Up next: Seahawks can clinch crown vs. 49ers

The Seahawks don't get much time to wallow in their second NFC West defeat since the 2004 season. They'll be right back on the field Thursday night with a chance to clinch a third consecutive division title by beating San Francisco at Qwest Field.

It probably shouldn't have come to this. But with three lost fumbles Sunday, Seattle fell 27-21 at Arizona. The slip-up meant the Seahawks squandered a chance to wrap up the division early. The performance also raised questions about the Seahawks' overall legitimacy.

"Nothing has come easy this year," coach Mike Holmgren said after his team fell to 8-5. "It might continue to be that kind of year."

The Seahawks are fortunate to play in such an easy division. But unlike in past seasons, they can't pencil in road victories against NFC West opponents.

Seattle lost at San Francisco last month, ending a six-game winning streak against the 49ers and a 10-game winning streak in the division. The Seahawks had won four in a row against Arizona and seven of eight in the series before Sunday.

The Seahawks simply could not overcome three lost fumbles and some more shaky moments on defense.

Arizona completed a 56-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game. Seattle's defense failed to sack rookie quarterback Matt Leinart, the first time in 19 games that the Cardinals did not allow a sack. The Seahawks' run defense also continued to spring leaks, allowing Edgerrin James to rush for 115 yards and a touchdown.

"We're not dead," Holmgren warned. "We lost a tough ballgame, but we still have everything laid out in front of us."

Some players had a harder time taking such a long-range view.

Defensive end Bryce Fisher, for one, seemed mystified by the Seahawks' inability to get pressure on Leinart. Seattle led the NFL in sacks last season. The team has ranked among the league leaders for much of this season as well, thanks largely to a nine-sack game against Oakland and a five-sack game against Arizona in Week 2.

"You play a young quarterback and it's very simple," Fisher said. "If you knock him down, he'll find a way to lose. If you don't knock him down, he'll look like he's on his way to the Pro Bowl."

The Seahawks not only went without a sack; they failed to register a single quarterback hit.

"We went out there and made him look like the second coming of Joe Montana," Fisher said. "He dropped back, threw the ball where he wanted to and we didn't knock him down."

Seattle's pass rush and run defense were even less effective during the loss to San Francisco last month. This time, the 49ers must come to Qwest Field, where the Seahawks rarely lose.

"You don't want that bad taste in your mouth," middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. "You want to get back out there."

Seattle remains in prime position to win the division. It would take a monumental collapse for the NFC West to slip away.

--- QB Matt Hasselbeck played one of his better games Sunday. His passer rating of 133.5 was the second-highest of his career. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
--- RB Shaun Alexander found running room rather scarce Sunday, finishing with only 76 yards. "Typically, we've popped a couple long ones (against Arizona)," coach Mike Holmgren said." They played us a little differently. They didn't blitz us quite as much as in the past and as a result, it was tough getting big plays in the running game."
--- WR Darrell Jackson left the game Sunday with a toe injury. His status for Thursday night was not immediately known.
--- WR D.J. Hackett caught a 23-yard TD pass Sunday. He could see more playing time after WR Darrell Jackson suffered a toe injury.
--- CB Marcus Trufant slipped on the Cardinals' first offensive play, allowing WR Bryant Johnson to slip behind him for a 56-yard touchdown.

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