Third and Long

Jerry who? The Seahawks drop the ball again. And again.

Sick jokes about worn-out athletes are part of sports, so when a friend called that day to tell me the talk jocks were reporting the impending Seahawks signing of Jerry Rice, naturally I waited for the rim shot and the smart-ass payoff: "Yeah, and the Mariners are bringing in Nolan Ryan, and the Sonics are talking with Magic Johnson." It was true, of course, the Rice part. At 42 (we know grandparents who are younger), he's thought to represent the oldest player acquisition since Satchel Paige. All week, observers suggested that the guy who caught more balls than G.W. Bush caught breaks would bring with him the mojo potion to fix Seattle's incorrigible receiving contingent. Instead, with 42 seconds left in the first half against Arizona, Rice caught the disease instead of the ball. Everybody seems to need the anti-Seahawk-sickness vaccine now that the once-Super-Bowl-bound team is 3-3.

Three weeks before Sunday, Oct. 24's 25-17 National Football League loss to the Cardinals, you couldn't have found a soul who would have bet the 3-0 Seahawks would wind up even after six games. But the dropped balls of the early games infected the entire offense. Matt Hasselbeck looked ER-ready, putting up numbers that seemed impossible a month ago. He was 14 for 41 for 195 yards and a touchdown, and that was the good part. He also handed it over on four interceptions, looking hapless, helpless, and clueless, and, as always, searching for just one reliable receiver. Darrell Jackson (eight receptions for 117 yards) looked like the guy late in the game, when back-to-back touchdowns put Seattle up 17-16. But Jackson miss-ran routes late in the fourth quarter, and Koren Robinson, as usual, could be counted on to not be counted on when it counted. Yes, KoRob had an athletic catch during the fourth quarter. No, he couldn't pull in a finger grab in the end zone late in the third.

We've come to expect the worst from Robinson. But there are those of us who figured we'd go to our final rewards (or at least to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio) without ever seeing the incomparable Jerry Rice muff a simple sideline pass, as he did Sunday. He managed just one grab, albeit for a rare first-down conversion, his presence stressing the point that the ball club's problem isn't about just one guy. When you lose to Arizona (1-4 at game time) there's plenty of blame to go around, especially when the Hawks kicked off in Tempe knowing that somehow division nemesis St. Louis already had lost to what had been the 0-5 Miami Dolphins. Apologists will note that the Hawk defense went into Arizona banged up and lost linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski during the second half. But the defense (reserve linebacker Tracy White had 13 tackles and a sack) played well enough to win this thing. Oddly, then, it was the healthy offense (Rice, in effect, subbed for injured Bobby Engram) that lost the game. One of Hasselbeck's picks was from a tipped ball, but the others went straight to the wrong guys. Hasselbeck's passer rating for the day was 18.9: about the statistical equivalent of Ralph Nader's poll numbers. But blame extended beyond the playing field.

Anybody ever hear of a guy named Mike Holmgren? Seattle had the ball with eight-something left and a one-point lead. Field position was a problem, but a smart plan might have been to use the West Coast offense the way the Good Lord (which is to say, Holmgren mentor Bill Walsh) intended it. Get four or five yards at a time; move the clock and the chains. Five or six first downs later (improbable in retrospect, since the Hawks had just 12 all day), you're in scoring range and you've exhausted most of the clock. But Coach Holmgren called a long sideline pass to start the possession. Worse still, he wanted it thrown by a QB clearly off his game, to be aimed at Koren Robinson; the reader needn't tax the imagination to guess the result. Two poorly conceived plays later, Seattle had used about enough time to read this sentence. The Hawk punt was blocked and a safety made it 18-17 Cardinals.

"I don't like what I'm seeing," Holmgren said after the game, as though somewhere in what's left of Hawk Nation somebody does. He's always at his worst when he implies that he's some sort of detached, passive observer of Seahawks football. One asks him why, if he doesn't like what he's seeing, he doesn't do something to change it, and he always says he will.

"We had a good week of practice, but we just didn't take what we had in practice onto the field. Right now, we're not playing with a lot of confidence on offense. We weren't good enough today."

Maybe everybody's just really sick. Maybe they'll get well in time for the Halloween homecoming against Carolina. Maybe—wait, we just heard the Hawks might sign Joe Montana.

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