For years, the general consensus has been that the bye week in the NFL is always most beneficial about mid-season. Maybe it is … statistics may well reflect that.
But for the Seattle Seahawks, coach Mike Holmgren and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, getting a week off after an injury-raked 1-2 start seemed to be the perfect tonic as they head east to meet the New York Giants this Sunday.
Hasselbeck celebrated his 33rd birthday during the week, spent time throwing with recuperated wide receivers Deion Branch and Bobby Engram, while Holmgren and everybody else watched the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams lose – moving the Seahawks to within a half game of a first place tie in the NFC West.
So it was no surprise on Monday morning on KIRO radio show, when Holmgren chuckled, "It was a good day for us and we didn't even play."
Nonetheless, it opened the door for the rest of the season to be a dogfight in the NFC West, and for Hasselbeck, working out lightly all week with his receivers, and relaxing on Sunday to watch other teams lose, it was a welcome experience.
"It was perfect," Hasselbeck said. "It was really nice of the NFL to give me the bye week on my birthday. We love the bye week. We should have more bye weeks. They are a lot of fun. Physically it is just great, you get away and you have chance to heal up. Mentally it's just nice to take a load off, sit on your couch and watch other quarterbacks get hit. It is just a good feeling knowing you can wake up on Monday without feeling like you were in a car accident."
The big news, of course, on Monday during the Seahawks hour-long workout was the presence of Branch and Engram. Branch has been running for nearly two months now while recovering from knee surgery in January. Engram suffered a fractured shoulder early in training camp and hadn't been able to run pass routes or catch the ball as Branch was working on his range of motion.
That's history now, with both receivers back on the flip side of what was the beginning of a bizarre confluence of six injured receivers.
Because the hope was they would be ready to play by this fourth game, neither was placed on any injured lists, so the team now has seven receivers on the roster. And yet, while Branch and Engram are running routes and catching the football, it's not the same as taking hits in a game. Holmgren said Branch may be further along physically, and neither of them is ready to play a full game.
We'll find out soon whether or not the staff is comfortable enough to shrink the seven-deep receiving crew while they digest this week of practice for Branch, Engram, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Koren Robinson, Michael Bumpus and Courtney Taylor.
Hasselbeck is preparing for the Giants defense just as he always would, but certainly would hope to have his two veteran targets available for at least portions of the game.
"We had an opportunity to throw to some of those guys last week," Hasselbeck said. "You can tell they have been working on the side, particularly Deion. His legs are there, he is running, he looks quick and looks great. It is nice to have Bobby back as well. We have gotten some good work in and I think today was a good start to the week.
"We have full confidence in them. They're professionals and have been doing it a long time. They have played in much bigger games than this one, and it is a big game, but they have played in bigger games. I anticipate that they will be ready to go."
More than just Engram and Branch, though, starting right offensive tackle Sean Locklear has now recovered from the knee strain that hampered him the first three games of the season and is likely to regain his spot after a solid three games from Ray Willis. Floyd Womack has solidified his position at right guard.
Running back Maurice Morris could play in the game Sunday, but he did not practice Monday while testing the strained knee he suffered in the opening game loss to Buffalo. Julius Jones has basked in the role as the starter in his absence, rushing for 312 yards in the three games – exceeding 100 yards in each of the past two.
Most importantly, the game this week against the defending Super Bowl champs, who have split their last 10 home games, is an opportunity for the Seahawks to not only enhance their position in the division race, but re-establish themselves as a factor in the NFC overall.
"I think we noticed (the standings)," Hasselbeck said. "But at the same time our goals are much higher than just winning our division. We have to improve as a team and we have to get better or it doesn't really matter about everybody else."