Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks at Falcons

Posted Nov 10, 2013

The Seahawks return to the venue where their 2012 season ended in January with a loss to the Falcons in a divisional playoff game, looking for some revenge but also to extend the best start in franchise history to 9-1.

ATLANTA – Greetings from the George Dome, where the 8-1 Seahawks will play the 2-6 Falcons on Sunday in a rematch that is just dripping with storylines.

The last time the Seahawks were here – Jan. 13 for a divisional playoff game – it was the Falcons who had the best record in the NFC (13-3), and the Seahawks who came within a matter of seconds and yards of pulling off the upset before losing 30-28 on a 49-yard field goal. This time, it’s the Seahawks who have the best record in the conference, and the Falcons who are looking to pull the upset and salvage something from their disappointing start.

But the Seahawks will be shorthanded for what appears to be a mismatch of a rematch. Pro Bowl center Max Unger and defensive end Red Bryant won’t play after getting concussions in last week’s overtime victory against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Seattle. And the offensive line won’t have tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, again. They returned to practice this week, but Okung hasn’t played since injuring a toe in Week 2 and Giacomini has been out since injuring a knee in Week 3.

So it’s back to the line that started in Weeks 4-5, when Unger was out with an arm injury: Paul McQuistan, the left guard, at left tackle; James Carpenter, who was selected in the first-round of the 2011 NFL Draft to play right tackle, at left guard for McQuistan; Lemuel Jeanpierre at center for Unger; J.R. Sweezy, a former college defensive lineman, who is making is 13th regular-season start at right guard; and rookie Michael Bowie at right tackle for Giacomini.

Hardly ideal for an offense that has been inconsistent during the best start in franchise history, and a line that has allowed second-year quarterback Russell Wilson to be hit too often the past three games – when he lost two fumbles while being sacked against the Cardinals in Arizona; was sacked a career-high seven times by the Rams in St. Louis; and came out of last week’s game against the Bucs without being sacked, but not without taking some big hits just after he threw the ball. Somehow, someway, the Seahawks managed to win all three games.

Those storylines have been told, and retold. So let’s look at one player who is expected to return, and another who makes unexpected returns.

The Falcons should have wide receiver Roddy White back after he missed the past three games with hamstring and ankle injuries. That would be a plus for Atlanta, because wide receiver Julio Jones was lost for the season in Week 5 with a foot injury. Despite missing the past three games, Jones remains second on the team with 41 receptions.

“Roddy has been a guy who’s made a lot of plays for us for a long time, and we’re just excited that, if he’s back, he’ll be able to be effective for us,” Falcons coach Mike Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday, when White was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game after being able to do more in practice each day during the week.

But Smith also cautioned, “The thing that you’re concerned about any time you’re coming back after a long layoff is the conditioning part of it.”

In the absence of White and Jones, Harry Douglas has 22 receptions while stepping in for Jones in the past three games, but Darius Johnson and Drew Davis have combined for 14 at the other receiver spot during that span.

Now for the guy with the unexpected returns: Golden Tate. The Seahawks leading receiver also returns punts, and last week his 71-yarder provided a needed spark in the overtime win against the Bucs and earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

But it seems the Falcons are more concerned about Tate catching the punt at the Seahawks’ 4-yard line than returning it to the Bucs’ 25.

“Well, he’s not going to fair-catch,” Smith said. “It’s going to be very important that we do a good job with our directional punting and try to shrink the field. When you do that, then you have to be able to overpopulate that side of the field.”

Can one player make that much difference for either team?

We’re all about to find out, with kickoff and televised coverage on FOX (Q/13 in Seattle) set for 10 a.m. PT.