Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Sunday, December 19, 2004
“I want to win now – I may get hit by a bus tomorrow” – Phil Esposito
Did anyone get the number of that license plate?
If you look in your Gamebook, the number is 19. That is the jersey number of Scott Green, the first-year official who was the crew chief of this game. Green continued the following fine tradition that has been established in the National Football League:
To win, the Seattle Seahawks must beat the opposing team AND the officials.
And in the most obvious display of officiating incompetence Seahawk fans have had to endure since the infamous Tom White fiasco against the Ravens last year, their opponents, the New York Jets, were spotted anywhere from 14 to 21 points on blown calls. Given the way Seattle’s defense performed in this game, it’s patently incorrect to say that Scott Green and his crew lost the game for the Seahawks, but it would have been far more interesting to see what would have happened had the officiating been fair.
So before we get to the actual GAME, and because the NFL has more and better lawyers than I do, I will simply recall the following incidents, in order, without further commentary:
• The aforementioned NFL, in its infinite wisdom, put a rookie official in charge of a crew for a game with wide-ranging playoff implications…a game that FOX thought important enough to assign its’ “A-Team” of Buck, Collinsworth, Aikman and Oliver…in a stadium full of rabid, well-oiled Jets fans. You are welcome to draw your own inference here.
• With 7:49 left in second quarter and the Jets up 10-7, New York had the ball at Seattle’s 3-yard line on third and goal. Pennington handed off to Curtis Martin, who did not break the plane from any angle. Despite this, the officials signaled touchdown. Mike Holmgren challenged the call, which was upheld by Green. Green apparently told a pool reporter after the game that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the call, which leads one to wonder what the options are besides “He got in the end zone” and “He did not get in the end zone”. The Seahawks lost a time out on a play for which they’ll undoubtedly receive yet another apology from the NFL.
• On the Seahawks’ next possession, with first and 10 at the New York 38, Hasselbeck threw a pass to Darrell Jackson, who was flagged for a rather dubious offensive pass interference penalty. This despite the fact that on several occasions throughout the game, Jets defensive backs were observed holding Seahawk receivers with no flag thrown. Hasselbeck threw an interception on the next play.
• With 4:02 remaining in the third quarter, the Seahawks began a red zone drive with first and 10 at the Jets’ 3-yard line. On first down, Shaun Alexander ran right for two yards and on second down, Matt Hasselbeck took the ball himself inside the one and very close to the goal line – certainly no further away than Curtis Martin was. On third down, Shaun Alexander DID break the plane, but the officials called no touchdown. The Seahawks protested the third down play (and ONLY the third down play) vehemently to no avail. More telling was the fact that the third down play was the only one during the sequence in which FOX did not show a replay. The Seahawks went for it on fourth down, Shaun Alexander ran right and fumbled just before he got to the end zone, and the Jets’ Shaun Ellis recovered. Replays showed that Alexander may have crossed the goal line before losing the ball.
• With 11:27 left in the fourth quarter, at the Seattle 21, Hasselbeck was sacked by Ellis. Hasselbeck fumbled on the play. The fumble was recovered by Steve Hutchinson, whose forward progress had been stopped. Despite that, when Robbie Tobeck inadvertently punched the ball out of Hutchinson’s arm, it was called a fumble. The officials originally attempted to call Hutchinson for illegal touching of the ball, but had to pick up the flag…presumably realizing, after the fact, that there can be no illegal touch during a fumble.
• And, of course, the most interesting play…also in the fourth quarter. The Jets’ LaMont Jordan fumbled, the fumble was returned for a touchdown by Ken Hamlin, the official nearest the play did not dispute the fumble, but a line judge 15 yards away overruled the fumble, giving Jordan the forward progress call that Hutchinson did not get.
Just a few observations…discuss amongst yourselves.
Offense (First Half – C, Second Half - D): The Seahawks’ offense actually started out rather impressively – on their first possession of the game, they drove down the field, alternating run and pass plays (including some very determined running by Alexander) ending in an amazing one-handed touchdown reception by Jerry Rice.
Then, Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson switched from a standard four-man rush to a creative series of blitz packages, and it was all downhill from there. Hasselbeck, rattled by the pressure and suffering from the flu, forced several throws throughout the game and had thrown for only 201 yards when he left the game in the fourth quarter with an elbow injury.
On the Seahawks’ second drive, Mike Holmgren called for a handoff to Alexander on third and 17, with the Seahawks at their own 36. As with every single third-and-long running play Holmgren has called this season, this call ended the drive and forced the team to punt.
Hasselbeck recovered nicely at the end of the first half in a drive that concluded in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jerramy Stevens, but that was the last noise the offense would make…if you don’t count Alexander’s third-quarter touchdown, which the officials, indeed, did not.
Defense (First Half – F, Second Half - F): Coming into this game, the Jets’ offense was in a major state of flux. Quarterback Chad Pennington’s shoulder was bothering him to the point where he wasn’t sure to play, wide receiver Santana Moss was complaining that he wasn’t getting the ball enough, fans were calling for the head of offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, and head coach Herman Edwards had called his team out in public and private after a humiliating 17-6 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Edwards, as long as he’s been around and as smart as he is, must have known that everything was about to get a LOT better – his team was about to face a Ray Rhodes defense. Merry Christmas!
It seems that every Rhodes-coached defense has their own fatal liability, and sometimes the Achilles’ heel will change mid-season. In 2003, his first season coaching the defense, it was an unbelievable vulnerability to the pass. Rhodes would set up pacifist zones, allowing quarterbacks, no matter who they were (Anthony Wright, anyone?) to pick the Seahawks apart. This defensive deficiency was also the reason that the Rams were able to overcome a 17-point Seahawk lead late in the fourth quarter in Week Four and pull the game out in overtime.
Over the second half of the 2004 season, two things have killed this defense – an absolute inability to stop the run, and an almost comical “Which way did he go???” response to any manner of trick play, delay or misdirection. The Bills exposed the weakness to trick plays a few weeks ago and the Cowboys displayed Seattle’s apathetic response to the draw play. Thus, every Seahawk opponent is provided with a sure-fire strategy to run the Seahawk defense down, and it is Rhodes that hands it over as if it were a pre-game program. Seattle’s defense, which was ranked #1 in the NFL overall after three games, is now hanging around in the mid-to-low twenties.
Misdirection killed the Seahawk D from the word go – on the Jets’ first drive, a reverse to Santana Moss for 12 yards and a draw to Martin for 20 not only set up New York’s first score, but challenged the Seahawks’ ability directly. And with the lone exception of Michael Boulware (who made several first quarter stops in the red zone) the defense was just not up to it.
Chad Brown, in his first game back in weeks, was directed to play receivers man-on-man several times, generally with unfortunate results. Jet receivers were able to get free releases past the Seahawk linebackers (Orlando Huff was especially victimized in this regard) into a secondary that was playing not to lose.
The coverage on Santana Moss’ 32-yard touchdown reception with 1:48 left in the first half was a summary of the season for this defense. With all three linebackers dropped into coverage and nobody jamming him at the line, Moss was able to conduct his own personal track meet, using Seahawk defenders as little more than traffic cones. When Moss got to the end zone, he was able to beat Ken Hamlin on single coverage.
There are those who will claim that it is the injuries and not the scheme – that Seattle’s defense is so depleted that it is unfair and unrealistic to expect them to perform at a top-tier level. While I’m sure Ray Rhodes appreciates that sentiment, it’s nothing but bunk. When Seattle suffered that Week Four meltdown against St. Louis, they were fielding a healthy defense, were they not? And this is the NFL, folks. Every single team is depleted by injuries at some point in the season to a greater or lesser extent. Gregg Easterbrook, in his excellent column for NFL.com last week, adroitly detailed the role that several Washington Redskins reserve players have had to play for their defense – a defense that is the class of the NFL:
“Who are Ryan Boschetti, Ryan Clark, Demetric Evans, Lemar Marshall, Antonio Pierce and Ron Warner? All undrafted free agents or waiver-wire acquisitions who have started games this year for the defense of the Washington Redskins, currently ranked second in the NFL. The high defensive ranking of the Skins is remarkable owing to the number of who-dats who have seen significant playing time; to the fact that the Washington offense is cover-your-eyes awful, meaning the defense constantly trots back onto the field; and that the team's two defensive stars from 2003 (Champ Bailey, traded and LaVar Arrington, injured) have played no role. Ye gods, the tastefully named Gregg Williams can coach a defense. Honestly now, how many Redskins defensive starters can you name without looking?”
But I suppose we should only expect that from other teams, right? Our defense, and the man who runs it, can’t seem to take it if their full first-string eleven isn’t out on the field…sometimes, not even then. I’d sure like Ray-Bob to explain how he’s an improvement over Steve Sidwell, the man he replaced…but as usual, Ray-Bob ain’t talkin’.
Special Teams (Incomplete, as always…): Mark Michaels probably slept pretty well last night. As usual, Seahawk returners did little to set up the offense with good field position, but there were no horrific miscues this week. Such is the sorry state of Seattle’s special teams – anything short of a complete blowup is seen as an improvement. And since Michaels didn’t send twelve men on to the field for punt coverage and the Jets saw no need to attempt several onside kicks during the game, this can indeed be seen as a step in the right direction.
Summary: Well, we can thank God all we want for the sorry state of the NFC – if the Seahawks, a 7-7 division leader, beat the Cardinals at home next week, they are guaranteed a playoff berth. To look at it realistically, there’s really no way that this team, so deficient in so many fundamental areas, has much of a chance to make a deep postseason run. The inexcusable performance of the officials is simply the surface malady – in truth, it is the alarming number of internal breakdowns that will end this team’s season sooner than later, leaving us all to wonder, as always, what happens next.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.