After five straight top-four finishes and three AFL premierships, did the Cats take the Dockers lightly?
Were they guilty of looking too far ahead, rather than focusing on the task at hand?
"The reality is it's incredibly hard to answer those questions, but some of those things could have been factors," Chris Scott, now in his third year as head coach, told AAP.
"The evenness of the competition means those lapses kill you more than they ever have."
The Cats always knew that triple premiership ruckman Brad Ottens was going to leave a huge hole when he retired at the end of the 2011 campaign.
Ditto with the departure of peerless defender Matthew Scarlett 12 months later.
Not to mention midfield maestro Gary Ablett heading to the Gold Coast a couple of years ago.
All three of those areas were addressed by the Cats in an off-season where they changed tack by targeting ready-made players from rival clubs.
In came ruckman Hamish McIntosh from North Melbourne and backman Jared Rivers from Melbourne, while the priority pick gained from the Ablett trade was used to snare homesick midfielder Josh Caddy from the Suns.
Scott readily admits the injury-prone McIntosh is the biggest risk of the trio.
"We didn't give up too much for him and the profile of our list could accommodate him," said Scott.
"If Hamish doesn't work out, we don't feel like we will have lost too much.
"But the upside is that when Hamish plays AFL football he plays it very well."
As do a large number of players on a list still brimming with top-end talent.
The midfield core of skipper Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Steve Johnson and James Kelly is blue-chip.
Harry Taylor, Corey Enright, Andrew Mackie and Tom Lonergan anchor an excellent back half.
And Tom Hawkins came of age as a key forward in 2012, winning All Australian selection and the Cats' best and fairest award.
Just as important for Scott is the number of younger players either now firmly ensconced in his best 22 or knocking hard on the door.
"There are the more established ones like Mitch Duncan and Allen Christensen who have cemented their positions in our best team," said Scott.
"The challenge for them is to go from being good young players to good AFL players, irrespective of their age."
A younger group including the likes of Billie Smedts, Steven Motlop, Jordan Murdoch, George Horlin-Smith and Shane Kersten have also been challenged to make it very hard to leave them out of the senior side.
"We're confident we're in a pretty good place but we're not sitting back saying we have nailed it at this point," said Scott.
"The planning is for 2013 and 2014, but it's as much for the couple of years after that.
"We don't expect to drop off, but we're not saying we're definitely going to be in the top four either."
So back to that shock September loss to Dockers, where the final losing margin of 16 points at the MCG flattered the Cats.
"We were really disappointed in that one game, because it's what you do at the pointy end of the season that counts," said Scott.
"Having said that, we did glean a lot of positives from our performances in 2012."
With the prospect of plenty more positives flowing their way in 2013.