team about to finish the first half with almost twice as many penalties yards (40) than total net yards (24).
2:48 — Another Dawson field goal extends Arizona’s lead to 20-7. On the bright side, it’s bright outside.
3:06 — Lockett is tackled after returning the second-half kickoff 20 yards.
Notes a press-box colleague: “There goes the Seahawks best chance to score again.”
3:10 — The Seattle offense finally advances beyond midfield, and when the Hawks face a fourth-and-6 at the Arizona 35, there is little choice but to go for it. Wilson hooks up with Jimmy Graham for a 20-yard gain.
3:16 — Buoyed by the achievement of actually moving forward, Wilson zips a pass to Doug Baldwin in the left corner of the end zone for the 18-yard touchdown that cuts the lead to 20-14.
3:22 — Stanton throws a deep pass intercepted by Hawks rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin — the first pick of his NFL career — and the momentum is trending the Seahawks way.
3:23 — After Ryan’s 12-yard touchdown throw in Atlanta is reviewed and reversed, the Falcons settle for a field goal that gives them a 10-7 lead.
3:33 — The Falcons intercept a Cam Newton pass and convert the turnover into another field goal and a 13-7 lead.
3:36 — Dawson attempts a 53-yard field goal for the Cardinals, and the result isn’t close. He drills it down the middle. Something’s telling me that if it comes down to clutch kicking in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks are in trouble.
3:43 — Running back Thomas Rawls is flagged for taunting, negating a nicely executed screen pass to the Arizona 25. The dumbest Seattle penalty in memory — which is saying something — pushes the Hawks out of field-goal range.
3:55 — After an exchange of field goals in Atlanta, the Panthers cut the Falcons lead to 16-10.
3:56 — Walsh’s 49-yard field goal also reduces Seattle’s deficit to six points. Given how the afternoon had gotten off to such a bad-vibe start, it’s encouraging the Seahawks and Panthers are within one score in the fourth quarter.
4:08 — Wilson throws a 29-yard touchdown pass to Baldwin, capping a 60-yard, two-play drive that gives the Seahawks a 1 24-23 lead. The team that couldn’t do anything right on offense in the first half suddenly can’t be stopped.
The bad news is that as Baldwin pulls the ball in for the touchdown, the Panthers — trailing 19-10 — are going three-and-out.
4:19 — Newton throws a pass the Falcons pick off at the Carolina 23 yard line, which sets up still another Matt Bryant field goal . With less than three minutes remaining, it’s gonna take a miracle.
4:30 — Dawson puts the Cards ahead, 26-24, with a field goal. There’s plenty of time for the Seahawks to answer, but Carolina is going down in Atlanta — and taking the Hawks with them.
4:40 — Just as the Falcons are clinching the NFC’s final wild-card berth with a 22-10 victory, Walsh misses wide right on a 48-yard field goal attempt.
5:07 — “Just like shooter in basketball, or any other sport,” Walsh says of his game-deciding miss. “It didn’t go where I wanted it to go. I know that sounds simple, but it really was that.”
5:14 — Carroll describes the season that ends without playoff advancement for the first time since 2011 as “really challenging. This game today was almost a microcosm of our season: Slow starts, getting in our own way, making it hard on us. It wasn’t about the opponent. It was about us.”
Turns out, it wasn’t about the Falcons and Panthers, either.