And just like that...it was over, but it sure was fun while it lasted.
Two weeks after the fact and I'm still not quite sure what to say?
Just when all was lost, the Seattle Seahawks rallied back, and they even took the lead against the Atlanta Falcons. Thirty seconds, just thirty seconds away from a trip to the NFC Championship against the San Francisco 49ers.
The same 49ers the 'Hawks soundly beat just before Christmas; the same 49ers that the 'Hawks managed to go toe to toe with in San Francisco at midseason.
While I'm not sure they would have beaten the Niners in San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, I sure would have loved the chance to find out. In a way there would have been a certain symmetry to it given how both teams battled this season for supremacy in not only the division, but for the conference in a winner-takes-all grudge match.
In many other years, an 11-5 record would have the won division, but this year the Niners were just that much better and now have a shot at winning the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.
I might watch the big game; I might not.
More importantly the question is what's next for the 'Hawks?
Russell Wilson was phenomenal as he proved once more in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but can he build upon this season?
Is that even a fair question to ask given how well he played during the season's final stretch.
At the same time, can Marshawn Lynch continue to carry the load?
Should the team focus on protecting both of them or provide them more weapons to stretch out the offense?
Meanwhile, what happened to the 'Hawks once-vaunted defense?
Can they become the dominant force we saw at the beginning of this season?
Oddly enough, during the season's second half, there were instances where they looked like more of a liability rather than an asset. With coordinator Gus Bradley off to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars, will Dan Quinn upon his return to Seattle merely step in or will he step up?
These are just a few top-of-the-mind questions, but if the 'Hawks can build upon this year, it could make 2013 a great year in Seattle.
Many fans and writers would agree, though, both locally and nationally that the 'Hawks appear poised for a great run over the next several years, but in a way that worries me, as I believe the 'Hawks need to keep pushing.
Not that I expect Pete Carroll and John Schneider to grow complacent by any stretch, but the thing is, teams don't get big windows to work with anymore. In an era of parity, it's that much harder to stay on top as one minute you're flying high, the next you're building from scratch.
Today, the Jets are a mess as Ryan is hanging on to his job by a thread, Sanchez is widely considered a bust and Revis is trade bait.
In other words, you never know.
Is this the start of something big for the 'Hawks or simply a one-year joyride?
The key moving forward will be Russell Wilson.
Strange to think that he has made all the difference. Without him the conversation is entirely different, even on a team with four first-team All-Pro players. If he can simply duplicate what he did the second half of this season for, say, the next decade, then I'd like to believe the Seahawks will have a foundation solid enough to remain competitive in the division and the conference as well.
At the same time, the 49ers look to have their own young dynamic signal-caller, not to mention their own solid defense and running game. With Jim Harbaugh in charge, you get the feeling that the Niners are going to stick around for a while as well.
For the next several years, these two teams could form a solid and entertaining rivalry. As for the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals, I wouldn't rule out either franchise making some noise in the next few years either, especially the Rams with Jeff Fisher as head coach.
Today, though, I'm cautiously optimistic about the 'Hawks future and feel that this season was a great success both on and off the field. On the field, 11 wins and coming up just short of the conference championship is quite impressive, but off the field, I'm equally impressed with how well the organization has handled itself in just about every facet of the game.
Moves such as adopting the new Nike uniforms, the entire 2012 draft, free-agent signings like Matt Flynn, the decision to start Wilson over Flynn and even the Richard Sherman/Brandon Browner PED scandal all came under some form of scrutiny.
Yet each time the organization managed to stick to its guns, weather the storm and in most cases prove the critics (myself included on many of these topics) wrong. With the exception of the PED issue that still leaves me with a few unanswered questions, I have to admit that each of the other issues worked out quite well.
The uniforms have been a big hit, the draft picks most of us thought would be terrible have thrived and Flynn may not have started, but that's only because Wilson left Pete Carroll with little choice when the time came.
Just about everything over the course of the season bounced the right way for the Seahawks as the team exceeded expectations.
Now that they've tasted success, can they keep going forward?
Time will tell, but for now I'm willing to enjoy the moment and give thanks for what was a great season with the promise of more to come.
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