Home Again

To make the playoffs, the Seahawks need to get this show on the road.

WHEN THE SEAHAWKS beat up Cleveland 34-7 at home Sunday, Nov. 30, the lopsided triumph played as something of a lobotomy applied to the collective memory of a city with little aside from the NFL to occupy fans' minds. Brain surgery was (as a certain Baltimore bard might have written) "never more" appropriate as treatment.

It took a week, in other words, for Seahawk partisans to put aside the Poe-cursed premature burial Nov. 23 of the Baltimore Ravens, who somehow rose like surviving night creatures in a horrific Michael Jackson video (or sleepover) to deal Seattle its worst road disaster since the Mercer Street Mess. All last week, playoff-hopeful fans struggled to stop thinking about how the Seahawks could give one back with a 17-point lead late in another winnable road game. To blame, it was said, was the absence of a Seattle pass rush and a secondary that was truly second to everyone. The Seahawk defense gave up 44 points to a Raven "attack" that had generated just two field goals the week before.

How? By watching rather than playing. Staring at the Seahawks "D" through four hours of futility, I couldn't remember having seen so much standing around since the time I was roped by my kid's middle school into chaperoning an after-school "dance."

Shawn Springs, as usual, watched a great game in Baltimore. A master of on-field detachment, the one-time mediocre cornerback no doubt will make a terrific game analyst when he retires.

In fairness, Springs, though he didn't start against Cleveland, made a few good plays this time. And some suppose that a thumping of the Browns (now 4-8 with an offense as prosaic as their nickname) makes everything all better for the Seahawks (now 8-4, in second place behind the 9-3 Rams). A quick peek at the schedule reveals otherwise. Were I a betting man (and I haven't been since, with seven minutes left against Baltimore, I announced that "even the Seahawks couldn't piss this one away"), I'd give you whatever you like that Seattle loses to the Vikings or Rams or both.

WILL THEY MISS the playoffs? Maybe, but even if the Seahawks make it to the postseason, they'll probably be consigned to road gamesgame, that is. That would present a strategic problem Paul Bremer himself might find unenviable. Even granting faint praise for the second-week 38-zip comedic fluke against the awful Cardinals in Arizona, one must note that Seattle, while undefeated at home, has blown four straight games against average talent on the road for a 1-4 mark. There simply isn't another probable NFC playoff team (Rams, Panthers, Eagles, Vikings, Cowboys) the current Seahawk defense seems capable of stoppingat home, let alone on the road.

Unless luck goes their way. Given enough possessions per game (the kind that come from fortuitous turnovers), the offense looks good for 30-plus points against any defense. The fully matured Matt Hasselbeck has manifest options just about every play. He's finding second- and third-choice receivers (Mack Strong, for example, against Cleveland's well- regarded defense) with regularity now, to a point at which the impressive running game has become something of an afterthought for cerebral puppet master Mike Holmgren (if 157 ground yards against Cleveland can be characterized as an afterthought). The coach has said he realizes Hasselbeck has made the metamorphosis from ventriloquist's dummy to "real quarterback," a conclusion reached more than a year ago by many who now mention No. 8 as a league MVP candidate. A typical display of the QB's ability came with a minute-something left in the first quarter Sunday. On third and long, Hasselbeck (8 for 11 for 125 yards that quarter; 26 for 35 and 338 for the game) sent a missile up the right sideline, perfectly leading Koren Robinson for 27 yards.

The Seahawks' problem, thenand it requires no Ray Rhodes scholar to discernis a defense that alleged genius Rhodes was supposed to imbue with brilliance. Injuries (the physical ones, not the mental lapses evident against Baltimore, Washington, and Cincinnati) haven't helped. Then again, what club gets through the season devoid of dings?

TO HAVE CHANCES to win in Minnesota and/or St. Louis, the Seahawk secondary will need to tighten its slack coverage, and the front guys on defense will have to manhandle the quarterbacks. Neither prospect seems likely. Nor can it be avoided that the Vikings and Rams are a combined 10-2 at home.

A reasonable guess is that Seattle beats Arizona at home Dec. 21 to go 9-6, then catches the by-then-hopeless 49ers on their heels, winning Dec. 28 in San Francisco to finish 10-6. A nine-win season could get Seattle to the postseason, but unless your general practitioner is a neurosurgeon, you probably remember that such a finish doesn't exactly guarantee a playoff berth, much less a Super Bowl.


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