Incomplete Past

They don't deserve it, but the Seahawks still could have a postseason.

The Seattle Seahawks demonstrated Sunday, Dec. 19, during the 37-14 loss to the New York Jets that their receiver can make a catch for a touchdown with one hand but their ball carrier can't run for another with two hands. No hands were clapping as the Hawks kept on pace for an 8-8 season, assuming a split of the remaining home games against opponents bad (Arizona Cardinals) and good (Atlanta Falcons). Yes, and during this season of ties (as sartorial gifts, in gubernatorial races, etc.), the C-Hawks could well win their division and advance to the play-offs with a dead-even record. With the National Football League equivalent of a 2.0 grade-point average that wouldn't get them into a third-tier university, they'd still be good enough for the postseason.

The Hawks figured to lose both of their recent road games, playing their level best the previous week to beat the Vikings in Minnesota. In order to top the offense-heavy Jets, Seattle needed to put up points just about every possession. It started out as a viable idea, with Jerry Rice one-handing a 12-yard Matt Hasselbeck pass to give Seattle an early 7-3 lead. But upon their last chance to score a meaningful TD, the Hawks watched Shaun Alexander somehow slip the ball from his own 10 digits within inches of the goal line. That left it at 30-14 in favor of the Jets with a quarter to go.

The Seahawk defense can't be expected to help the team get deep into the playoffs. Hawk officials cite the proverbial "key injuries," as though Seattle were the only team to sustain personnel loss. As the noted defense and public-relations specialist Donald Rumsfeld has observed: "You go to war in the NFL with the players you have, not the ones you wish you had." Obviously, Hawk coach Mike Holmgren wishes he were at full strength going into the postseason, but wishes (we could quote Bad Santa Billy Bob Thornton on the subject) usually are outweighed by "bleep" that "happens."

Just now the Hawks have a lot of bleep to sort through. Assuming they make it to the postseason, they face extending a record of having not won a playoff game since 1984. The present roster includes a number of key players the team may not be able to re-sign. Holmgren is 48-48 here (you could call it his Christmas tie), including a pair of playoff losses (predecessor Dennis Erickson was 31-33). Mediocre Mike still has his dwindling following among fans and media arbiters, but no one would be surprised if team prez Bob Whitsitt brought in a new top-down coaching crew for next year.

The Hawks actually could have stayed with the Jets were it not for getting chumped on a number of calls. Twice during the first quarter, New York got favorable third-down spots that probably should have led to punting situations (the Jets didn't punt all day). A debatable touchdown call also favored the home team, but homer calls are nothing new to this rivalry. (Seattle fans still seethe about the 1998 decision in which Jet QB Vinny Testaverde was awarded a touchdown, even though he was short of the goal line.) Hasselbeck, bunged up for the umpteenth time this season, was gracious after the latest loss about the bad calls in this and other Hawk games, but Holmgren, still smarting from a phantom touchdown awarded to Dallas Dec. 6, clearly was frustrated about always having to contest both another team and the game officials.

The Jets (10-4) were the superior team, what with a healthy Chad Pennington at quarterback, a Hall of Fame–bound Curtis Martin running the ball and a defense that is everything Seattles' isn't. The Hawks pulled within 10 with a Jerramy Stevens touchdown grab just before the end of the first half, but they couldn't do anything with their first possession of the third quarter, and the game effectively ended with 15 minutes left to play.

Observers everywhere continue to marvel at the National Football Conference West Division, "led" by Seattle at 7-7. (Rival St. Louis is 6-8 with two hard games to play.) Calling Seattle the division's best is like identifying Jeb as the brightest of the Bush brothers. Better teams than the Hawks in other divisions surely will miss the playoffs as Seattle slips in with an inferior record. Maybe it evens out. A 10-6 Seattle team that won its final five games and was playing Super Bowl–caliber ball missed out on the postseason in 1986. It's also worth recalling that the only time the Hawks won a division title (1988) was with a record of just 9-7.

That year, of course, they lost their playoff game, as they're destined to again. A postseason loss would end another year of promise (and promises). It would demonstrate that Seattle is merely the worst team in the playoffs this year, on the one hand. On the other, there's this nagging paradox: Having become the most average of NFL franchises, the unachieving 29-year-old Seattle club historically could be seen as the league's worst.

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