SERIES: 15th regular-season meeting. The series is tied, 7-7. The two teams haven't played since 2004 when the Patriots beat the Seahawks, 30-20, at Gillette Stadium. The last meeting was in 1993, which coincidentally is the last time New England visited Seattle. The Seahawks won that game, 10-9, at the Kingdome, which has since been torn down. Seattle now plays at Qwest Field and Sunday will be the Patriots' first visit.
PREDICTION: Patriots 31-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: After falling into big first-half holes against Arizona and Dallas while largely playing back in coverage, embattled Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall is expected to begin the game bringing more pressure from the linebackers. But Patriots QB Matt Cassel is adept at sliding in the pocket to buy more time, and WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker should have little trouble beating man coverage downfield. Cassel could well lead the team in rushing by breaking containment a few times.
Hasselbeck's hot seat: Seattle is going to have trouble running between the tackles with rookie C Steve Vallos, a college guard, doing battle with massive Patriots NT Vince Wilfork. Fortunately, QB Matt Hasselbeck is showing signs of regaining his rhythm. He has thrown six interceptions in his three games back from injury, but has improved his completion percentage each game. With the offense struggling to sustain drives, however, the receiving corps must eliminate the dropped passes that have marred the past few games.
Key Injuries: Patriots: RB LaMont Jordan (calf) is expected to play; LB Pierre Woods (mouth) and DE Ty Warren (groin) is uncertain. Seahawks: OLB Leroy Hill (stinger) and LG Mike Wahle (shoulder) are doubtful; C Chris Spencer (back) is out for the season.
Need to know: The Patriots will stay on the West Coast to prepare for next weekend's game at Oakland. ... The Seahawks have just seven sacks in five games since DE Patrick Kerney was lost for the season.
--DE Richard Seymour was removed from the practice participation report Thursday, which is good news for the Patriots since they need all the help they can get to reestablish their pass rush this weekend.
--DE Ty Warren missed another practice Thursday with a thigh injury and his status remains in doubt for Sunday since he hasn't played the last two weeks. The Patriots have missed his presence considering their struggles on defense in those games.
--CB Ellis Hobbs was listed under the "limited participation" portion of the practice report Thursday due to a shoulder injury. He should be ready to go Sunday in Seattle barring any setbacks.
--C Dan Koppen is nursing an elbow injury, but was on the field for the entire practice Thursday, so expect to see him in the lineup Sunday as well.
--LB Pierre Woods missed Thursday's practice with a jaw injury sustained in Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh. His potential absence could pave the way for Rosevelt Colvin to play in Seattle.
--LB Leroy Hill did not practice on Thursday and is doubtful for Sunday's game against New England.
--OT Walter Jones did not practice for the second straight day Thursday because of a leg injury but should play against the Patriots.
--G Mike Wahle did not practice Thursday with a shoulder injury and is doubtful.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck was limited in practice Thursday but is expected to play and start against his hometown team.
--DT Red Bryant was limited in practice Thursday but could play against the Patriots. He had a high ankle sprain.
--S C.J. Wallace was limited in practice Thursday because of a hamstring injury but could play against New England.
|Matt Cassel needs better protection this week (AP)|
Those nasty ebbs and flows we thought had finally eluded Matt Cassel reared their ugly heads again last Sunday when the Patriots quarterback struggled mightily in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After throwing for more than 400 yards in back-to-back games, Cassel suffered the mother of all precipitous dropoffs against Pittsburgh, throwing two interceptions and fumbling twice while accumulating just 169 yards.
How does he handle such inconsistency? Cassel seeks the advice of all his teammates and coaches.
"I think we just rally together as a team," Cassel said. "We know we have to play better as a team and there is no one individual that you pinpoint for that game. You have to take your hats off to the Steelers, they are a good defense and they did a good job. We needed to make more plays and we didn't do that on Sunday.
"Individually, I have things to work on. I need to take care of the ball, obviously. You just have to come back and rebound and that is what you have to do in this game. You don't rely on any one person to do that for you. You just rely on yourself, prepare to do the best of your abilities and try to get ready for the next week."
Cassel has faced a number of firsts in 2008. Sunday will be his first visit to Qwest Field in Seattle, where the crowd noise is such a factor the fans have named themselves the 12th Man.
"(We) just try to crank up the noise at practice and get as prepared as we can," Cassel said. "The Jets game (at Giants Stadium) was one of the first ones that I have played in this year and we just have to deal with whatever elements there are.
"Like I said, we just try to emulate the noise as best as we can at practice. We have to use a different message of cadence. You have to be sure to communicate what we are trying to get done in the huddle, be loud and if there are any questions ask before we break that huddle because we know that can be tough at times."
The other factor in this game will be Seattle's opportunity to play the role of spoiler. The Seahawks are 2-10 and have fallen out of the playoff race, but they could impact what happens in the AFC if they upset the Patriots on Sunday. New England might need to win each of its final four games just to make the playoffs.
"I am sure they will fight to the finish," Cassel said of the Seahawks. "This is their job. Despite what their record shows they are a very good defense and a very good team. They are an experienced team and we definitely have to go out and put together our best game. They have been in a lot of tight games this year that have not gone their way. So we are expecting a dogfight out there. They play very well at home so we are going to have to be up and ready to go."
Playing against a shoddy pass defense might be just what the doctor ordered to get Randy Moss back on track following a dismal performance against Pittsburgh in which he took responsibility for the loss. Cassel is willing to try anything and everything to lead the team to a crucial victory.
"Every week you go in and hope that you have production in the passing game and also in the running game," he said. "Hopefully, come Sunday, they will give us some opportunities to hit some throws, but you will never know until you get going in the game and see how they are going to play you and see how your scheme is going to work out against what they are going to do."
|Mike Holmgren all done after the season. (Getty)|
Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren reverted to one of his old motivational tools now that the 2-10 Seahawks are playing out the string.
"I encouraged them, once again, to have fun playing football," Holmgren said. "Let's not forget why we got here in the first place. It's a tough season, and we're grinding through it, but let's cut it loose.
"I tried to free them up just a little bit, to play, and continue to have fun. Our locker room, as far as I can tell, the players are encouraging one another. They're still okay. I think if you watch us practice, you'll still see a pretty upbeat group of guys practicing and preparing themselves to play as well as they can play. That's really what I've tried to do down the stretch, and what I'll continue to do in the last four games."
On Thursday, Holmgren implemented a two-minute drill at the end of practice that he rarely uses during the week, where the players not involved stood on the sidelines.
The defense dominated early, prompting whoops and hollers from everybody wearing white. When Holmgren called a pass-interference penalty that bailed out the offense, there were boos. And when the offense then marched down the field and scored, there was a sense of relief -- since that is something the offense has rarely done this season.
Afterward, several of the players met with newly signed MLS star Freddy Ljungberg, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck exchanged jerseys with him.
How that lighthearted approach will work against the New England Patriots on Sunday remains to be seen. Holmgren has tried this tact in the past and it has not worked.
Of course, he has tried appealing to their pride, and that has not worked. He has poked their competitive spirit, and that has not worked. And before last week's game, he gave a heart-felt speech about how honored he has been to coach a bunch of professionals, and he was thankful to have that opportunity. That did not work against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.
"I don't think we have to dig to deep, we're all competitive and anytime you get to play an NFL football game it's exciting," Hasselbeck said. "You watch these guys on film and they have a ton of Pro Bowlers on their team. They're a very good team each and every year and it's going to be a huge challenge for us. I'm sure no one is counting on us to even have a chance. It's an opportunity for us to go out and compete and have fun."