During a slow news week such as this, it's good that there was a Seattle Seahawks victory Sunday, Oct. 31, so that editors around the world would have something to play on page one Monday morning. The main news value, as local partisans know, is that the Hawks until Halloween hadn't notched a victory for 35 days, a minor eternity even by the standards of the seven-month National Football League spectacle. Indeed, the regular season is so epic in its span that a given cast of gridiron characters can offer more plot turns than a synopsis of Desperate Housewives.
The same was true of the recent game, a page-turner with a happy ending. The scoreboard indicated that the Hawks beat last year's Super Bowl loser, the Carolina Panthers, but the less-than-bet-spread 23-17 score scarcely tells all. It was a struggle, and partisans weren't of a mind to light the victory cigars even after Marcus Trufant picked off a pass when it was 23-10 during the 56th minute of the game. Yet to transpire during the hand-wringing closing minutes: an unsuccessful Hawk field goal attempt (after a bad hold), a Panther touchdown, and, with 1:39 remaining, a Carolina onside kick recovered by Seattle. The home team had eight big-gain plays (10 to 38 yards) in the first half alone, but a pair of Hawk turnovers kept Carolina and its spirited quarterback, Jake Delhomme, engaged in the game, the Panthers trailing 14-7 at half.
Seattle's pass attack seemed more reliable than it had been, with Darrell Jackson bringing down six of Matt Hasselbeck's 14 first-half completions. Dropped balls continued to be the season's major annoyance, with Jackson and Heath Evans mishandling catchable passes. Hasselbeck's love affair with the fan base clearly is over. His drive-breaking intercepted pass near the end of the second quarter brought a crescendo of boos, and not the Halloween kind. It came with the Hawks up 14-7 against the injury-riddled Panthers (1-5 coming in). Seattle, welcoming back recovered bad-dude linebacker Chad Brown, also lost three key players early; Jerry Rice and Steve Hutchinson had ankle sprains after back-up back Maurice Morris went out with a concussion on the opening play.
The "a win is a win" adage is satisfactory for the time being. At 4-3, the Hawk team we once thought of as a championship contender probably projects to a 10-6 season: good enough for the playoffs. Still, the impressive Seattle club that won its first three games would have beaten Carolina more convincingly than what we witnessed at Qwest Field. A road game against the 49ers Nov. 7 once would have seemed a near-certain win for the talent-laden Hawks. Now it's probably a toss-up for a Seattle eleven that ventures onto the road with about the same success rate as the typical opossum. The San Francisco date is followed by a St. Louis tiff with the Rams team that started Seattle's descent to NFL mediocrity after the infamous overtime disaster Oct. 10.
Maybe a 6-10 year is just as realistic a prediction. The Hawks are weak in some key areas, special teams among the most obvious. Inadequate kickoff coverage routinely yields great field position for opponents, putting more pressure on a defense backed by a secondary that has trouble covering long passes. On offense, Shaun Alexander (195 yards on 32 carries with three pass receptions) was in Pro Bowl form against Carolina, and Koren Robinson miraculously didn't drop the three balls that came his way. Bloggers who spotted what they believe was an electronic device hidden under the jacket of a certain recent debate participant suspect KoRob may have wrapped his palms with double-sided carpet tape, but it remains unproven.
Seattle coaches let out relieved sighs as they basked briefly in the game's glowing aftermath; none basked long enough to risk skin inflammation. They know that much needs to be done. Many Hawks performed well against Carolina, and play calling was good enough to give Seattle a huge possession-time advantage. But the late mistakes could have been fatal.
coach mike Holmgren alluded to the loss to the Rams, citing Carolina's late charge as threatening to be "déjà vu all over again, holy Toledo." (Well, "holy St. Louis," when you think about it, but the point is taken.) He was happy the offense was "better on third down" and he noted the "short field" Carolina enjoyed as a result of poor Seattle special-teams play. "We'll continue to coach it and pound it home," he said of the team's lapses, including the secondary giving up long bombs, such as the Carolina play late in the game.
Holmgren then pronounced himself to be at peace with his team, vowing as a result of the victory to meet his family to enjoy an after-game repast without "being a jerk like I have been" after the recent losses. We jackals of the press naturally seized upon the "jerk" remark because it takes one to know one. My response: If all it takes is winning to keep the coach from being a desperate househusband, here's to many more happy post-game meals for the Holmgrens.