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Improvement on the road
MINNEAPOLIS – At the final glance, it was just another preseason loss where the Seahawks couldn’t hold a lead in the fourth quarter.
But take a closer look at the Seahawks’ 24-13 setback to the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field on Saturday night – a Vikings team that came oh-so-close to winning the NFC last season, when it also slapped a 35-9 loss on the Seahawks here in November.
Coach Pete Carroll did, and he liked a lot of what he saw.
Like the 86-yard interception return by rookie free safety Earl Thomas for the game’s first touchdown. Or, the poise under pressure displayed by Matt Hasselbeck in quarterbacking the No. 1 offense to a pair of Olindo Mare field goals. Or, the defense coming up with two more turnovers – an interception by cornerback Marcus Trufant and a fumble-forcing sack of Brett Favre by defensive end Chris Clemons – and a goal-line stand. Or, Jon Ryan continuing his impressive summer by averaging 55.2 yards on six punts.
It’s those elements that the Seahawks can build on as they move closer to their Sept. 12 regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Qwest Field.
The bottom line, of course, is that the Seahawks are now 1-2 and close out their preseason on Thursday night against the Raiders in Oakland.
But in the longest stint of the preseason for the starters, Carroll saw more that pleased him and less that prompted him to moan oh please.
“We played real solid for three quarters,” Carroll said. “The ball was loose a lot tonight, so I’m really pleased with that.”
The most obvious play was turned in by a player the Seahawks selected with the 14th pick in April’s NFL draft to make exactly the kind of play he turned in during the second quarter. Cornerback Josh Wilson batted a Favre pass into the air, Thomas gathered it in and used an impressive display of speed to get into the end zone.
“I just get the ball and go,” Thomas said. “It felt like Pop Warner, where you just throw your head back and run.
“The corner made a great play. He tipped it up and the ball was in the air long enough for me to get under it and make a play.”
Almost as impressive was the way Hasselbeck handled a Vikings’ pass rush that led the league in sacks last season, especially considering that Mansfield Wrotto was making his first NFL start at tackle for injured first-round draft choice Russell Okung and Mike Gibson was making his first NFL start – period – for injured left guard Ben Hamilton.
Hasselbeck countered most of what the Vikings threw at him by rolling out, displayed good movement in the pocket and getting the ball out quickly to his receivers in completing eight of his 12 passes in the first half for 84 yards.
“I thought Matt was just stellar,” Carroll said. “I didn’t think he had any issues at all. I thought he handled it, and we had a number of protections issues going on tonight.”
Hasselbeck returned the compliment after finishing 9 of 17 for 126 yards – including a 42-yarder to Deion Branch.
“Pete has done a great job of really changing our mindset when we go on the road,” said Hasselbeck, well aware the team was 1-7 away from Qwest Field last season. “Understanding how to handle what we’re really up against when we’re on the road.
“If anything, I think we proved to ourselves things that have really been annoying issues on the road in the past are nothing we need to worry about because we kind of dealt with it and we know how to handle it.”
Problem areas persist, of course. The running game averaged only 2.9 yards on 15 carries; the Seahawks converted only two of 15 third-down situations; and the reserves let a lead slip away for the second time in eight days as the Vikings scored 14 fourth-quarter points.
“We have a ways to go,” Carroll said. “But this was a successful trip. There were a lot of positive things, a lot of good things. I pleased we went on the road and responded like this.”