After eight weeks of the season, there's only one thing to say about the Seahawks: They are maddening. That was made clear on Sunday, in a 23--17 win over the Panthers on a gorgeous Pacific Northwest afternoon, because Seattle should have won by 30 points instead of needing an onside kick to bounce its way in the final two minutes.
But this isn't about one game; there is a pattern of up-and-down play. On Oct. 10 the Seahawks were closing in on their fourth straight victory to open the season, leading the Rams 27--10 midway through the fourth quarter, but St. Louis rallied to win in overtime. The following week the Seahawks fell behind early and lost at New England 30--20. Worse, the lowly Cardinals then beat them 25--17, after which coach Mike Holmgren said he was "the most frustrated I've ever been with this team."
The win over the injury-ravaged Panthers didn't do much to calm Holmgren. "Jiminy Christmas!" he said. "If we could just avoid the really, really dumb plays we're making, we could win every game on the rest of our schedule." The epitome of stupidity was a second-quarter interception thrown by Matt Hasselbeck, who admitted, "If I were watching on TV, I'd say, 'That is the dumbest quarterback I've ever seen.'"
He had taken the Seahawks 77 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening drive, 39 yards on the second possession (which ended with wideout Darrell Jackson's fumble) and 94 yards to paydirt on the third drive. At that point Hasselbeck had completed 13 of 15 (with one pass dropped) for 123 yards and a touchdown. After Carolina cut the lead to 14--7, Hasselbeck drove Seattle to the Panthers' seven. On second-and-goal Holmgren, who runs the offense, called for a rollout pass. Speaking to Hasselbeck on the coach-to-quarterback radio system, Holmgren said, "Now don't be careless with the ball here. Throw it away if the play's not there." Hasselbeck found that reminder odd. Of course he wouldn't be careless, especially in the red zone on second down.
Hasselbeck dropped back, but defensive end Julius Peppers broke free and was in his face in a split second. Two thoughts ran through the quarterback's head: Throw the ball low to hot receiver Shaun Alexander, and don't get a penalty for intentional grounding (as he had in the loss to the Patriots). Unable to find Alexander, Hasselbeck recalled, "I tried to sort of jump up and throw it at the feet of a receiver." Problem was, the player he selected, right tackle Floyd (Pork Chop) Womack, wasn't an eligible receiver, and a lunging Peppers affected the path of the throw. The ball went directly to linebacker Brian Allen. The Seahawks never regained control and were outscored 10--9, with three field goals to show for their last seven possessions.
This was Hasselbeck's 46th NFL start, and for Seattle--a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick--to win the NFC West, he can't make mistakes like that. "There is nothing that can be said to me to explain that one," Holmgren said of the ill-advised pass. "Sometimes you have to throw it away and live for another day. Matt at some point will do that."
But Hasselbeck wasn't the only Seahawk who suffered brainlock on Sunday; teammates made three or four other dumb plays, including a blown coverage in the prevent defense that allowed Carolina to complete a 63-yard pass, setting up a touchdown. Thanks to a 195-yard rushing day by Alexander, Seattle (4--3) was able to snap its three-game losing streak and move into a tie with idle St. Louis for the division lead.
A game like that illustrates why Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl as coach of the Packers, is a pedestrian 45--44 in six seasons in Seattle. Most of the pieces are in place for a championship run, but his team will have to play a lot smarter if it hopes to win games in January.