Seahawks Shake Off the Bird Flu

And at 9-2, they seem comfortably bound for the NFL playoffs.

Mike Holmgren, impresario of perhaps the Seattle Seahawks' most significant regular-season triumph ever, characterized the 24-21 defibrillator-breaking overtime victory against the New York Giants Sunday, Nov. 27, as "entertaining." It's believed that, upon completing the boat tour below Niagara Falls, Hawks coach Holmgren pronounced the experience "damp." An audience with the Pope was "neat." Dinner at the French Laundry was "tasty."

But he could be forgiven for understatement during the numbing aftermath of a game that had every dramatic possibility of a season at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, including the dull parts. Indeed, for a game with a final 24 minutes to rival the ending episode of 24, this one started as if the nation's first-known cases of avian flu had surfaced at Qwest Field. The local blue birds showed typical symptoms: lethargy, apathy, and plenty of aches and pains. They weren't, however, dead yet. The Hawks just looked that way for much of a game that, with victory, gives them a 9-2 record and puts Seattle at the threshold of a second-straight division title. Home-field advantage, the equivalent of inoculation against early NFL playoff death, would belong to the conference-leading Hawks if a few simple "ifs" break their way.

The 7-4 Giants, if they read the Sunday New York Times, may have thought they'd actually overflown the West Coast and landed in bird-flu-bitten Asia. Perhaps with fresh memories of the president's recent yak-and-yurt tour of Mongolia, the Times reporter alleged that Seattle is "far from the epicenter of sports hysteria" and, quoting Holmgren, tantamount to "Siberia" in the minds of many. Maybe he has something. Many have believed that some future Siberia NFL franchise is more likely to win a playoff game than the Hawks, who last did so in 1984.

The victory against the Giants appeared doubtful much of the way, with the Seattle offense looking more like the league's worst than the best. The most effective local "player" during one second-quarter Giant possession was the home crowd, the din of which helped prompt five false-start penalties during a nine-play stretch, possibly a league standard for collective deafness. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (21 for 37, 249 yards, two TDs, one interception) had trouble finding receivers. Shaun Alexander's 16 first-half rushing yards (he'd finish with 110) were nothing compared with a Giants offense that put up 490 total yards for the game, a season high against the Seattle defense.

The fourth quarter found the Hawks eating much of the clock before scoring to make it 21-13 with four minutes and change remaining. But the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning (29 for 53 for 344 yards) tied it and almost won. The overtime period nearly defied description ("entertaining" is the best anybody can do), although it suggested that a game supposedly about running and passing really is about challenging referee decisions and trying to kick a field goal. Josh Brown's 36-yarder with 2:49 left in overtime ended it; New York's Jay Feely blew three that would've won.

"I think you need a little luck to go your way," Holmgren supposed afterward, though having wideout Joe Jurevicius can't hurt, since he caught eight passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns: indispensable and, of course, entertaining.

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