Doug Baldwin #89 of the Seattle Seahawks trys to cath the ball against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on January 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
For a second time in five seasons, the Seahawks saw their season come to an end with a road loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs.
Where the 2012 loss felt like the Seahawks were the better team and just ran out of time after a slow start, this game was thoroughly dominated by the Falcons.
Seattle controlled the ball for the first eight minutes of the game in driving for an opening touchdown and a 7-0 lead. In the next 52 minutes, the Seahawks were outscored 36-13.
Atlanta's diverse passing attack shredded the Seahawks defense. Four different players had at least four catches for the Falcons. While Atlanta's rushing attack wasn't overly productive, it gave the Falcons the balance they needed to make play-action work to their advantage and take advantage of Seattle's secondary.
The Jekkyl and Hyde season of the Seahawks and fallen short of the ultimate goal, but it did present them with a fifth straight season with at least one playoff victory.
Here are five takeaways from Seattle's season-ending loss to the Falcons:
1. Kevin Pierre-Louis holding penalty was turning point.
A holding penalty by linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis on a second quarter punt ultimately cost the Seahawks 87 yards and at least five points as the Falcons completely flipped the momentum of the game.
Pierre-Louis was flagged for pulling Falcons linebacker LaRoy Reynolds to the turf after Pierre-Louis was blocked off his feet on the play. Devin Hester caught the punt at the Seattle 13-yard line and spun free for an 80-yard return to the Falcons 7-yard line. It was all negated due to the penalty by Pierre-Louis.
Pierre-Louis held Reynolds down and impeded his ability to cover the kick.
The Seahawks instead took over at their own 7-yard line and promptly went backward. After a 4-yard loss by Thomas Rawls on first down, Russell Wilson was stepped on by replacement right guard Rees Odhiambo and fell backward into the end zone for a safety.
After a free kick, Atlanta marched for a field goal to swing the game five points in their favor. If you assume Seattle would have at least made a field goal after Hester's return, it could have been an 8- or 12-point swing against the Seahawks.
2. Lack of pass rush gave defense no chance.
The Falcons offense was the best in the league this season for a reason. Seattle's inability to get pressure on Matt Ryan allowed Atlanta to have a field day against the Seahawks' defense.
Without Earl Thomas and losing DeShawn Shead to a knee injury (possibly an ACL), Seattle had to have it's pass rush disrupting Ryan to give their secondary a chance against a diverse array of weapons on Atlanta's offense.
After the Seahawks grabbed an early 7-0 lead with an opening drive touchdown, the Falcons outscored Seattle 36-13 over the final 52 minutes of the game. Shead was lost with a knee injury and Jeremy Lane briefly missed time as well. However, they were getting carved up long before those absences took their toll.
Ryan finished the game with 338 yards and three touchdowns against the Seahawks on Saturday. Seattle sacked Ryan just once through the first three quarters as Atlanta built a 29-13 lead.
Seattle finished the game with three sacks. Michael Bennett, Ahtyba Rubin and Frank Clark each recorded one sack of Ryan. Clark's sack resulted in a forced fumble that Seattle couldn't recover.
Whether it was a standard four-man rush, or when Seattle elected to bring blitzes, the Falcons managed to protect Ryan long enough to beat a struggling Seahawks' defense. Atlanta had an answer for everything the Seahawks threw at them. Without a pass rush to disrupt that offense, Seattle was dead in the water.
3. Russell Wilson had several missed opportunities.
Wilson was far from the reason Seattle lost to the Falcons. However, he did miss a few chances for big plays with throws that were off target.
Wilson missed Doug Baldwin in the end zone for a touchdown when Baldwin had beat cornerback Robert Alford in man-to-man coverage. The miss forced Seattle to settle for a field goal and a 10-7 lead instead of a 14-7 lead.
Wilson later overthrew Baldwin again deep down the middle of the field with Seattle trailing the Falcons 29-13 early in the fourth quarter (pictured above). The Seahawks later had to punt on the drive as they began to run out of time.
It's been a difficult seasons for Wilson. Despite throwing for a career-high in yards, It was easily the worst year he's had from a production standpoint since his rookie season in 2012. Wilson accuracy was lacking at times as he fought to play through three separate injuries this year.
Wilson looked as close to fully healthy as he's been all year against the Falcons on Saturday. He was able to run and evade pressure more effectively. Shedding his knee brace a week ago seems to have helped as well.
Nevertheless, his touchdowns were down, his interceptions were up, his rushing yards were way down and his passer rating was the lowest of his five-year career.
4. Offensive line needs help.
If you're expecting a complete rebuild on Seattle's offensive line, you aren't going to get it.
That doesn't mean the group doesn't need some work this offseason.
It's certainly no secret that Seattle had the lowest paid offensive line in the league. While that fact alone doesn't speak to the ability of the group on the field, it does highlight the necessity of going cheap on the offensive line to pay other parts of the roster.
Justin Britt, Germain Ifedi and Mark Glowinski will probably all three be back as starters next season. However, the tackle position is going to need some bolstering.
George Fant is a player Seattle had a ton of faith in as a long-term prospect. However, they can't be limited to not having any other options at left tackle besides Fant should he continue to have growing pains next year.
Depth is also an issue. When Ifedi went down with a high-ankle sprain, Rees Odhaimbo replaced him at right guard. Odhiambo has little guard experience and most of that limited experience comes on the left side of the line.
Seattle's line actually performed quite well in the early stages of the game against at Atlanta. But once Ifedi was lost to injury, the Seahawks had more mistakes up front and the running game evaporated.
It will be a continued area of concern for Seattle heading into the offseason.
5. Paul Richardson has been a welcome revelation.
The season-ending injury to Tyler Lockett in Week 16 forced the Seahawks to elevate Paul Richardson into a more prominent role as the playoffs began.
In the last four games, Richardson caught 15 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He caught at least three passes in each of the four games, made contested catches for Wilson and flashed a confidence that hasn't been seen through most of his first three seasons in the league.
Part of the issue with that has been Richardson's numerous injuries which have kept him from making a bigger impact at this point in his career. However, the finish to the 2016 season gives Seattle a strong sense of what Richardson could potentially provide in a bigger role next year.
A trio of Baldwin, Lockett and Richardson could become Seattle's primary personnel package next year with Jermaine Kearse - who had just one catch for 8 yards against Atlanta - moving into a lesser role.
If Richardson can stay healthy, he might be a nice boost for the offense next year.