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2002: A season of second chances

Posted Jul 25, 2011

After a 2-6 start, the Seahawks rode Matt Hasselbeck’s arm, Shaun Alexander’s legs and a slew of second-to-none second opportunities to win five of their final eight games.

The Seahawks’ 2002 season, as it turned out, was all about second chances.

From quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Trent Dilfer, to wide receivers Koren Robinson and Bobby Engram, to tackle Chris Terry, to coach Mike Holmgren, to a rundown run defense, to the team’s spiffy new state-of-the-art stadium, mulligans were par for the course.

2002 IN REVIEW

Record: 7-9 (third in NFC West)

Owner: Paul Allen

Coach: Mike Holmgren

Captains: QB Trent Dilfer, C Robbie Tobeck and FB Mack Strong (off.), LB Chad Brown, DT Chad Eaton and FS Marcus Robertson (def.)

MVP: not awarded after 1998

Man of the Year: Dilfer

Largent Award: Strong

Leading passer: Matt Hasselbeck (267 of 419 for 3,075 yards, with 15 TDs and 10 interceptions)

Leading rusher: Shaun Alexander (1,175 yards and 16 TDs)

Leading receiver: Koren Robinson (78 receptions for 1,240 yards)

Leading tackler: SS Reggie Tongue (93)

Special teams tackles: S Terreal Bierria (16)

Interception leader: Tongue (5)

Sack leader: DT John Randle (7)

Leading scorer: Alexander (108)

Pro Bowl selections: LT Walter Jones

All-Pro: none

National honors: none

And the second-chance season was played out in two contrasting parts, as the Seahawks went 2-6 in the first half and 5-3 in the second half – including a three-game winning streak to close things out. But even that telling disparity tells only half the story, if that.

Where to start? Probably with Holmgren’s offseason decision to commit to Dilfer as the starting QB, a move necessary to get the veteran to re-sign with the Seahawks – even if the difficult decision ruffled and even crimped a few feathers for Hasselbeck, who Holmgren had obtained in a 2001 trade with the Green Bay Packers to be his handpicked passer of the present and future.

Hasselbeck had struggled through an injury-plagued, injury-interrupted first season, which finally ended prematurely because of those injuries. When he couldn’t start, Dilfer did, and he went 4-0 in that role.

“Trent earned the right to try and get this thing done,” Holmgren said after Dilfer was signed to a four-year contract – and named the starter. “It was nothing Matt did. Trent played well enough in relief of Matt last season to earn the starting job going into 2002.”

As it turned out, however, it was Hasselbeck who ended up playing even better in ’02, when given his second chance. Dilfer went down in the preseason opener with a sprained knee that sidelined him until the second regular-season game, and then was lost for the rest of the regular season after tearing his right Achilles tendon in a Week 8 victory over the Cowboys in Dallas.

So, it was back to Hasselbeck.

Hasselbeck took his second chance and, rather than running with it, threw everything he had into it – giving new meaning to the term West Coast offense in the process. Twice in the final five weeks of the season, Hasselbeck broke the franchise single-game record for passing yards – throwing for 427 in a loss to the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 13 and then going for 449 in a season-ending victory against the Chargers in San Diego.

Hasselbeck led the NFC in completion percentage (.637) and was second in passer rating (87.8) while throwing for 3,075 yards and 15 TDs in 10 starts.

So much for a repeat of any QB controversy entering the 2003 offseason. No, that drama was reserved for Holmgren, who emerged from the 5-3 finishing stretch and the dramatic overtime win against the Chargers with his future very much in question.

But Holmgren was given his second chance, only after giving up the title and duties of general manager and firing his entire defensive staff.

“That was tough,” said Holmgren, who never had fired an assistant in his first 10 seasons as a head coach in the NFL. “Not only were those guys good football coaches, but they were good men and friends of mine. Some of them, we’ve been together a long time, and it was not a very fun thing to do at all.”

It was, however, necessary to placate then-club president Bob Whitsitt, who wanted to add a coach and a general manager – not one man in both roles – when Holmgren was hired in 1999.

Given his second chance, Holmgren out Hasselbeck-ed Hasselbeck, guiding the Seahawks to five playoffs berths and four division titles in the next five seasons.

Then there was the stadium – then called Seahawks Stadium, before it became Qwest Field and now CenturyLink Field. In their first regular-season game there, the Seahawks were slapped around by the Arizona Cardinals 24-13 and trampled by Thomas Jones. He ran for a career-high 173 yards that day, and would finish the season with 511.

“I feel very poorly for the fans, they were great,” said Dilfer, who returned after missing more than a month. “We had every reason to put our best foot forward, but we didn’t.”

Give a second chance, however, it was the Seahawks – and especially Shaun Alexander – who ran all over the Minnesota Vikings in a 48-23 victory the next time they played at home. Alexander scored five of his 18 touchdowns that season against the Vikings, in the first half.

And speaking of feeling a little rundown, the defense allowed league-high averages of 173.5 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry while the Seahawks were losing six of their first eight games – when the league averages were 114.3 and 4.2. Given a second chance, however, the defense macheted that average to 104.6 rushing yards in the final five games.

Robinson and Terry got into the second-chance theme to a lesser extent. Robinson, in his second season and after a so-so rookie season, put up the kind of numbers expected from a first-round draft choice. But he would never again come close to matching his 78-catch, 1,240-yard, five-touchdown totals from 2002. Terry, meanwhile, was signed in late November and started the final five games after being released by the Carolina Panthers. He solidified the right tackle spot, becoming the fifth player to start there since training camp.

Engram, meanwhile, also was in his second season with the Seahawks after being released by the Chicago Bears just before the season opener in 2001. Another full season removed from reconstructive knee surgery, Engram responded with 50 receptions – and 43 produced first downs, for a league-high 86 percent. He also had 25 third-down receptions, which tied for fourth in the league; and averaged 10.7 yards returning punts, which ranked fifth in the NFC.

Other notable numbers – and performances – from this season of second chances: Alexander scored 108 points (one more than kicker Rian Lindell) to lead the team in scoring for the second consecutive season and join David Sims (1978) and Steve Largent (1981) as the only non-kickers to do it; strong safety Reggie Tongue led the team in tackles (93) and interceptions (five), joining Dave Brown (1976) and Eugene Robinson (1989, 1992, 1993) as the only players to pull that double; and left tackle Walter Jones was voted to his third Pro Bowl, despite missing the first two games before reporting and signing his franchise-player tender.

Jones stepped into the starting lineup the same week he arrived and rarely missed a beat. Exhibit 71: In a 30-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the final home game, the offensive game ball when to No. 71 – even though Hasselbeck passed for 303 yards, Alexander scored two TDs and Robinson had 94 receiving yards.

Other memorable moments included: wide receiver Darrell Jackson being taken to the hospital after suffering a seizure in the locker room following the loss in Dallas, when the Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher; the team changing its uniforms and alter its logo to coincide with the move into the new stadium; the Seahawks and Chiefs combining for a league-record 64 first downs in Kansas City’s 39-32 victory in Week 12; and the Seahawks setting 20 club records, including most first downs (347), most yards in a game (591 against the Chargers) and season (5,818) and most passing yards (4,257).

After slapping an exclamation point on his second-chance of a season, Hasselbeck smiled and offered, “I think we’re growing up a little bit. We’re learning how to fight through some of that adversity.”

Not to mention take advantage of second-chance opportunities.