The Hollywood ending missed. By an inch. Several times.
The story for Seattle Sunday loomed as a knockout — rookie quarterback, starting first regular-season game of his NFL career, leads Seahawks to game-winning score in final moments.
Instead, the Seahawks were out-Hollywooded by Arizona — derided backup quarterback comes on for injured starter, takes Cardinals 80 yards to score fourth-quarter decider in harrowing 20-16 triumph.
Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals QB with the contract and the experience who was benched for the opener, entered cold and brilliant, smoothly operating a hurry-up offense to hit six of eight passes, including a six-yard touchdown pass with five minutes remaining.
But the drive was sustained by two pass-interference penalties — the big blots on an otherwise splendid day for the Seahawks defense.
It spoiled the debut of the golden child, Russell Wilson, who can’t say he didn’t have his shots at glory — passes into the end zone in the final minute to Doug Baldwin, Braylon Edwards, Sidney Rice and Charly Martin.
“We had four great shots,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We had enough time, we had four passes to be caught. It was that close.
“Every one had a chance. Every one had a tough catch.”
All missed. Maybe they should have given the ball to Leon Washington about 30 yards further back.
His kick returns — 82 yards on a kickoff, 52 on a punt — helped the Seahawks break from first-half doldrums. But it what happened thereafter identified the difference in the game, not necessarily the events of the final minute.
Three times they began drives inside the Arizona 35-yard line, three times they came away with field goals.
“We didn’t take advantage of those opportunities,” Carroll said. “We did what we wanted to do with the defense, our special teams were good, we got the running game going, but today it was not enough.
“We needed to find a way to make that last catch, that last throw, that last block.”
That may well happen later in the season, but those virtues in the opener weren’t there in a three-point first half, and visible only fleetingly in the second half. The reason was the rookieness of Wilson and right guard J.R. Sweezy, who began their careers on the NFL road against a defense that mixes its looks and stunts as well as any in the NFL.
Seattle fans can take solace from the fact the Seahawks nearly won a game in which the rookies will never be so raw again. Wilson even grew within with the game as he felt sufficiently comfortable to go downfield.
And they did it without Russell Okung, the left tackle who limped off the field in the drive with a damaged right knee. Little-used newcomer Frank Omiyale subbed in, and the Seahawks will await word on the big man’s injury fate for the third time in his misbegotten career.
In the final drive,Wilson hit seven of his first nine passes — including a 15-yard completion on third-and-14 to a fellow rookie, Charly Martin — before the first of two Arizona pass interference penalties gave the Seahawks a first down at the Arizona 13 with 52 seconds left.
But that’s when the shortened field takes its toll on inexperience. His final five passes fell incomplete, the drive preserved only by the second PI penalty, this one on Arizona DB William Gay for a first down at the Arizona 4.
Wilson, who finished 18 for 34 for 153 yards, a TD and a pick, knows he’s still opening the college physics book in the middle. This is the NFL, where rookie starters don’t have the luxury of beginning at the beginning.
“I have to go through my reads quicker, that’s the main thing,” he said. “In the red zone, the windows are a lot shorter, and I have to be smarter.
“I felt great about the opportunities we had. We just fell short. The defense and special teams did a great job helping us out.”
In fact, that was how Carroll had scripted the 2012 season: Defense first, running game and special teams second, offense third. The script ran close to reality in the opener.
Go back to the first possession, when a 50-yard field goal was short because an Arizona defender put a finger on the kick. Make that field goal, and the Seahawks need only a field goal on the final drive, not a miracle touchdown drive of 80 yards from a rookie QB that was four yards short.
As always in close games, the if/then situations are many that decide outcomes. But the takeaway in from this one is that the “if” is no longer around Wilson, only the when.