Behind enemy lines: Seattle

The Seattle Seahawks have shifted their focus from winning the division to claiming home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

No other NFC team is in better position to do just that. Seattle's remaining opponents are a combined 19-29 this season, starting with the 2-10 49ers, who visit Qwest Field on Sunday. Beating the 49ers would give Seattle a 6-0 record in NFC West play and at least a one-game cushion in the conference race.

The Seahawks are 16-point favorites in Las Vegas even though the 49ers came within a two-point conversion of forcing overtime against Seattle last month.

"The game in San Francisco was as close a game as we have had all year and still managed to win it," coach Mike Holmgren said. "We have to stay after it. We accomplished our first goal of winning the division. Now, there are other things ahead for us.

"We are trying to take this a game at a time. But we realize the NFC has teams that are winning and are very, very good. We must keep playing our style and that is the challenge for us."

Last month, the Seahawks were within a play or two of putting away the 49ers. They led 27-12 deep into the second half when a couple of lapses let the 49ers back into the game. Seattle prevailed 27-25 in a game that didn't have to be that close.

The 49ers have a new quarterback this time. Rookie first-round pick Alex Smith has taken over for Ken Dorsey, who was unable to maintain the level of play he showed in the second half against Seattle. Smith has lots of talent but very little experience, a combination the Seahawks encountered when they faced the Giants' Eli Manning.

Smith has even less experience than Manning. He also has far less talent around him. That bodes well for the Seahawks as they try to set a franchise record with their ninth consecutive victory.

Seattle enters this game with some depth problems in the secondary. CB Kelly Herndon and CB Andre Dyson will miss this game with injuries, marking the first time that Seattle will be without both at the same time. Starting RCB Marcus Trufant remains healthy, but the team will now turn to nickel/dime DB Jordan Babineaux to make the conversion from his more natural safety position. CB Jimmy Williams, a former 49er, is another option at the position.

Babineaux has been a big-play guy for Seattle this season. He forced a crucial fumble to preserve a victory at St. Louis. He picked off Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe to set up the winning field goal against Dallas. Moving into the starting lineup presents new challenges.

Babineaux is a big, physical defensive back and a tremendous competitor. He could be overmatched at times in man coverage, but he'll make some plays too. While Seattle needs to get Herndon back to hold up against stronger teams, the Seahawks should be able to function effectively on defense against the 49ers.

Offensively, the Seahawks will look to finish what they started against the 49ers last month. Seattle will also look to bounce back from its season-low yardage output of 194 yards on Monday night. The Seahawks fell from first to fourth in total offense after their 42-0 victory over Philadelphia because Holmgren removed his starters from the game early in the second half.

--- The Seahawks face the easiest remaining schedule of the top eight teams in the NFC. San Francisco, Tennessee and Green Bay are a combined 7-29. Seattle also plays against the 12-0 Colts, who may or may not be going with their starters when they visit Seattle on Dec. 24. The combined record of 19-29 (.396) gives the Seahawks the inside track on securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Atlanta faces the toughest remaining schedule among the NFC contenders. The Falcons' remaining opponents are 29-19 (.604).

Chicago and Carolina have the best shot at overtaking Seattle because they are only one game behind in the standings. The Bears' remaining opponents are 23-25 (.479), but three of their four remaining games are on the road. Carolina's opponents are 25-23 (.521). The Panthers have Tampa Bay and Dallas at home, with road games against New Orleans and the Falcons.

--- Seattle called only three pass plays in the second half of its 42-0 victory over Philadelphia on Monday night. Coach Mike Holmgren didn't want to run up the score, although he denied taking that approach out of consideration for Eagles coach Andy Reid, his good friend.

"I am not going to run up the score on anybody," Holmgren said. "I just am not going to do it. I just didn't think they could score on us in the second half. I just felt with their injuries, watching the game, it just seemed like they were not going to sustain much.

"I never understood the urge to beat someone 70-3. I'm not going to do it. Not that that could have happened. I thought 42 points was enough, so let's go home."

-- So far the Seahawks have been able to compensate for losing key players, a tribute to the personnel work of president Tim Ruskell and a staff that includes pro personnel director Will Lewis.

Seattle has won eight consecutive games since losing leading WR Darrell Jackson. The team has also overcome the loss of FS Ken Hamlin for the season while losing RT Floyd Womack, CB Kelly Herndon, CB Andre Dyson, DT Marcus Tubbs and WR Bobby Engram for stretches.

Dyson was the latest to succumb to injury. He could miss the rest of the regular season after suffering a high ankle sprain during a 25-yard fumble return Monday night. Dyson was starting in place of the injured Herndon. Herndon had been starting because Dyson missed time earlier in the season. Now there's a good chance former street free agent Jordan Babineaux will take over at left corner.

"I don't expect the team to do anything differently," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I don't expect the game plan for the offensive and defensive coaches to be adjusted because of that. That is the challenge to the players and to the players' credit, the young guys who have moved into a starting position or played a lot have done a good job."

A year ago, running back Shaun Alexander might have complained about his coach removing him from a game with a rushing title at stake. Not this season. While Alexander lobbied to keep playing during a 42-0 blowout at Philadelphia, he understood coach Mike Holmgren's decision to go with backup Maurice Morris in the second half.

"It's a long season and we've got big goals and so I knew it was going to happen," Alexander said after finishing with a season-low 49 yards. "I was just trying to beg for a little bit more. Of course it didn't work."

Alexander leads the NFL in rushing, but Colts running back Edgerrin James has made up a considerable amount of ground. Last season, Alexander accused Holmgren of stabbing him in the back for calling a quarterback sneak when Alexander needed only one yard to tie for the NFL rushing title. Alexander later apologized, but the incident left a bad taste in the mouths of fans and Holmgren as well.

There were apparently no hard feelings this time.

"He was great," Holmgren said. "He was really great. He really wanted one more series, but goodness me, it was 42-0 even though we had (nearly) a whole half of football to play."

Alexander added two more touchdowns to his league-leading total, giving him 22 through 12 games. His streak of four consecutive 100-yard games ended, but another more important streak continued: Seattle has now won eight in a row for the first time since 1984.

"My number one goal is getting a Super Bowl now," Alexander said. "All them other goals that we have, they're all fun and we want to achieve them and if we get a chance to grab them we're going to grab them.

"But there's nothing bigger than us getting to Detroit and playing the best game of our lives, and that is what we're shooting for."

Alexander brushed off the suggestion that playing in the snow against Philadelphia showed that Seattle could prevail in those conditions if the need arose in the playoffs.

"Our goal is to have every game played at our house, where it's going to be wet," he said with a laugh. "We don't really care about all the conditions."

--- QB Matt Hasselbeck acknowledged the importance of Seattle's victory Monday night, but he wasn't dwelling on it by any stretch.

"It's just another football game," Hasselbeck said. "We just had to come out and get a win. I don't think we expected to win by such a large margin because we've got a lot of respect for this team, for this organization, for these fans -- all that stuff. I think we expected the game to be a lot tougher than it ended up being."

--- MLB Lofa Tatupu has firmly established himself as a candidate for NFL rookie of the year. The second-round pick from USC had a 38-yard interception return to go with nine tackles and four passes defensed Monday night. He leads the Seahawks in tackles while running the defense on the field.

For all his early NFL success, Tatupu hasn't forgotten his roots. He celebrated his touchdown against the Eagles by punching away at the goal-post padding, a nod to former 49ers LB Ken Norton, who served as Tatupu's position coach at USC.

"I had to show him I didn't forget about him and all my boys at SC," Tatupu said. "I called him before the game and said I was going to get one to the house. I said, 'Coach, watch my dance. I've got one ready for you.' That was for you, Kenny."

--The Seahawks have outscored the Eagles 80-0 in their last two games at Philadelphia. They posted a 38-0 victory in the 1998 season opener.

--- WR Darrell Jackson did not practice earlier this week after being upgraded by the team to questionable. Coach Mike Holmgren said he expected Jackson to practice Friday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery after the fourth game. If Jackson's knee responds favorably, the Seahawks plan to work him back into the offense Sunday. Jackson will play a limited role at first.

--- DT Craig Terrill, who's questionable with a shoulder injury, has been a surprisingly productive member of the four-man rotation at DT. A 2004 sixth-round pick from Purdue, Terrill is a high-motor guy with better skills than his pedestrian body type would otherwise suggest.

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