MMQB - "They're All Heart"

The Seattle Seahawks showed today that they do know the only way to successfully challenge a chaotic future - strap on the pads, steel the heart, and spit into the abyss.

Seattle Seahawks 27, Minnesota Vikings 23
Sunday, December 12, 2004
The Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota

“If I can reach these guys…touch them in some way…they’ll give you everything they have” – Mike Holmgren

For better or worse, we’re nearing the end of the Seahawks as we know them.

A lot could happen in the next few weeks, and a lot WILL happen in the next few months. The edifice that Holmgren Construction, Inc. was charged with building six seasons ago will undergo serious off-season renovations whether it’s finished or not, and there’s only half a chance that its foreman will be around to call the shots. The team will be facing the free agent status of, among others, its marquee quarterback, its star running back, its leader in sacks and its shutdown cornerback. There are more and more rumblings regarding a severe chasm in understanding between the team’s president and its head coach, and with all that going on, the team itself is trying desperately to get out of its own way long enough to back into the playoffs.

The Seahawks desperately needed a game like this – a game when players could rally for their disillusioned coach, a game when a rookie with less than a season at his current position could take over yet another game…a game when a young man who just lost his father to a cruel disease could inspire his brothers-in-arms at a superhuman level.

No matter what happens, the Seattle Seahawks will always have this game as a special reminder of the value of determination. No matter where they go from here, they’ll have this one in their hearts – the place it belongs.

Handouts To The Standouts: A very special mention for Darrell Jackson. When Jackson found out before the game that his ailing father (a victim of cancer) had passed away in Florida, he was told by Mike Holmgren that he didn’t have to play. Jackson blew that idea off, steeled his soul in the name of his father, and went out and had the most important and memorable game of his career…Michael Boulware, for proving that his first start was long overdue and a portent of great things to come…Matt Hasselbeck, for debunking the ongoing Freudisms of the local and national sports media, and the Seahawks as a whole, for being the team we hoped they were when they needed to be.

Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: As proud of the Seahawks as I am today, I’m reluctant to focus too much on the negative. There’s been enough of that lately. I will, however, extend a personal message to special teams coach Mark Michaels: Get that resume together…and you might consider pulling a George O’Leary and fabricating some stuff!

Rant Of The Day: The officials. What else? You know, it’s pretty obvious to anyone who watches professional football with even a cursory interest, that there are quite a few officials who can’t keep up with the speed of the game. They stand there like deer in the headlights, possibly victims of adverse reactions to Geritol overdoses, and blow calls that happen right in front of them all the time. The NFL has seemingly recognized and admitted that their game is just too fast and chaotic to be consistently judged by the human eye (although the more able officials, such as Ed Hochuli, don’t seem to have too many problems). Sooooo…that’s why there’s replay, right?

Suuuuure. Instant replay seems to be more and more about covering the butts of incompetent officials than it is about any equitable result. “Sorry, Coach…this play is reviewable, this one isn’t.” “Sorry, Coach, less than two minutes left in the half – you can’t throw the red flag. In crunchtime, during the most important two minutes of the game (the last two minutes!) you have no control over replay, You have to trust that the little man in the little booth will consider that jacked-up call reviewable. But there’s a 50-50 chance he’s awake!”

So you can never be sure…and as the zebras continue to build a mystery, there’s less accountability now than there was before replay. The good news? If the refs whiff a set of calls that cost you a game, possibly a season and maybe a JOB…you’ll get an apology from the league office the next day. Fabulous!

And if you’re a Seahawk fan, you have to wonder if there isn’t some sort of conspiracy going on. In this game alone (and a mere six days after we all learned to cringe at the words, “Booth Review”, the following incidents occurred:

1. With eight minutes left in the first quarter, Marcus Trufant was called for a 31-yard pass interference penalty on Randy Moss. Trufant barely had a hand on one of Moss’ arms.

2. With three minutes left in the game, Marquand Manuel was called for a 33-yard pass interference penalty on Moss. Manuel was running with Moss step for step after recovering from late safety help, and even the national TV commentators remarked that Moss had “schooled the refs”, i.e., he had made it appear as if there was interference when there wasn’t by altering his own pace.

3. At the beginning of the third quarter, Matt Hasselbeck threw what appeared to be an interception to Vikings safety Brian Russell with Jehreme Urban in the area. What actually happened was that Urban was being completely mugged by Minnesota cornerback Derek Ross. No flag. On Minnesota’s next possession, the refs made a no-call on what appeared to be a Michael Boulware interference penalty in the end zone…perhaps under the assumption that offsetting incompetence gets us all back to square one.

4. With 7:25 left in the third quarter and the Seahawks driving for a score, Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson committed an obvious infraction when covering Bobby Engram. Henderson bumped Engram in the end zone and made no attempt to turn his head around and watch for the ball. No flag.

5. With 8:39 left in the fourth quarter on a crucial 3rd down play for the Seahawks, Hasselbeck threw an “incompletion” to Darrell Jackson. What actually happened was that Jackson was incapable of catching the ball because he, like Urban before, was being mugged by Ross. Again, no flag.

6. And, the “piece de resistance”…the last play of the game. With four seconds remaining, Daunte Culpepper appeared to have been sacked by Antonio Cochran. Problem was, the official who was a few yards away from the play, with a perfect sightline, didn’t call Culpepper down because he didn’t see his knee hit the turf. The Seahawks, assuming that the play and therefore the game WAS over, came on to the field to celebrate. Culpepper, noticing that he hadn’t been called down, threw an incomplete pass to TE Jermaine Wiggins in the end zone.

During that time, the officials conferred - incredibly, they never did call Culpepper down (Cochran was never credited with a sack, as he should have been), settling instead for the save from the incomplete pass. Which means that if the pass HAD been complete, the Vikings could have just taken the ill-gotten touchdown (not to mention the win) and walked off the field.

Referee Bill Vinovich and his crew should have a lot to answer for…but they won’t have to answer for anything. We are reminded of this every time we see Tom White officiate yet another nationally televised “A-Game”. And the results were almost much worse for the Seahawks – AGAIN. And by the way, if any of this information is erroneous and has affected any of the referees, the Seahawks.NET “head office” will issue an “official apology” tomorrow. That’ll make it right, right?

Offense (First Half – A, Second Half - B): There are many traps that await the eager sports journalist. Despite the fact that we’re confronted with deadlines and always desperate to provide original analysis, it’s up to sportswriters to be pretty damn sure of what we’re doing before we drive right into an athlete’s brain and set up shop. Example? The burgeoning number of pundits, both local and national, who are attempting to sell you on the idea that Matt Hasselbeck’s ongoing contract uncertainly is “affecting his performance”.

Uhhh…yeah. Two points about that. First, in the last calendar week against Dallas and Minnesota, when Hasselbeck has actually been healthy and his receivers have not been dropping the ball all the damn time, he has completed 51 passes on 74 attempts for 748 yards and six touchdowns. In the month before his current hot streak, Hass was dealing with a horrific level of offensive inconsistency around him. On top of that, he was dealing with a bone bruise on his right thigh and ribs that were so painful that he was forced to take the needle.

Secondly, athletes who are worried about preserving their free-agent value DO NOT play when they’re hurt if they can possibly avoid it. Why? Because the easiest way to incur a serious injury is to play when you’re already hurt. Not to mention the fact that Hasselbeck’s injuries were obviously affecting his performance – especially in the 38-9 loss to the Bills in Week Twelve. Matt Hasselbeck is a gamer. He is a team leader and a tough player who occasionally makes some really strange decisions under pressure (like, ahem, 95% of the quarterbacks in the NFL), but it is an insult to Hasselbeck and what he has put on the line for the Seahawks this year to infer that his contract situation is playing into his performance. He has repeatedly asked the team to put the season on his back – sometimes when he could barely walk – and he deserves better than this armchair psychology. Matt Hasselbeck will get major dollars from some team in the off-season, and if it isn’t the Seahawks, said Seahawks will have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

Given the Vikings’ abysmal pass coverage (they’re one of the few teams in the NFL who would find a Ray Rhodes scheme to be an improvement at this point), Mike Holmgren aired it out from the word go, and it was the right choice. Hasselbeck went 13 of 18 for 211 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone. Holmgren switched to a more balanced run/pass combination in the second half, but Hasselbeck finished with the aforementioned super-impressive 2-game run.

Once again, the defense that Seattle opposed focused on Shaun Alexander and defied the passing game to beat them (which makes me think that the Vikings are in serious denial as to the ability of their secondary), but Alexander still gained 112 yards on 27 carries and 12 yards on one reception. Yep, the Seahawks won when Shaun carried the rock over 25 times…it’s not a coincidence!

There can be no question that the star of this game was Darrell Jackson – he would have been the star just by suiting up, given the circumstances. When you look at the numbers – 135 yards on 10 receptions and a touchdown – Jackson validated the confidence placed in him by Hasselbeck, who has said that Jackson is the most important component of the offense. Whatever you may think of his past drop-fests and the boastful performances that have provided bulletin board fodder for the Seahawks’ opponents, this was a new Darrell Jackson we saw today.

Defense (First Half – D, Second Half - C): Did you notice the draws and delays to Alexander in the second half? Perhaps our coach is expanding his playsheet to include every play that Ray Rhodes seems incapable of countering. If this is the case, Mike had better get a bigger playsheet – perhaps something on a little stand with wheels?

You knew, after the Seattle defense’s horrific performance against Julius Jones on Monday night, that the Vikings were going to run draw after draw until Seattle proved able to stop them. Middle linebacker Orlando Huff may have helped to stop the bleeding later in the game by screaming “Watch The Draw!!!” before every Viking offensive play. Well, if you can’t stop ‘em with technique, get obvious!

You also know that Rhodes doesn’t adjust to what’s going on in front of him until he’s practically whacked upside the head with a baseball bat. Forget the light going on, folks…someone up in that booth is still learning to rub two sticks together. Onterrio Smith was gashing the Hawks quite nicely in the first quarter until Rhodes decided that it might indeed be nice to bring Boulware up for safety help on the run. Boulware came up mega-big with seven tackles in the first half. In this game alone, he also sacked Culpepper on a safety blitz, stripped the ball out of Smith’s hands in the first quarter, and bagged the game-clinching interception on Minnesota’s inexplicable Randy Moss pass play.

With Seattle’s line and linebacker corps decimated by injuries (adding to that disaster was Grant Wistrom’s knee injury – he may be out for the rest of the regular season), it was pretty much all on the secondary. Marcus Trufant played perhaps his best game of the season – caught in single coverage on Randy Moss FAR too often, he broke up an end zone play to Moss in the first quarter, was victimized by the ticky-tack interference call detailed above, and was able to make an even bigger difference later in the game when Rhodes remembered that the words “Randy Moss” and “Safety Help” go together like a lame defensive coordinator and an early playoff exit…

Special Teams (D): When the Seahawks were penalized for having 12 men on the field in punt coverage at the end of the Vikings’ first possession (which led to a Morten Andersen field goal instead of the punt)…well, what can one say? Yet another Mark Michaels fiasco. With Bob Melvin off to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Michaels just might be the most ineffective coach of any sort in the Pacific Northwest. Judging from Holmgren’s reaction to the penalty (and the fact that receivers coach Nolan Cromwell has been working intently with the special teams units over the last two weeks), I’d be surprised to see Michaels last the season. In fact, I’m begging the Seahawks to make it so. Somewhere in Jacksonville, Pete Rodriguez is laughing…

Cromwell might have found his calling here – his work with Josh Brown resulted in two touchbacks on kickoffs, and punter Ken Walter booted four punts with a 40.5 yard average. Mo Morris even pulled off a couple of decent returns. Given Cromwell’s chronic inability to stop the drops over the last two seasons (anyone else find it ironic that the drops have stopped since Cromwell started moonlighting with the special teams?), this move might be a necessity on two levels.

Summary: This game featured two teams that have a great deal in common – perennial underachievers with high preseason expectations, the Seahawks and Vikings faced off in a desperate battle to climb out of the ever-increasing NFC mediocrity glut. The Seahawks wanted this game more than the Vikings did, for a host of reasons. What those reasons can do for them with three games remaining is open to debate. But the Seahawks did themselves proud here by facing their ever-uncertain future with a hard, level stare and driving into the oncoming fog.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at Top Stories