The Enigma

"Detractors and doubters can again point to the statistical fact that the Seahawks have failed to beat many (or any) teams with winning records lately. This fact, while annoyingly true, is somewhat enigmatic in and of itself."

Thanksgiving is over now. The NFL now steels itself for the final stretch run.

November is a traditional time for playoff teams to start distancing themselves from the rest of the pack. You can see that happening with the cream of the crop, like New England, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. The best teams have already virtually locked up playoff spots and are starting to jockey for position in the postseason. All important seedings are at stake, as teams try to win the elusive home field advantage for their postseason runs.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, present something of an enigma. With a one-game lead in the NFC West division standings, the team conceivably can control their own destiny. If they win all of their remaining games, they would lock up the division crown and earn at least one home playoff game.

Therein lies the difficulty.

You would think that a team in that situation would approach games with confidence. However, if the fan base is any indicator, there is still much to be proven. There is a certain lack of confidence emanating from the fan base.

Recent struggles in games that many thought would be easy wins have eroded many fans’ faith that this team is for real. Once again, there are reasons for this.

Detractors and doubters can again point to the statistical fact that the Seahawks have failed to beat many (or any) teams with winning records lately. This fact, while annoyingly true, is somewhat enigmatic in and of itself. After all, the team has no control over who is on the schedule. When the NFL lines up a bunch of also-rans on the schedule, the team’s only recourse is to play them and hopefully beat them.

When making pre-season predictions, the Seahawks schedule actually looked somewhat daunting in places. After all, the Carolina Panthers, to cite one example, came in as NFC Champions. Who predicted, in July, that they would melt down the way they have?

Likewise, Miami, pre-Ricky Williams retirement fiasco and weather and injury upheavals, looked like a pretty good challenge. In the end, they were a challenge. People may have underestimated their motivation in last Sunday’s game. That represented their hope to have a non-losing season, after all. We gave them their ninth loss of the season, a mark that that proud franchise hasn’t suffered in many years. There was a reason the Dolphins came out motivated. While their playoffs hopes may have vanished long ago, there is something that every team feels about that one loss that puts them into the losing camp that will make most teams fight all the harder to prevent it.

Today, another AFC East team comes to town. Buffalo holds slim playoffs hopes. If they could win out, they might get in the dance with 10 wins, depending on how the tie-breakers pan out. In any event, the Bills come in with a must-win attitude.

Our Seahawks, for their part, must counter that with a must-win attitude of their own. For while a nine win team will probably make the playoffs in the NFC, that is a difficult row to hoe. The next step in Seahawks evolution, if they are to think of this season as a success, is to win the division. They have hurt themselves in the past, but hope is still very much alive.

Our rivals, the Rams, laid an egg last week against this very same Bills team. But, in a parity stricken league, one thread that seems to affect a lot of teams is the old “winning on the road” bugaboo. Buffalo is 0 for 4 in road games so far this season. The problem is that the team has been playing fairly well of late in the facets of the game deemed most important for success on the road, defense and the running game. Add in that they have been explosive on Special Teams, and this game looks like a real challenge for the home team.

The Seahawks, as recently as September, could feel confident playing at home, looking back at their undefeated record there last season. However, that streak has already been snapped. Now the home winning “streak” sits at a single game, and given some poor performances on the road of late, the home crowd was a bit less enthusiastic against the ‘Phins than they had been previously. Will the crowd come alive today against the Bills? We can only hope.

The team, though, and especially the offense, presents the biggest enigma of all.

For some strange reason, the Seahawks offense has lost its identity.

On the field they have become, for all intents and purposes, a power running team. Certainly, Shaun Alexander and the offensive line have stepped up and produced some awesome running statistics, and Coach Holmgren seems to have gritted his teeth and allowed that to happen, his sexy, pass-first, air delivery offensive system little more than tattered remnants left to blow in the wind of Qwest Field.

It probably seems ungrateful for fans to complain over much about how we have been winning games. It has been ugly at times, but at least it has been largely successful. Fans should be used to it, anyway. Making it look harder than it should has been a Seahawks tradition. Why should this year be any different?

Presumably, Mike Holmgren has been pulling at his already thinning hair trying to figure out some way to force the passing game to come alive. One of the reasons the Miami game was so close was that they screwed up their very low ranked run defense and pretty much contained Shaun Alexander. Trent Dilfer, while excellent on the opening drive, struggled most of the afternoon trying to pass the ball.

Holmgren seems unable to provide any explanations in his press conferences. The players offer up the usual clichés and platitudes, while displaying a strange kind of “We’ll be OK” attitude that seems to have no basis in reality. The players talk a confident talk that they can crank this offense up for the stretch run, but sometimes confidence is a feeling one has before one understands the situation. Can they really walk the walk?

Shaun Alexander fans have been jubilant, saying the team has finally used Shaun like they should. Meanwhile, fans of a more open offense and the passing game are running out of patience. Where are the airborne strikes of a year ago? Where are the quick slants and exciting run after catch yards that are supposed to be a staple of this offense? In effect, where is Mike Holmgren’s offense when we need it? The end of the season is starting to look like that light up ahead is an oncoming train, and our offense has yet to really fire on all cylinders for any length of time at all.

Today’s game presents another enigma. Since the Seahawks are favored, not much will be said about us if we win. That would be the old ho-hum Seahawks, beating another team with a losing record. So what?

Meanwhile, losing could be a major problem. A team with its own destiny in its hands should not lose at home to a barely contending team. More often than not for the Seahawks, destiny has been a slippery devil to hang onto. Recently, the Seahawks have been fairly good at winning the games they were supposed to win. They have yet to prove they can consistently win the games they need to win. Today’s game looks to be both.

The very outcome of this game, and the motivation for winning it, is somewhat of an enigma. It looks like the team has little to win and lots to lose. Is that enough motivation for this enigmatic team? Time will tell.

But time is rapidly running out in this NFL season. It’s time to step up and eradicate the doubts and solve the enigma once and for all.

In short, it’s time to play some Seahawks football.

Seahawks 21
Bills 17

Steve Utz writes a column for Seahawks.NET every Sunday. Send your feedback to Steve at Top Stories