Normally, a 23-20 defeat in overtime to a division rival isn't the ideal way to finish a season.
But the 2011 Seattle Seahawks had already reached their definition of "ideal" before stepping on the plane bound for the desert.
Despite finishing with the same 7-9 record as last year, the team accomplished milestones that nobody saw coming this year. I'd even go so far as to say the 2011 version of the Seahawks would destroy the 2010 version in ways that would make them deathly afraid to ever leave the house again.
And apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Clare Farnsworth says the Seahawks this year made progressions that are more important than what the record shows.
Last season, their nine losses came by an average of 21 points; this season it was by an average of 9.8 points.
Last year, the Seahawks lost games by 34 (to the Giants), 30 (to the Raiders) and 23 (to the Buccaneers) points. This year, their most lopsided losses were to the Steelers (24-0) and Bengals (34-12). In 2010, all their losses were by double-digits. This season, there were four losses by 10-plus points, but they also dropped games by two points (twice), three points (twice) and six points.
Right away, the strides this defense has made are immediate and obvious. The secondary gave up far fewer big plays, even with season-ending injuries to its two starting cornerbacks, Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond. John Schneider and Pete Carroll's choice in personnel depth stood out brightly when CBs Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman stepped in and performed admirably for being so green. Browner went on to become a Pro Bowl alternate, finishing the season with six INTs and 220 total yards on interceptions.
Let's see Kelly Jennings put up those numbers.
The improvements in the ground game were also paramount to the team's strides this year. Marshawn Lynch became the first Seahawk running back to reach 1,000 yards since Shaun Alexander in 2006, totaling 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sunday was the only time in the past 10 games where Lynch didn't hit paydirt.
Lynch also amassed 63 rushing first downs, and broke four runs of 20+ yards, with his longest being 47. Nothing against Justin Forsett, but this season revealed who the Seahawks' true feature back should be. Leon Washington continued his electrifying special teams play, reaching 1,084 total kickoff return yardage.
All this was with an offensive line that barely had time to gel before the shortened offseason ended, and with a brand-new line coach in Tom Cable who had a very young group to work with. Cable's efficiency as a coach should not go unheralded, as this is a system that is undeniably effective.
The emergence of big-play receivers also bolstered the offense in 2011. Two names come to mind first: Doug Baldwin, who, as an undrafted free agent, led the Seahawks with 51 grabs, 788 yards and four touchdowns; the other is Ricardo Lockette, a guy that I saw in training camp and preseason as being a deep threat of the future. Lockette hauled in a 61-yard touchdown pass against the Cardinals on Sunday, and with excellent size (6'2") and 4.2 speed, we could be looking at our very own version of what Victor Cruz turned into for the Giants this season. It's just a shame that Lockette only was moved to the active roster because of injuries late in the season.
It's actually weird to think this team, who is so wildly different in so many ways than what it was last year, posted the same record for the second straight season. On paper, it might seem a disappointment. But in watching every single game this year, what's changed this team goes deeper than what the numbers show.
Pete Carroll's philosophy and coaching style is working. It shows in the players' attitudes and swagger -- before, during and after they take the field. There's a newfound fire in their collective bellies, and it won't stop burning. Go back and watch tape of the Seahawks under Jim Mora in 2009 (if you can stomach any of that). That's the spitting image of a team that quit on its coach. That's the polar opposite of what we have in this rebuilt roster going into January 2012.
The difference is shocking.
And with no impending lockout on the horizon, as was the case last year, the Seahawks have a full offseason ahead of them to plan, practice and prepare for what comes next.
“This game is going to help us in the long run,” Pro Bowl free safety