Sunday, November 28, 2004
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
"We have five games left, and we'll probably still be tied for the division lead or maybe even have it by ourselves. It will probably be going down to the last game of the season. I believe we are a better football team, but today we were not very good." – Mike Holmgren
Oh, REALLY? Mike, could you please send that better football team you keep talking about onto the field next Monday night?
In truth, anyone who didn’t see this kind of loss coming hasn’t been paying attention. Maybe not this week against this team, but certainly very, very soon. This is a team that has been living on borrowed time.
A week after escaping with their lives by the very thinnest of hairs (courtesy of one Michael Boulware) against the second-worst team in football, the Seattle Seahawks needed to shake the dust off, bring the pain and prove a point.
They proved several points today…but none they’re likely to admit. For that matter, nothing we saw today really needed to be proven. Any “Football 101” graduate knows you can’t win by drawing up plays in the dirt and basing your offense around a hobbled quarterback whose confidence is dropping like a bowling ball down an elevator shaft. Nor can your offense move effectively when the running game is not implemented (especially, Coach Bonehead, when said running game has the top running back in the NFL as its primary weapon). And a gutless offensive play-caller who refuses to press the issue when he really must – that man does not deserve a victory. Receivers who simply don’t care about catching the ball don’t deserve to start. Defensive coordinators who call five-yard cushions on receivers when they send all-out blitzes (thereby begging opposing quarterbacks to nickel-and-dime them to death) need to take a rational step back and ask themselves if they shouldn’t be pumping gas instead. Teams who listlessly execute half-assed plays are plotting their own inevitable demise.
It’s all about fundamentals, you cementheads!
The Seahawks got their butts handed to them by a rapidly improving Buffalo Bills team who proved to be everything the Seahawks are afraid to be anymore. They were outcoached and outperformed to a truly horrific degree on offense, defense and special teams. At times, the Buffalo coaching staff appeared to toy with Seattle’s coaching staff …as if to say to the rest of the NFL, “Guys, we’re going to do you all a BIG favor. There are those who say that Mike Holmgren and Ray Rhodes are not what they used to be. We shall prove it to you by catching them flat-footed for three embarrassing hours.”
The truly tragic part of this debacle is the distinct likelihood that the Seahawks’ future opponents will find this loss far more revealing than the Seahawks themselves. Because whatever the Seahawks’ modus operandi is this year (and your guess is as good as mine…), learning from their mistakes doesn’t appear to be part of the master plan.
Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: Everything else. End of freakin’ story!
Offense (First Half – F, Second Half - F): Tentative offensive movement. Truly incompetent playcalling. A rattled quarterback throwing to receivers who appeared to fear the football. Who would THIS be? The 49ers? The Dolphins? Well, yeah…but you’d have to add Mike Holmgren’s Seahawks to that list of indignity.
From the very first Seattle drive of the game, it was evident that nobody did their homework. Mike Holmgren called three separate passes to fullback Mack Strong – one was caught for 5 yards, one was dropped, and one was deflected by Bills LB Takeo Spikes. Holmgren sent Shaun Alexander up the middle against the Bills’ defense (the one thing you NEVER do against that team) with predictable results – two carries, three yards. Punt. From then on, Holmgren reverted to form and forgot that he did indeed have the NFL’s leading rusher on the field, preferring to call low-percentage passes in key situations. Alexander gained 39 yards on only 13 carries in the whole game, and while you’ll surely hear from Holmgren that the Seahawks were forced to pass because they were out of the game so quickly, this disassociation with the thing that makes his offense go “Boom!” was a constant factor, and a key reason that the Bills’ offense outgained the Seahawks’ 153 yards to 24 in the first quarter alone.
If the growing rumors are true and Holmgren won’t have a job here next year without a playoff win, Seattle’s third possession would be a pretty good indicator to many just exactly why a new coach might not be such a bad thing. In a 14-play, nearly 6-minute drive, Holmgren called eight passes (two dropped by Darrell Jackson, one dropped by Itula Mili) and only 6 runs. The drive was extended by two Bills penalties – an illegal contact call on CB Kevin Thomas, and a roughing the passer call against DT Ron Edwards. Even with the Bills helping him along, Holmgren and his offense couldn’t convert their drive into a touchdown. Why? Could have something to do with the fact that once again, in the red zone, Holmgren didn’t call Alexander’s number enough. With first down at the Buffalo 3-yard line, Alexander was sent up the middle (sigh…) for one yard. The rest of the drive consisted of Jackson’s third drop of the game and a busted play which led to a Hasselbeck run to the Bills’ 1-yard line. And with one yard to go on fourth and goal and down 10-0, Mike Holmgren took the offense he has spent six years assembling off the field and instructed Josh Brown to kick a 19-yard field goal.
The score was 10-3, but the game was over right there. The only interesting aspect of the offense from then on was in speculating just how long Holmgren was going to leave a gimpy, shaken, rusty and poorly performing Hasselbeck in the game. Even the most ardent Holmgren basher would never have assumed that he’d be stupid/indifferent/headstrong enough to leave Hasselbeck in for the full sixty minutes.
For once, Holmgren exceeded expectations. Hasselbeck did indeed play the whole game, to questionable effect (19 of 38 for 185 yards, a garbage-time TD and one pick). Hass was off-target all day – obviously affected by his leg injury and lack of practice over the last two weeks.
I thought Mike Holmgren would never top last year’s Redskins game in which he was outcoached by STEVE SPURRIER. I certainly never thought he’d top Super Bowl XXXII, when he directed his defense to back off, play loose and let the Denver Broncos score a go-ahead touchdown with less then two minutes left in the game so that his offense could get the ball back. But this was, without question, the worst coaching performance of Mike Holmgren’s career. Suffice to say that the majority of the Seahawk fanbase is ready for a change. From what the team itself has exhibited on the field this year, they probably need a new general if they hope to accomplish anything of merit as Seahawks.
In other words, guys, if you want Mike Holmgren to be your head coach next year…it’s time to start playing like it. Unless today WAS your statement…
Defense (First Half - F, Second Half - D): Ah…but the Seahawks do not lose embarrassingly by Mike Holmgren alone. In the spirit of their longtime association, Ray Rhodes tried his very best to match Holmgren’s shoddy coaching with his own. I’d say he did one hell of a job!
The Bills went no-huddle in their first drive, having obviously dissected Rhodes’ inability to adjust to on-field variables. This netted them the first of many touchdowns. Encouraged by the four sacks his defense picked up against the Dolphins last week, Rhodes was sending the house with unusual regularity, but his penchant for backing his DBs off enemy receivers allowed Bledsoe to check down and hit short and intermediate passes all day. Even though Hamlin bagged two INTs (one underthrown and one overthrown, which should tell you all you need to know) and Lucas came up with one, the Bills never seemed threatened – an absolute joke when you let a team off the hook over and over despite constant blitzing and three interceptions. Once again, everything seems to be about causing the “big play” – fundamentals take a back seat. Why not bump the receivers at the line to disrupt the timing if you’re going to blitz? Why not use the talent you have in the secondary to play man? Because you’re afraid to get burned deep? What the hell do you call a 38-9 final score?
One truly alarming trend that this defense is showing is that Rhodes’ “every man to the ball” philosophy leaves them severely vulnerable to any manner of misdirection. Buffalo head coach Mike Mularkey was very aware of that fact, and nothing told the story better than the Bills’ second-to-last TD of the day.
With 10;47 left in the fourth quarter and Buffalo facing 4th and 1 at the Seattle 30, Mularkey called for a field goal. He then called a time out and brought his offense back on to the field. Showing a set that would insinuate a short run or quarterback sneak, Drew Bledsoe faked a sneak to the right, dropped back short and threw a backward pass to Willis McGahee (one of McGahee’s 4 TDs), who ran untouched into the end zone. There was nobody near McGahee until Terreal Bierria tried to push him out of bounds at the goal line. Folks, you can trust me when I say that EVERY SINGLE TEAM the Seahawks face from now on will study this game intently and devise new and interesting ways to fake the Seahawks out of their boots. Have you seen a single thing this year that would assure you that the Seahawks are up to that challenge?
Special Teams (F-): Oh, brother. If there are two coaches who could be cashiered tomorrow with little or no ill effect, Wide Receivers coach Nolan Cromwell would be one. No question that Special Teams coach Mark Michaels would be the other, and no question that the exiled Pete Rodriguez must be laughing up his sleeve down in Jacksonville these days. Seattle’s special teams are only special in their ability to drive Seahawk fans to drink.
Once again, the unit’s very first play set the tone (What the hell happened to the Seahawks NOT looking like chumps in all three areas of the game right from the start?). Josh Brown booted the opening kickoff out of bounds, which gave the Bills possession on their own 40-yard line. Buffalo, who has the finest special teams unit in the NFL, is used to starting with great field position. But even they must have been surprised at the astonishing incompetence of the Seahawk special teams.
With three minutes left in the first quarter, new Seattle punter Ken Walter punted 33 yards to Nate Clements at the Buffalo 16. Clements called a fair catch. Problem was, Niko Koutouvides was too busy birdwatching to notice, and barreled right into Clements. The 15-yard fair catch interference penalty set the Bills up with good field position in a drive that ended in a Rian Lindell field goal.
Lindell was also at the center of the single most embarrassing moment of the Seahawks season to date (apparently, “to date” is an important qualification) when he squibbed an onside kick and recovered it himself with absolutely no contention from a completely unaware Seahawk kickoff return unit. More disasters followed (including the 5’11” Mo Morris attempting to block a field goal halfway through the third quarter and getting penalized for using another player for vertical leverage – apparently, Michaels had sent the punt return team onto the field by mistake), and once again, fundamentals and intangibles that the Seahawks chose to ignore killed them in the end.
Summary: It is apparently enough for this team to win cheap divisional wars of attrition over teams that they would demolish if only they cared about the little things. It is apparently acceptable to mislead the public by constantly pointing to a “better team” that doesn’t exist right now. I guess it’s OK to shake this one off and move on, having learned nothing from the experience.
My mind doesn’t work that way. What I take away from this is the indelible impression of a team that has no mental toughness whatsoever. A team that shrugs in the face of soul-destroying losses. A team that pays lip service to contrition, but can’t wait to get their props on Media Day. A team that has absolutely no business contending for anything. A team that is about two months away from a very big rebuilding project.
And, the deep, dreamless sleep of rehabilitation.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief
of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.