ATLANTA For the Seahawks, spinning it forward seemed simpler than looking back. As Pete Carroll and his players were quick to point out, over and over again: "The future is bright."
And it is.
But for a wall-to-wall affair that will ultimately be remembered for Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's 49-yard game-winning field goal, the Seahawks' 30-28 loss in the NFC Divisional round will forever invoke memories of a stunning comeback followed by the squandering of one of the greatest rookie performances in NFL Playoff history. Seattle's impromptu signal-caller, Russell Wilson, the one so many have likened to Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton in recent weeks, for good reason, brought his team back from a 20-point first-half deficit only to answer questions of "What If" in the postgame media session.
What if the Seahawks did not walk away from two redzone opportunities with zero points on questionable play-calling?
What if the team had not traveled all the way from Washington, D.C., to Seattle and back to the East Coast in just one week?
What if no plays haunted this team in this moment?
But Carroll and his charges were disinterested in such discussions. The coach quickly defended his redzone decisions, then spent quality time relating his thoughts and emotions on his team's resiliency and refusal to disappear when it was on the ropes. For Wilson, individual plays tell smaller (albeit important) stories, but not all-encompassing tales.
"That play has worked for us so many times; it didn't define the game," Wilson said of the failed fourth-down conversion in the second quarter. "I thought it was a great call I think what defined the game was our attitude."
Here Wilson is dismissing a few facts, though.
After packaging an ethereal rookie showcase with a monumental comeback, Wilson ultimately defined the game for Seattle. In a standout rookie class that includes Nos. 1 and 2 picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, it was only he who was left standing on the playoffs' second weekend. On Sunday, he proved why.
The 5-foot-11 Wisconsin product broke Sammy Baugh's rookie NFL Playoff record with 385 yards on 24-of-36 passing. He finished with two touchdowns and an interception, which came on his desperation Hail Mary attempt. But he befuddled the Falcons defense in the second half, leading the Seahawks to four touchdown-scoring drives in 30 minutes he finished 14-of-19 for 242 yards and three total scores. For a young man who speaks in cliches "I like when the game's on the line"; The separation's in the preparation"; "Play in the now" his ad-lib play nearly grouped him with Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, an impressive roster of quarterbacks to have knocked Matt Ryan and the Falcons out of the playoffs.
"He ain't a rookie," Pete Carroll said, basically summing up the mindset of everyone in the Georgia Dome. "You can't look at anything he did and put a star on it. He handled everything from the inside out. It's so unheard of."
And yet still, much like a rookie-led team, the Seahawks are going home with disappointment and pride and "What-ifs" and optimism, 2,500 miles to think about a hard-fought loss and what is yet to come. They appeared, if not satisfied with, then proud of their overall performance in Atlanta, but it will still be a few months before the football world knows what exactly the future holds.
All that remains for now are stat sheets and unanswered prayers for a missed kick.