Lots of second-guessing followed the loss Sunday in Atlanta, but a game-long inability to pressure QB Matt Ryan was a big reason Seattle gave up a season-high 30 points.
The harrowing, dramatic way the Seahawks’ season ended has inspired many post-game coulda-shoulda-woulda speculations about the plays and calls that would have averted the 30-28 defeat in Atlanta Sunday to the Falcons. But perhaps the biggest chronic problem was addressed sideways Monday in Pete Carroll’s final seasonal press conference.
Interpreting from the “Carroll codebook,” that means the coach was disappointed. Big time.
Probably the two biggest surprises in how the game was played was Atlanta’s success at rushing the ball and the Seahawks’ failure to even muss the hair of Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan.
Of course, not all of the Falcons’ unexpected 167 yards rushing were the responsibility of Irvin, the first-round draft choice from West Virginia who had his first start in his hometown because of the injury absence of Clemons. Nor was it all on him to get to Ryan, who not only was never sacked, he was hit just once, by CB Marcus Trufant.
But there’s no doubt that Irvin was credited with just a single tackle in the game and was not in on Atlanta’s fateful final possession, replaced by another rookie, seventh-round draft choice Greg Scruggs.
The Seahawks intercepted Ryan twice, but he also threw for three touchdowns and 250 yards in a largely pressure-free pocket, needing to scramble only once, for six yards.
“Bruce hustled and busted his tail on a bunch of the plays, but he couldn’t get clean,” Carroll said. “He was our best rusher in the game, but couldn’t get to the quarterback. “Atlanta is a good pass protection team (28 sacks in the regular season) and this was his first start. We gave him some rest. I think he played a regular game, I don’t think anything special happened for him.”
Irvin set the club rookie record with eight sacks, but he struggled most of the season to find a way to use his speed effectively. He was used mostly in passing-down situations and frequently was pushed off the line on rushing plays.
After the game Sunday, Irvin was asked to assess his play on a scale of one to 10: “I’ll say a five. They don’t give you a Super Bowl trophy for breaking (the sack record). That doesn’t mean nothing.
“I could have have two sacks, but for us to win this game, that would have meant much more.”
While Carroll spent much of his final press conference of the season praising the success of a 12-6 team that climbed from 7-9 a year earlier, he said pass rushing was probably the biggest off-season priority, even after the controversial expenditure of a No. 1 pick in April on a pass rusher many draft scouts said was a reach. The Seahawks have 10 draft picks in the next draft.
“We need to improve our guys, we need another pass rusher — we really do,” he said. That’s why we went out and got DT Jason Jones (who finished on injured reserve). We missed Chris; he had 33 sacks in three years. If you put him and Bruce together it’s almost 20 sacks this season. It’s a big factor. We pressured quite a bit, and we didn’t get as much as we wanted out of it.”
Another near no-show on defense was run-stopping DE Red Bryant, who had one tackle. A sore foot hampered him through most of the season.
“It actually got better here the last three weeks or so,” Carroll said. “But he spent half of the season probably in discomfort and couldn’t practice the way he wanted to. It was a factor for the bulk of the season.”
In contrast to the success of draftees Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, Irvin had a rookie year that was below expectations, and exposed in the final game. Much giddiness has attended the degree of success the Seahawks had this year, but the way the Falcons exploited Irvin showed that Seattle has a ways to go before it can get to the postseason breakthrough the Seahawks need: A division title that secures at least some home-field advantage.
“I made a big point about it today,” Carroll said of the final team meeting. “That’s why you own your division, so you can be positioned to play at home. Just look at the power of it when we played the New Orleans Saints (in 2010). They were the best team in the world, and we were able to beat them at home.
“It’s not just the factor for you, but it’s the factor that works against the other team who might have some difficulties playing in the environment.”
NOTES — Carroll confirmed Seattle’s two sought-after coordinators, the offense’s Darrell Bevell and the defense’s Gus Bradley, were having a second round of interviews for head coaching jobs this week. Bevell is being sought to succeed Lovie Smith in Chicago, and the Eagles are pursuing Bradley to succeed Andy Reid. One media report said Bradley had been offered the job, but there was no official word. “It does create uncertainty for the future, but I’ve been in this situation a lot so I’m not worried about it,” Carroll said. “We’re very prideful in the fact that people are interested in our guys, and it also helps us attract really good guys to take those spots.”. . . On exit day at Seahawks VMAC headquarters in Renton, TE Zach Miller showed up on crutches. He said after the game Sunday he tore the plantar fascia in his right foot on the third play. He was taken to the locker room and given a pain-killing shot and returned to catch eight balls for a career-high 142 yards. Miller said he knew right away what the injury was because he had the same injury to the other foot . . . Asked to explain how open he was so often, Miller said, “They just didn’t cover me.” . . . After the game, Atlanta’s veteran cornerback Asante Samuel didn’t want to lose his self-styled crown as the NFL’s top trash-talker. So he upbraided a challenger, Seattle CB Richard Sherman. To Atlanta reporters he told not to ask questions, just listen to his rant, he said: “Tell Richard Sherman to shut his f—— mouth. How about that? Shut your mouth and stop giving up plays to help your team lose the game. You don’t win in the first, second or third quarters, you win in the fourth. We didn’t play our best, but the best team won. Richard Sherman, whatever the f— his name is, stop giving up touchdowns.” Sherman fell down on a 47-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White in the second quarter, but also was credited with three passes defensed and was praised by Carroll Monday, saying he played a “fantastic” game . . . Carroll said Clemons hasn’t had surgery to repair his torn ACL, but it may happen this week. At 31, he, along with CB Marcus Trufant and LB Leroy Hill, are the team’s oldest regulars and the starting defenders most in jeopardy of not returning.