As the Seahawks prepare for their seventh game of the season, with a trip to San Francisco and the 49ers in the offing, so much has been made about all the injuries and the 1-5 start, the easiest part to overlook has been the cerebral effect on the players and staff.
Just consider for a moment what it's like for players that are used to being in the playoffs, producing great numbers and consistently part of a success story, to deal with the mounting pressure amid the losses.
In the cases of Bobby Engram, Julius Jones and Seneca Wallace, the impact has been varying, as has been their way of dealing with the situation.
Engram is coming off his finest season in the NFL with a Seahawks record 94 receptions, while setting his own personal best in that category along with 1,147 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also cracked his shoulder in the preseason, didn't play until the fourth game of the regular season, caught 8 passes in that first game back, and has 1 reception since.
All three games have ended in defeat.
"Unfortunately, I'm having to draw on some old experiences," Engram said. "It's difficult when you've got a team who, like I said, we feel like we're doing all the right things. We're working hard, nobody's taking any breaks. It's not like we're not prepared, not studying our plays. We just are not getting it done on the field. You can use all the philosophical reasons that you want, but we're just not playing good football. And that's what it comes down to: blocking, running, tackling, throwing, catching."
Always the consummate professional at the age of 35, his demeanor has allowed him to bottle his emotions and focus on the task at hand while being a consistent leader. It isn't as easy for others. Jones, in his first season with the Seahawks, had 267 yards rushing in the second and third games combined for the Hawks and had moved into third in the NFL in rushing.
Going through nine wide receivers made it difficult enough to establish a running game, and since then the offense has bogged down with the disk problem injury that has scuttled quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Wallace is struggling through a calf problem. Consequently, Jones' carries and productivity dropped, and he had an emotional outburst last Sunday during the 20-10 loss at Tampa Bay.
He and coach Mike Holmgren discussed it and it's been put to rest. Realistically, it isn't abnormal that tempers would flare under the circumstances – particularly from an emotional player.
"During the course of the game, things happen," Jones said. "I'm a very competitive guy. Things weren't going our way, and we want to win. Our whole team, coaches, everybody wants to win. It's a frustrating situation, but everything's fine.
"There's just frustration everywhere with the way things are going. We're not really giving ourselves a chance to be on the field long. We've had a bunch of three-and-outs, and I think last week we had like, 39 plays. That's not nearly enough to get anything done. So, that's the frustrating part. Everybody's feeling that, everybody's trying to fix the situation. We just got to keep working."
And now it falls on Wallace's shoulders, uh, calf, make that both. Hasselbeck's backup for the past four seasons, he started four games in 2006, winning two of them. His athleticism has created continuous speculation about him playing wide receiver and returning kicks since he was drafted in 2003, but Holmgren stuck with developing him at quarterback and anyone who has watched the way he handles the team and throws the football has been impressed.
But when he played at Tampa, not only was his calf problematic, but he was admittedly rusty and exploited by the aggressive and talented Bucs defense. So with the status of Hasselbeck still unsettled, Wallace is the likely starter again Sunday against the Niners, unless his calf is too problematic and then Holmgren would turn to Frye.
These are brand new circumstances for Wallace, not only because of the mounting losses, but playing less than 100 percent when his athleticism has always been the key to his success.
"I felt like I was a little off-balance," Wallace said. "That's kind of how I felt all day, and you can kind of tell that out there. We just never really got anything going. Part of that was my fault. Hopefully I just got to keep spending time rehabbing and trying to get it right so I can feel good. Everybody didn't feel good on Sunday. You just got to try your best to play through it."
The only way to deal with it now is to ignore the previous six games and start anew this week. The coaching staff and the players harp on the game plan, focusing in practice and preparing, and go about their business as if it's the first game of the season.
Of course, it's easier said than done. Every player has plays locked into their heads that could have gone differently and they can even delude themselves into believing that it may have turned a loss into a victory. Either way, there is a collective impact.
And it's time to let the frustration dissipate, even if it does have a last effect.
"I think guys might press a little more, not necessarily reaching outside of their skill level, but just trying to do more than what (they're) capable of doing," Engram added. " I can only play one receiver position at a time. A defensive back, he can only cover so much ground. So, I think that might be the case in some instances where guys are trying to over-compensate because they want to win. We want to win so badly, but we just need to stay focused. We're trying to just (say), 'Everybody do your job to the best of your ability. Continue to trust in the system. Trust in your teammates.'"
Matt Hasselbeck continued to rehab his back with the hope of it gaining enough strength that it won't affect his leg, and coach Mike Holmgren is holding out hope for this week. Then again he didn't practice Wednesday and Holmgren said he won't play if he can't practice and a healthy Wallace would start under those circumstances.
"Maybe I'm being overly-optimistic, but he's working very hard on the program that they have him doing to increase his strength and get the strength back in his leg, which is now the hurdle as far as I can understand," Holmgren said. "So, that's all good. He has to practice to play, actually more for himself than for me. I mean, he has to believe that he can do certain things in the football game, otherwise he probably shouldn't play."
There is no question about the impact on the Seahawks without their three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, although even he was having a difficult time of it with the ludicrous number of injuries at wide receiver. And yet, as starting quarterbacks continue to tumble around the NFL, the result is just as obvious as it has been with the Seahawks.
That's why the return of Hasselbeck, whenever it happens, will be a huge lift.
"I think it does a lot," Holmgren said. "You know, you get your starting quarterback back and able to play, you can see each week in the league, if a team is unfortunate and loses their guy, it changes the dynamic of the football team. The position is that important. Some teams can weather the storm a little bit better than others, but it changes things. So, it would be a big boost for us if we got him back."
In the meantime, Holmgren and Wallace had a heart-to-heart in the wake of his 12-of-23 passing for 73 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Despite his inactivity up to that point, Holmgren and Wallace know he has to play better to give the Seahawks an opportunity to win Sunday if it comes to that. Nothing came easy considering the offense ran only 39 plays in the entire game.
"I had a long talk with him (Tuesday)," Holmgren said. "One, we didn't get enough snaps. We talked a little bit about that on Monday. He could never get into his rhythm, that was one thing. He's a better player than he showed in the game. Now he feels as though he has something to really make up for, in his own mind. He's not 100%. A portion of his game is his legs. But he's a great kid, as you know, and he'll play better. We will play better offensively, hopefully, this week."
Niners linebacker Patrick Willis on the shock of coach Mike Nolan being fired and Mike Singletary being elevated to head coach this week:
"My relationship with Coach Singletary is good, it's growing and I think with him becoming head coach our relationship will be just as strong if not stronger. At the end of the day he has a job he has to do and I have a job I have to do.
"I haven't had an opportunity to talk to him about it. It really isn't my job to talk to him about it. I'm happy for him. I know he has waited a really long time to get this opportunity. I'm sure he will do the best to his abilities to take us as far as he can. I'm here and I'm happy to be a 49er."
This and that
Hasselbeck, wide receiver Deion Branch (heel) and tight end Will Heller didn't practice, with Holmgren holding out hope that Branch will get comfortable enough to run on his injured heel. Koren Robinson was given Wednesday off as has been customary to give his sore knee an additional day of rest, while Walter Jones saw only limited drills to keep him fresh and Floyd Womack also was limited due to illness. … Holmgren singled out Jones and Womack at right guard for their consistent play so far this season and Mike Wahle in general at left guard. He said that Ray Willis will continue to share the right tackle position with Sean Locklear, although Locklear will still get the majority of snaps. … Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson will again share the right defensive end spot Sunday, while Josh Wilson will again start at right cornerback, with Kelly Jennings now the third corner. … After this week, the Seahawks have three of their next four games at home, with the Philadelphia Eagles coming in next week. After returning to Florida to play the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 9, the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins then come to Qwest Field on consecutive weeks.