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Monday Metatarsal Musings
For much of the first half, Sunday’s game had the feel of Steve Largent’s final game as a Seahawk.
You remember. The future Hall of Fame wide receiver was retiring as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown passes. The fans at the Kingdome gave him a boisterous pre-game ovation, only to have the Seahawks get shutout by the Washington Redskins 29-0 on that December Saturday afternoon in 1989.
Sunday, the Seahawks were adding the retired jersey of future Hall of Fame left tackle Water Jones to that of Largent at Qwest Field, and they fell behind 14-0 to the one-win Carolina Panthers faster than anyone could mutter déjà vu.
A closer look at the NFC West as the Seahawks and their division rivals head into the final four games of the regular season:
Rams: at Saints (9-3), vs. Chiefs (8-4), vs. 49ers (4-8), at Seahawks (6-6)
49ers: vs. Seahawks (6-6), at Chargers (6-6), at Rams (6-6), vs. Cardinals (3-9)
Cardinals: vs. Broncos (3-9), at Panthers (1-11), vs. Cowboys (4-8), at 49ers (4-8).
Then came the ceremony to honor Jones at the two-minute warning in the first half. What followed was the kind of tribute Jones deserved – and flurry of points the Seahawks needed in a game they could not afford to lose.
Olindo Mare kicked a field goal in the closing seconds of the first half. Matt Hasselbeck engineered a 96-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. Three plays later, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu returned an interception for a touchdown. Six plays later, Leon Washington returned a punt 84 yards to setup a second 1-yard scoring run by Marshawn Lynch.
From pew to phew, in roughly 9½ minutes.
The Seahawks’ 31-14 victory, coupled with the St. Louis Rams’ win over the Arizona Cardinals, set up a December to remember in the NFC West that likely will spill over to the regular-season finale between the Seahawks and Rams at Qwest Field on Jan. 2.
The Seahawks face a pair of tough tasks in their final four games – hosting the 10-2 Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 19 and making a Christmas weekend trip to Tampa to face the 7-5 Buccaneers. The Rams play the 9-3 Saints in New Orleans this week and host the 8-4 Kansas City Chiefs next week.
Their third games are against the same opponent – the 49ers, the trendy preseason pick to win the division. The Seahawks play them in San Francisco this week; the Rams host them Dec. 26.
So the Seahawks and Rams could enter that final game at Qwest with 7-8 records. The winner would take the division title, and home playoff game that goes with it. The Rams currently hold the tiebreaker, because of their Week 4 win over the Seahawks in St. Louis.
“It is December, isn’t it?” veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy said after Sunday’s game, when asked about the importance of rallying to beat the Panthers.
“This game definitely matters. With how we played the last couple of weeks, we’re still on top in a tie for the division lead. So in order to stay in the race, you have to win. If you don’t win, you don’t have a shot. Ultimately, we get the Rams at our place and it’ll mean something. That’s when it gets fun.”
Regardless of record or reputation.
“At the end, the records don’t matter, as long as you get in that tournament,” Milloy said. “We’re just fortunate to have a chance at this point and it’s up to us to do something about it.”
With that said, here’s a look at three things the Seahawks can build on heading into this week’s game against the 49ers, as well as three things that still need work:
Three steps forward
One. The running game. After rushing for 20, 58, 49 and 47 yards in their most recent losses, the Seahawks went for a season-high 161 against the Panthers. Justin Forsett averaged 10 yards on six carries, while Lynch had 83 yards on 21 carries and the first three-TD performance of his career.
Or did he? “I only scored twice,” Lynch said. “Justin got one of them; they just didn’t throw their hands up for it.”
Lynch was referring to Forsett getting oh-so-close to scoring on the drive that led to Mare’s field goal. The Beast Mode back also stressed that “my boys up front” deserved “big ups” for their part in the unleashing Lynch’s inner-Beast.
Case in point: On Lynch’s 1-yard scoring runs, the plays were designed to go to the right side, but he cutback to use a path provided by left guard Mike Gibson.
“With the way the defense played, it allowed the cutback so he could run behind me and Russ (left tackle Russell Okung),” Gibson said. “So the way it opened was the guys on the right side did a really good job to open it up on the backside.
“It’s a great feeling. It takes all 11 of us to make it happen, and everybody made it happen today.”
Two. All hands on deck. In the second half, the passing game was left with only three wide receivers – Brandon Stokley, Deon Butler and Golden Tate. That’s because leading receiver Mike Williams went out on the Seahawks’ third play of the game with a sprained left ankle and Ben Obomanu, the other starter, joined him in the second quarter because of a laceration on his right hand. Ruvell Martin and starting tight end John Carlson were inactive.
So Hasselbeck went to Stokley (four times for 47 yards), Butler (four for 43), Tate (two for 13) and tight end Cameron Morrah (three for 69).
“I think the biggest challenge for us is knowing who is who in the huddle,” Hasselbeck said of making formation and package adjustments on the fly. “We have all these different personnel groupings, with all these different names: Zebra, Eagle, E, Base, Regular, Tiger, U, Trey, Jumbo. So it’s important to know who you are when you enter the huddle.
“It really is challenging. It may seem simple, but it is challenging and I think the coaches did a nice job communicating and I think our guys – with the help of Brandon Stokley to kind of steady it – helped everyone figure out who they are and what their jobs were on every play.”
Three. Balance. The defense scored. The offense scored. The special teams should have scored, but setup a score. It doesn’t get much better than that.
“We were able to come back in the game and play so well in all phases,” Carroll said. “If it was any one phase then you could say that maybe it was tactical or whatever. But it wasn’t. This was an attitude today. I’m really fired up about it.”
Three things that still need work
One. Better starts on offense. With the Panthers scoring a touchdown on their first possession, they now have 29 first-quarter points. So the Seahawks’ 27 points in the opening quarter are the second fewest in the league – behind the 26 of the New York Jets, who play tonight.
Two. Better starts on defense. The Seahawks have allowed touchdowns on their opponents’ opening possessions three times in the past four games, and they have allowed points in the first two possessions in nine of their 12 games.
Three. Washington’s decision making. His muffed return and then uncertainty with the second half kickoff left the Seahawks to drive 96 yards. His premature celebration allowed the punter to trip him up on his 84-yard return. No one has to remind him, because Washington was beating himself up in the locker room.
Once the self-flogging was complete, he offered a line that deserves repeating, “I guarantee the next time I’m in that position I might do a Forrest Gump and run all the way through the stadium.”