2006 in Review - Part 1 (2/5/2007)

Breaking down the season that was in the first of a 3-part series.








Engram01570_0202.jpg

Bobby Engram pulls in a pass during a 1st-half route of the N.Y. Giants at Qwest Field.

 
2/5/2007

By Mike Kahn - Seahawks Insider

KIRKLAND - There was no easy way for the 2006 season to unfold for the Seattle Seahawks.

The expectations were higher than ever before, coming off a record-breaking season in 2005 that led them to Super Bowl XL and a heartbreaking 21-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. So entering training camp, talk centered around the Super Bowl jinx that consistently left the runner-up out of the playoffs the ensuing season, the "Madden Jinx" on Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, who set an NFL record with 28 touchdowns, won the rushing title and was named the league's MVP.

All of that was coupled with a crippling amount of injuries and surgeries that were still being rehabbed as training camp began in Cheney at the end of July. Some of it played out as camp broke, the preseason games rolled to a close, and the regular season got underway. Some of it took a little longer.

Indeed, Alexander suffered a broken bone in his foot that kept him out of six games; quarterback Matt Hasselbeck sprained his knee and missed four games (not to mention playing with a couple of broken fingers and a torn labrum), and, in fact, everyone on the offense at one time or another left the field with an injury during the course of the 9-7 season that begot their third consecutive NFC West title.

And yet, when all was said and done, the Seahawks withstood all the mental and physical anguish to come within a field goal of returning to the NFC Championship game before falling to the Bears in Chicago, 27-24, to put an end to a topsy-turvy experience that once again showed what remarkable buoyancy this team has with coach Mike Holmgren.

"I was proud of the way the guys showed a certain resiliency this year under an odd set of circumstances - at least a more unusual year than we have had, certainly last year and years in the past – and I told them that," Holmgren said in his post-season review. "I think we have a good core of players, I think the organization is in a healthy spot. I know our fans were wonderful and will continue to be wonderful. I think they're excited about Seahawk football, which is important."

2006 Training Camp

As always, it began in training camp where the weather was more temperate than usual under the dry heat of Eastern Washington, and far more players than usual were sidelined as things got underway. That, more than anything, was foreshadowing the season to come. A lot of it had to do with playing until February and the Super Bowl – surgeries were delayed, and even for those bumps and bruises that weren't surgically repaired, time was still required for those injuries to heal.

It was so apparent that Holmgren clearly was uncomfortable with excessive hitting, so full-blown hitting among the "skill position players" was a rare occurrence during camp 2006.

A lot of key players began camp unable to complete all the drills – most notably, Darrell Jackson (knee), Marcus Tubbs (achilles), Rocky Bernard (knee), Grant Wistrom (shoulder), Jerramy Stevens (knee), Michael Boulware (knee), Joe Tafoya (shoulder) and Ken Hamlin (concussion). Holmgren wasn't about to push it with the confidence he already had in the group as a whole.

"I worry about the injury thing in camp a little bit more than I used to," Holmgren said at the outset. "Of all the things you worry about, take control of what you can. I don't think we'll bang around as much. I think now that we're a little bit more experienced as a football team, I have a little bit fewer questions to answer than maybe in the past, so we'll save the banging around for the games. The offensive and defensive lines, nothing much changes for them anyway. But it's the tackling of the backs and the receivers, plus you don't want to hit the quarterbacks."

That's the way things went. Once again as they ground their way through two-a-day practices, finding a feel for the new chemistry, with the addition of veterans Julian Peterson at linebacker, Nate Burleson at wide receiver, and Mike Green at safety. And that's not to mention the six draft choices – each of whom would stick with the team the entire season – beginning with Kelly Jennings, Darryl Tapp, Rob Sims, David Kirtman, Ryan Plackemeier and Ben Obomanu.



The public unveiling of the team's young players came during a controlled intra-squad scrimmage on Aug. 5. Before a surprising crowd of more than 11,000 at Woodward Stadium on the Eastern Washington University campus, Hasselbeck threw the ball plenty behind the cloak of a red (do-not-touch) jersey, backup Seneca Wallace continued to show his growth – throwing three touchdown passes in red zone drills and running for another. Young fullback Leonard Weaver showed another level of his bruising power, speed and hands, and the rookies made plays.

Otherwise, Alexander, Mack Strong and Bobby Engram were held out. Linemen Walter Jones, Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray made token appearances. And that's not to mention the absence of Stevens and Jackson on the offensive side of the ledger, plus Wistrom, Bernard, Tubbs, Boulware, Tafoya, Babineaux, Isaiah Kacyvenski and Jimmy Williams sat out among the veterans.

Essentially, it was about getting Seneca Wallace quality time with as many starters as possible.

"This was all about working on things we've been working on in camp and every year," Wallace said. "These situations like this day today are the kind of days that prepare you for the time when you have to be prepared for a regular season game."

2006 Preseason

The scrimmage set the stage to play a real game – preseason style – with the Dallas Cowboys coming to Qwest Field on Aug. 12. Little did anyone know that unknown Cowboys backup quarterback Tony Romo, who was 19-of-31 for 231 yards and a touchdown in a presumed to be meaningless 13-3 Cowboys victory, would ultimately wrest the starting job from veteran Drew Bledsoe. But this game showed his mettle.

The outcome wasn't a reflection of much else though, for a couple of reasons – the preseason moniker notwithstanding: thirteen key players didn't dress for the Seahawks, plus Holmgren doesn't game plan for preseason games. Moreover, Dallas coach Bill Parcells does, and it was obvious. The Cowboys' blitzing defense muddled the offense – as Wallace played most of the snaps at quarterback and spent a good deal of the time scrambling around the pocket from the fast and aggressive Cowboys front seven.

Holmgren still had room to be peeved by an uncommon amount of penalties and blown assignments due to mental mistakes.

"You can't be a successful team and have those kinds of errors," Holmgren said. "We usually are not a very penalized football team - over the last few years we are always in the top 3 of least penalized, so I think we can straighten that out. It will allow us to coach to that, though. Between the mistakes and the penalties and sloppiness, I was a little disappointed, to be honest. I think the effort was pretty good. I think Dallas is going to be a good football team. I can deal with physical errors, but the mental stuff really bothered me tonight."

The Seahawks featured more of the same cameo appearances the following week in the RCA Dome, but the outcome was far different, if only because everyone was much more sharply focused.

It also helped that the inevitable Super Bowl XLI champs didn't play many starters either – particularly after Peyton Manning threw for 140 yards in the first quarter alone. Still, Hasselbeck and Wallace were sharp, completing 18-of-24 passes for 187 yards combined. And Weaver again looked good – playing tailback the bulk of the game with 51 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.

Mike Green made a big interception return for a touchdown, and he played superb on special teams. And this was the first inkling of kicker Josh Brown's big year, with field goals of 29, 39 and 35 yards.

"It's always more fun to win," Holmgren said. "A couple of things we wanted to get out of the game – or at least improve upon from last week – that was our mistakes, and I think we did that. We eliminated some of the careless penalties. It's a good test for our defense because you're playing against the best quarterback and a powerful offensive team. There are a lot of good things in the game, and we'll be able to coach to it because we also made our fair share of silly mistakes."

The Seahawks jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a couple of fumbles from Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, with Rocky Bernard scoring one touchdown on the fumble return; then Shaun Alexander ran in the next one following the second fumble.

But that was about as much spark as the Seahawks could muster in this game, as the Shawne Merriman-led 3-4 defense put a lid on the Seahawks offense after they jumped out to the quick lead. It was more about the way the Chargers moved the football when they had to. More specifically, Rivers, A.J. Feeley and the Chargers continuously burnt the Seahawks defense on third downs. And that was a major concern for Holmgren.

"The defense was doing a pretty good job," Holmgren said. "We're really good on first and second down. We've got to figure out what we want to be on third down. We've got to play more consistently on third down. They got big plays on us."

Then again, all of that paled in comparison to the broken foot suffered by Green during the game – ending his season and seriously cutting into the depth of the secondary. It also featured a sprained knee for tight end Itula Mili, with Jerramy Stevens already back to rehab after requiring another surgery. That did not help matters for the offense at all with just one preseason game remaining before the opener in Detroit.

Jumping out to a quick lead early, the second half evolved into a debut of sorts for second-year quarterback David Greene, the 2005 third-round draft choice from Georgia. Despite horrid field position in every previous opportunity, Green hung in there through this one – highlighted by a 90-yard drive that ate up nearly eight minutes from the clock.

Greene continuously moved the football and completed 13-of-19 for 144 yards and had a 90.7 quarterback rating, while Hasselbeck and Wallace teased him unmercifully after the game because of all the attention.

"David did some good things out there," Holmgren said. "He had been thrust into games in the worst situations imaginable, and tonight he had the entire second half. There is a great example of this game showing me something about a player that I didn't know."

Another injury that didn't appear to be so severe hit hard though. What was initially perceived as a minor ankle sprain after the game for Weaver turned out to be a serious high ankle sprain that necessitated placing him on injured reserve. The second-year back from Carson-Newman who showed so much promise at both running back spots and returning kicks was out for the year.

On to the regular season

With health still a significant issue and unfortunately getting worse every week, the Seahawks put the preseason into the rearview mirror and prepared a return visit to Detroit – an ironic opener considering their final game of the 2005 season, Super Bowl XL, also happened to be played at Ford Field.

The good news is they would get a bye to recuperate after the fourth game, but opening at Detroit, followed by home games with the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants before traveling to Chicago, was a huge test for the offense – still trying to get legs. President Tim Ruskell pulled off a big trade, dealing the 2007 first round draft choice to the New England Patriots for Super Bowl record-setting receiver Deion Branch on Sept. 11 turned more than a few heads, but Branch wouldn't be ready to play until the Sept. 24 game with the Giants.

Yes, transition was still afoot.

2006 Regular Season

This game was hard to read. It left everyone wondering if the Lions defense was that good or the Seahawks offense (with only 83 yards in the second half, 56 coming on the final drive) that shaky, as the third of Josh Brown's field goals in the game came from 42 yards as time expired to secure the victory.

Hasselbeck was seriously battered, with rib damage and what initially appeared to be a mild concussion. He was sacked five times and hit while releasing the ball innumerable times, and even Walter Jones was helped off the field with a high ankle sprain, although he did return. Additionally, this proved to be the game that Alexander suffered the cracked bone in his foot, although he would play two more weeks before the injury and pain would become unbearable.

The issues manifested with two Brown field goal attempts blocked and an Alexander fumble in the first half alone. Not only was Alexander hurt, but the reason for the blocks became apparent too: exceptional long-snapper J.P. Darche had been playing with a deteriorated hip that required surgery, and he could barely move. The good news was that Darrell Jackson played and caught five passes for 94 yards after being a virtual ghost leading up to the regular season opener while strengthening his twice surgically repaired knee. Afterward, Holmgren's choice of words were ironic, to put it mildly.

"This is all healthy for us as long as we can leave here with a win," Holmgren said. "It's not quite as healthy if we had lost the game. But we won the game. We've got to fix some things maybe we didn't know about."

Nothing like coming home to ease some of the pain, as the Seahawks came out on top for the 23rd time over the past 26 games at Qwest Field. It was also their eighth-consecutive win within the division.

The defense aggressively harassed Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner with five sacks, and Boulware had an interception. Hasselbeck and Jackson hooked up for 131 passing yards in the first half alone. Alexander's 2-yard touchdown allowed him to pass Steve Largent for the franchise record 101st of his career.

Mostly, the focus was on the defense, which definitely brought some edge to the table with the help of the boisterous "12th Man," providing serious support in the noise department.

Two weeks into it, the defense had allowed just 16 points, 103 net yards rushing, and had eight sacks. But they knew better than to get cocky.

"If we're still holding teams to 6, 7, 8 points a game 10 weeks from now, then you can talk about it," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "After the first couple of weeks, you don't really know how good anybody really is."

The debut of Deion Branch really was more about utilizing a four-wide receiver set than individuals, as Hasselbeck and the offense went off – tying a club record with five touchdown passes. Two of them went to Jackson, with one each going to Engram, Burleson and third tight end Will Heller. Racing out to a 35-3 halftime lead, they extended it to 42-3 as the third quarter opened, and the rest of the game featured some embarrassing but undamaging sequences as the Seahawks moved to 3-0 with their 12th consecutive win at Qwest Field before a record crowd of 68,161.

Hamlin showed he was all the way back from his head injury with a pair of interceptions, and Boulware added another. But Floyd Womack continued his injury problems, and second-year center Chris Spencer was moved to left guard as the revolving door replacing departed Steve Hutchinson continued. And by the end of the year, rookie Rob Sims would win the job.

Meanwhile, Jackson added seven more catches and was on a record-breaking pace, while everything seemed in place except for the reality that Alexander was now officially out indefinitely with the cracked bone in his foot. The end of the game was a bit unnerving the way the Giants scored four touchdowns so quickly, but the Seahawks weren't ever in danger of blowing the game.

"You don't expect to be in that situation very often," Holmgren said of the huge lead. "I haven't been in that situation very often. Halftime, as a result, is a little different. You're kind of ranting and raving not to let up and do those things. But you're talking to human beings who are ahead by a lot. While they know what I am saying is correct, it's a hard sell sometimes."

After allowing just one touchdown over the first 11 quarters of the season, the Seahawks permitted 64 over the next five - combining the final 15 minutes of the Giants game - and this loss that was their worst loss since Dec. 19, 2004 at New York to the Jets.

The offensive line was already banged up coming into the game, with both Chris Gray and Sean Locklear playing but nursing sprained knees; and the ferocious Bears defensive line led by Tommie Harris only made matters worse. With Alexander out, the Bears overwhelmed backup Mo Morris at tailback and were all over Hasselbeck – as he was sacked five more times. Making matters worse, this is when Engram first realized he had developed a thyroid problem, and was about to be put on the shelf for months to recuperate.

By the end of the third quarter, the Bears had built a 28-point lead and Holmgren wisely replaced Hasselbeck with Wallace early in the fourth quarter before he would get beaten up even worse.

"The physical beating I don't think hurts as much as the disappointment of how we played tonight – and how we didn't really execute any of the stuff that we set out to do," Hasselbeck said. "We knew these guys were really good. We knew it was going to be tough coming in playing on the road. And we knew what we had to do. We just didn't do it, and it showed."

It wasn't easy shrugging off the hangover from the Chicago debacle, even after receiving the bye week off from Holmgren to lick their wounds. Falling behind 21-7 at halftime, the Seahawks looked dead to the world.

So it was up to Holmgren to revive them during the intermission.

Holmgren repeated his exhortation: "I unloaded on them - "I really feel we're a better football team than we've showed the last game and a half – (this) first half. Step up. Now it's time!'"

The Seahawks finally began moving the ball on the ground just playing smash-mouth football, with Morris gaining 70 yards rushing in the second half. Hasselbeck hit Jackson with a 42-yard touchdown pass that changed the momentum. And once again, it was Brown coming to the rescue as the clock ran out. After booting a pair of 49-yard field goals earlier, this required a 54-yarder on the final play of the game to pull out this unlikely victory and raise their record to 4-1.

This game shook up everybody worse than the Bears game, really, and not just because it ended the 12-game winning streak at Qwest Field. With Alexander and Engram already out indefinitely, the ultimate fear struck: Hasselbeck went down with a right knee sprain, and a close game rapidly turned into a route.

Wallace replaced him and once he settled down was fine. But in the meantime he had two interceptions and fumbled into the end zone for a touchdown. It was tough to point the finger at him, though, as he too was constantly pressured and sacked twice – giving the Seahawks quarterbacks 21 sacks in six games compared to 24 all of last season.

Stevens made his first appearance of the season at tight end, but he was tight and the ground game couldn't gain any traction. Now it was up to the 26-year-old Wallace, and Holmgren looked to take advantage of his athleticism heading into Kansas City with the 4-2 record.

"I'm not nervous," Holmgren insisted. "Seneca's a good player, and with a week of practice under his belt, he's expected to go in and play the position as well. It is what it is."

All the worries about Wallace leading the offense didn't prove to be as big a problem as the defense. The Chiefs passed, then slipped up 500 yards total offense behind former Washington Husky Damon Huard, with 30 first downs, and running back Larry Johnson amassing 155 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

Wallace was solid, completing 15-of-30 for 198 yards, with touchdown passes to Jackson, Stevens and D.J. Hackett. But Morris and Mack Strong combined for 29 yards rushing, as they again couldn't establish anything on the ground for a semblance of ball control.

But Holmgren was more concerned with the lack of tackling by the defense and over-the-top pass plays that killed them all day. Wallace certainly wasn't the issue.

"The outcome of this game, in a negative fashion, wasn't because of Seneca Wallace," Holmgren said. "He kept us in it, and I think, given the circumstances, he did a fine job. I don't know what more we can do but keep battling, and we're going to keep battling."

There's nothing like returning to Qwest Field for Monday Night Football and having the Raiders for dinner to ease the pain of losing three of four games.

The defensive line had a sack party with seven of them – including Craig Terrill recording two in a row – and the shutout eradicated some of the ugliness that allowing more than 32 points a game over the previous five that had put into the minds of the defense.

The win pushed the Seahawks back up to 5-3 with a one-game lead over the Rams in the division race. Four times Wallace drove the Hawks into the red zone, three of them resulting in Brown field goals, but the fourth was a 22-yard beauty of a touchdown pass to Branch. Even more importantly, Morris had 140 yards rushing on a 201-yard ground-eating evening for the Hawks after averaging just 92.1 yards in the previous seven games.

"We gained some confidence," Branch said. We left some points on the field, no doubt. But this was different. It's a step in the right direction and it was real important to gain some momentum with St. Louis coming in(next week."

(Next: The second half of the regular season, beginning with the Rams at Qwest Field and a chance to extend the division lead to two games).

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Advertising