MIKE HOLMGREN'S 10th and final season as coach of the Seahawks is turning out to be memorable, but not for reasons he or anyone else associated with the Seattle organization imagined at the start of the year. Widely regarded as preseason front-runners to win a fifth consecutive NFC West title, the Seahawks are 1--5 and in last place in the division. Only one other Holmgren-led team has started as badly in his 17 years as a coach of the Packers and the Seahawks, and there's little reason to believe things will improve dramatically.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has missed two straight games with a bad back, and the receiving corps has absorbed so many bumps, bruises, tears, fractures and separations that Holmgren doesn't have enough fingers to count all the players who have lined up at the position. Seattle has dressed 11 wideouts this season, including two from the practice squad and one who was out of football at the start of the year.
The game on Sunday in Tampa marked the first time this season that the Seahawks started the same two receivers in back-to-back games, not that it helped much with Hasselbeck on the sideline. They spotted the Bucs a 17--0 lead and passed for only 73 yards in the 20--10 defeat. In the past three games—all losses, each with a different starting quarterback (Hasselbeck, Charlie Frye, Seneca Wallace)—Seattle had 281 passing yards, the lowest three-game total of Holmgren's career. "This is teaching me a lot of humility," says the 60-year-old Holmgren, who announced last January that 2008 would be his final season. "We'll just keep pushing to get things right."
If the club fails to turn things around, might the proud and competitive Holmgren rethink his intention of stepping away from the game? The Seahawks already have said assistant coach Jim Mora will take over in 2009, but other jobs figure to come open in the off-season, possibly even in Holmgren's hometown of San Francisco, where he was a 49ers assistant from 1986 through '91. "What I'm thinking about right now is trying to turn this around," says Holmgren. So he hasn't changed his mind? "Maybe in eight or nine weeks you can take another trip up here [and ask]."
It's hard to tell if he was kidding, but no one is laughing about the situation at receiver, which was looking dark even before the season. Deion Branch tore his ACL in last year's playoffs and was still rehabbing in training camp; his only appearance this season came in the 44--6 drubbing by the Giants in Week 5. The No. 2 guy, Bobby Engram, broke his shoulder in August and also didn't return until the Giants game (nevertheless, his nine receptions lead Seattle wideouts). Backup Ben Obomanu was placed on IR in the preseason after breaking his clavicle; No. 3 receiver Nate Burleson joined him there after tearing his ACL in the opener. Reserve Logan Payne went on IR on Sept. 15, after his second career start. Journeyman Billy McMullen was the latest casualty, fracturing his pinkie in practice last week.
G.M. Tim Ruskell is at a loss to explain the misfortune. One fan isn't. "A lady called and said, 'You guys need to get four pastors over there because you made a fundamental mistake when you moved in [to the team's new training facility last summer],'" Ruskell says. "She said, 'You didn't bless the lands.' Typically you'd say, please. But now I'm thinking, let's look into it."
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