ARLINGTON, Tex. -- The Seahawks top-ranked rushing attack got shut down by the Dallas defense on Saturday night as Seattle's season came to an end with a 24-22 Wild Card loss to the Cowboys.
The Seahawks managed just 73 rushing yards, their lowest output of the season since the opener in Denver. It was also just the second time the first two weeks of the season that Seattle was held under 100 rushing yards.
While the Seahawks struggled to run the ball, Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys did not. Elliott gashed the Seahawks for 137 yards on 26 carries.
"He was the focus all week," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "We knew if we stopped him we had a good chance of winning and some plays got out from us. It was simple things, just easy plays. Just got to fit it up right and tackle well. He had a big game and we came up short."
Dak Prescott provided some key runs as well, including a 16-yard quarterback draw on third-and-14 with 2:33 left to play that all but sealed the victory for Dallas.
It many ways, the loss to the Cowboys was similar to the win over the Carolina Panthers in November. The Panthers held Seattle to just 75 rushing yards that day and the Seahawks had to win the game through the air. And did. Against Dallas, Seattle didn't seem to make that adjustment readily enough and wasn't able to generate enough offense against a strong Cowboys defense.
Here are the takeaways from the 24-22 loss that ended the Seahawks season:
1 Seahawks faced too many third down and then struggled to convert them.
Being able to convert on third down is a common refrain from most football coaches and the ability to keep on third down allows your offense to remain on the field. The Seahawks struggled on third down against Dallas, converting just two of 13 chances on third down with many of those situations coming with a sizable distance left to gain.
"It was a different game for us to play and not being able to move the ball like we want to really is a product of the third down issues we had," head coach Pete Carroll said. "It just didn't come out the way we had planned and so we had to adjust.
"The crux of the matter was third down. You don’t get the third down conversions you don’t get your next shot to call all your stuff. The game plan gets left in the bag a little bit, so that’s just how it always has gone. We just had a hard time on third down."
But it wasn't just that Seattle struggled on third down, it was that they couldn't avoid third down. They faced third down more often than they gained first downs against the Cowboys. Excluding Sebastian Janikowski's miss from 57 yards at the end of the first half that came on first down, the Seahawks had 20 sets of fresh downs in the game against Dallas. They faced third down on 13 of those 20 sets of downs. That's 65 percent of the time they ended up facing a third down of some fashion.
Of those 13 third downs, only three of them were five yards or less. The two third downs Seattle converted were a third-and-3 and third-and-5.
Offenses can make life easier for themselves by converting first downs without facing third downs as often. And while that's a somewhat obvious statement, it can be more difficult to execute at times and that was certainly the case for the Seahawks on Saturday night.
Outside of one 28-yard carry by Rashaad Penny, the Seahawks running backs didn't have a carry gain more than five yards. Chris Carson's longest run was five yards on 13 carries. Mike Davis' longest run was three yards on four carries. When Seattle tried to run, they didn't get anywhere and it forced them into long third downs.
The way Saturday night's game unfolded put some a premium on the third downs they did face and only a few of them were in advantageous situations. It made for a difficult night for Seattle's offense.
2. Seahawks couldn't show down the Cowboys offensive stars.
Ezekiel Elliott gained 137 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Amari Cooper caught seven passes for 106 yards. Dak Prescott was sacked just once and accounted for two touchdowns - one passing, one rushing - in throwing for 225 yards with an interception. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch combined for 17 tackles in shutting down Seattle's run game.
Seattle's defense did a good job of slowing down all for Dallas' supporting cast. However, its biggest stars did all the damage necessary to send the Seahawks home for the rest of the postseason.
"We knew it was going to be that kind of ballgame," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "It was going to be a defensive matchup. We knew there was a chance we might be out there on the field a lot, and so we tried to make as many plays as we possibly could. At the end of the day, we didn’t execute as long as we should have. And it cost us."
The Seahawks made their errors in the game defensively. They could only get to Prescott for one sack in the game. They lost contain on Elliott on a third-and-1, allowing a 44-yard run that led to a touchdown prior to halftime. A pair of critical pass interference calls against K.J. Wright and Justin Coleman on third downs allowed Dallas to stay on the field on their final possession of significance. And yet after all that, Seattle could have forced a field goal to keep it a six-point game with just over two minutes to play. Instead, Prescott's quarterback draw and subsequent 1-yard touchdown served as the back-breakers for Seattle.
"It definitely hurt," Wagner said. "You put yourself in a good position. You figure they were going to pass the ball and they did a QB draw. It was a great play, a great call."
The bend-don't break defense Seattle has played most of the season showed to have too many cracks Saturday against the Cowboys on Saturday night.
3. Tyler Lockett polishes off a tremendous season with another big game.
Lockett caught four passes for 120 yards in a losing effort to Dallas, but he helped get a dormant offense sparked in the first half.
After going three-and-out on each of their three drives in the first quarter, Lockett caught a 40-yard strike from Wilson to Lockett off play-action set up Seattle's opening field goal of the game.
Then a 25-yard rainbow from Wilson to Lockett moved the Seahawks into scoring position again to set up a second Janikowski field goal. The catch itself was stellar as he stabbed the ball out of the air with one hand before being able to secure it with both hands as he fell to the ground.
He added a 53-yard catch in the closing minutes as Seattle attempted a frenzied rally from a 10-point deficit with two minutes left to play.
The emergence of Lockett as a highly productive receiver this season is one of the biggest stories of the year for the Seahawks. He neared 1,000 yards during the regular season and scored 10 touchdowns. Russell Wilson had a perfect passer rating this season when targeting Lockett.
“I think Tyler Lockett might be the best of the receivers I’ve ever seen come through here. His mindset and the way he looks at the game, his perspective on life, has allowed him to approach the game in such a way that he is arguably one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient receiver in the NFL.,” said fellow receiver Doug Baldwin after the game.
Two years removed from a broken leg, it's a tremendous accomplishment for Lockett. And with Baldwin slowed most of the season due to injuries, Lockett helped carry Seattle's passing attack all season long.
4. K.J. Wright had a massive game in what may end up being his last as a Seahawk.
K.J. Wright had nine tackles and an interception in the final game of his eighth seasons with the Seahawks. With Wright scheduled to be a free agent in March, it could be the last time Wright suits up for Seattle.
"I want to end my career as a Seahawk," Wright said. "Business happens. It's whatever they want to do. If they want to make it happen, they can.
"It just feels like I'm going to hit the market. It's my first time. I've never went through it before. We've just got to see. I don't know what's going to happen. We just got to see when that time comes. I think it would be in their best interests if I'm here."
Wright's presence was noticeable on Saturday night. Or maybe it was just a realization of how significant his absence had been for most the year.
Wright appeared in just five regular season games due to a knee injury that required surgery in August and led to two lengthy stints on the sidelines. He played the final two games of the regular season and looked back to his old form in Dallas.
Wright's interception of Prescott in the fourth quarter had the chance to be the play of the game for Seattle if they had rallied to win. The Cowboys led 17-14 and were pushing for more points after a 51-yard punt return by Tavon Austin gave Dallas prime field position. Instead, Wright deflected a pass from Prescott to Noah Brown and hauled in the loose ball to turn away the Cowboys and keep it a three-point game.
"It was the same play as last week," Wright said of Larry Fitzgerald's touchdown the week before. "Arizona ran the fake crack-and-go. It's a copy-cat league. They stole the play from last week and I just sniffed it out and we needed that. That was a pivotal turnover for us."
Seattle's offense would response with a three-and-out expedited by a holding penalty on Justin Britt and unnecessary roughness on D.J. Fluker. But Wright's play kept Seattle in the game early in the fourth quarter and gave them the chance to do something about it even if it went unfulfilled.
Now Wright faces the reality that his time in Seattle could be over. He's expressed a desire to live in Seattle beyond his playing days regardless of what happens moving forward. It's a place he doesn't want to leave.
"The money isn't an issue, it's just having to leave," Wright said.
Wagner also lobbied to make Wright is back with the team next year. It's a stance he's held all year.
"I hope it's not my last game with K.J.," Wagner said. "I hope the team does the right thing and brings him back. He's been a staple of this defense, he's been a consistent person. Not only just person, but teammate, man, brother. He's been very, very consistent and did it right. He didn't hold out. He stayed and came and did everything right so in my world you've got to reward that. But it's business at the end of the day."
Photo Credit: ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 05: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys breaks a tackle attempt by Shaquill Griffin #26 of the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter during the Wild Card Round at AT&T Stadium on January 05, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)