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The Seahawks have arrived. Sort of. Thanks to the largesse of their billionaire owner, Paul Allen, this season the team is flying on the most luxurious charter aircraft in professional sports. Last Saturday, bound for Phoenix and an NFC West clash with the Cardinals, the Seahawks traveled in a 757 with 105 easy chairs, satellite TVs with a remote control for every four seats and food to die for. Finally, the players thought, they were getting some respect. And if they continue to play as they did on Sunday, the Seahawks can expect more royal treatment.
After their 38-0 whitewashing of the embarrassingly bad Cardinals at an almost-empty Sun Devil Stadium, the 2-0 Seahawks clearly are a team to be reckoned with—and easily the best of the five squads that coach Mike Holmgren has fielded. On defense this team has a nasty edge, thanks to new coordinator Ray Rhodes and a bunch of players who fly to the ball. Seattle can score, too, as evidenced by the 65 points it piled up in two so-so efforts. And the chemistry is better than it's been on some of Holmgren's previous clubs, provided wideout Koren Robinson doesn't screw it up. Robinson, a third-year receiver with 100-catch potential, was suspended by Holmgren and didn't play on Sunday. According to a club source, Robinson was late to at least two recent team meetings. The maddening thing, the source says, is that the wideout was in the facility in time for the meetings but dawdled and walked in late. By Saturday, Holmgren decided that he'd had enough. "Koren's a wonderful kid, and I really do like him," he says, "but he does dumb stuff sometimes. I don't have two sets of rules."
Nine months ago Holmgren wasn't sure he'd be coaching these Seahawks. After four seasons with only one playoff appearance, club president Bob Whitsitt told Holmgren that he was going to take away his general manager's title. Holmgren and his wife, Kathy, talked about the situation, and he decided to stay. "I love this team," Holmgren said on Sunday. "As soon as I put my ego aside and said I could live with a general manager, I was happy and looking forward to the year."
Seattle brought in Bob Ferguson as its new G.M., but Holmgren still has the final call on personnel matters. He made two great decisions early this year. First he hired Rhodes, the acerbic former head coach who most recently had a crummy two-year run as the Broncos' defensive coordinator. On Sunday the Seahawks forced six turnovers, increasing their league-leading total to 10. "He's the single reason we're so much better," linebacker Chad Brown says. Holmgren's second key move came on draft day, when he picked up a pair of defensive backs with his first two selections, Washington State corner Marcus Trufant and Arkansas free safety Ken Hamlin.
On the first play from scrimmage on Sunday, Hamlin blasted Cardinals wideout Bryant Johnson, forcing a fumble that Trufant returned 31 yards to the Arizona six, setting up Seattle's first touchdown. Two series later Hamlin launched himself into wideout Anquan Boldin; the ball popped into the air and Brown intercepted. "Hits like that are the greatest thing in football" said Hamlin, who got his first NFL interception on Arizona's final snap. "What an adrenaline rush."
Minutes after the Panthers' 12-9 overtime upset of the Buccaneers on Sunday, the visitors' locker room at Raymond James Stadium was abuzz, particularly in the corner where Carolina's defensive linemen dress. They had backed up the preseason boast of defensive tackle Brentson Buckner, who said in late July that Carolina's front four was better than the Super Bowl-champion Bucs' vaunted foursome. Inspired by Buckner's bravado, Carolina's unheralded unit bullied the Bucs' offensive line, shutting down the running game (60 yards in 22 carries) and hurrying Brad Johnson into numerous bad throws.
But to win a game that coach John Fox called "a barroom brawl," the Panthers also needed an outstanding special teams performance. John Kasay was perfect on four field goal tries, including the 47-yard game-winner with 3:28 left in overtime. Steve Smith's 52-yard punt return, to the Tampa Bay 40, set up the score. The booming punts of Todd Sauerbrun, who last week signed a five-year, $75 million extension that made him the highest-paid punter in NFL history, repeatedly pinned the Bucs deep in their half of the field. And the Panthers blocked three kicks: the first two, by Kris Jenkins and Julius Peppers, on Martin Gramatica field goal attempts, the third on an extra-point try that would have won the game on the last play of regulation. Gramatica hadn't missed a PAT in 129 career attempts until Jenkins broke through the line and blocked his second kick of the day.