MMQB - "A Glass Half-Full"

The Seahawks fought their way into the playoffs for the second straight year, and they stand on the precipice of a Division title. They also joined the rest of the NFL in mourning the loss of a true giant.

Seattle Seahawks 24, Arizona Cardinals 21
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
Sunday, December 26, 2004

“I sat with my wife, thinking of all the years I had known (him)…I thought, too, about his devotion to God, his family, his craft and the men who played for him…

“In the hush of the great cathedral, you could hear people weeping, people from all walks of life – statesmen and soldiers, priests and politicians, athletes and owners. And it seemed that the bigger they were, the harder they cried, especially the men who knew him best, the men with names such as Robustelli and Gifford and Rote, Hornung and Kramer and Starr and Jurgensen.

“When the funeral service finally ended, we all solemnly spilled out onto Fifth Avenue, our eyes red from tears, and then many of us proceeded to the cemetery. It was a memorable tribute…and now when I think back on it, a memorable day in the life of the National Football League.” – Howard Cosell

Howard Cosell opened his 1985 book, “I Never Played The Game”, with this touching description of the remembrance of an NFL giant – in this case, the funeral services held for Vincent T. Lombardi at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City over Labor Day weekend, 1970.

It could be said, as of few other men, that these words summarize the life of Reggie White just as well. Devotion to God. To his family. To his craft. To the men that played with and against him. Immortals live by a different standard – their Spartan wills and indomitable competitive spirits take them to places most of us will rarely know.

And that’s why, to me, Reggie White’s passing came as such a complete and utter shock. Wasn’t he supposed to live forever? This wasn’t part of the deal…

Reggie White never played for a team I had a solid rooting interest in, but I found myself unabashedly choking back tears all morning after hearing the news of his passing on Sunday, reportedly from respiratory failure due to sleep apnea, at the age of 43. My emotional reaction may have been as much from the shock of such an idea as anything else. Could a man like this really be taken from us so early in his life?

The primary reason behind my emotions, and the emotions of so many upon hearing this terrible news, is that we have lost a man who reminded us with every day that he suited up just why we love football so much. Reggie White, as much as anyone, personified the spirit - the will - the unstoppable reach beyond oneself to a higher place and a higher calling - that marks the very best in all of us.

Ralph Wiley may have said it best, and most simply, when he wrote about the Minnesota Vikings’ Alan Page, a man who joined Reggie White on the defensive line of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team:

“He emptied his vessel. Few do.”

The Minister of Defense has been called home. And all those left behind who were touched by his efforts on and off the field can reflect with grateful memories on a man who fulfilled his mission.

Meanwhile, on this lower plane, the games went on. And for Mike Holmgren (who coached Reggie White from 1993 to 1998) and his Seattle Seahawks, a playoff berth and the first step to a division championship was at stake.

Handouts To The Standouts: Shaun Alexander, for coming up trumps and carrying the team on his back…Trent Dilfer, for overcoming a rough start to make some key throws and clinch the game with a clutch scramble down the stretch…Darrell Jackson, for continuing his great performance over the last month…Chike Okeafor, for spending an inordinate amount of time in the Arizona backfield…Seattle’s young secondary, for fighting the good fight against what may be the next great team of wide receivers…and Ravens’ coach Brian Billick, for deeming Dilfer “expendable” after the 2000 season and Super Bowl XXXV…thanks once again, Bri! We really should send this man a floral arrangement, shouldn’t we?

Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: As always, the officiating (I mean, when DICK VERMEIL goes off on the zebras as he did on Saturday night, you KNOW something’s up)…Mike Holmgren, for failing to realize that there are other options on third and long besides running plays that are virtually guaranteed drive-killers…Ray Rhodes, for nearly tanking a nicely-drawn set of schemes with another late-game prevent collapse…Koren Robinson, for coming back from a five-game Dual Suspension Package and doing...well…nothing…and the Football Gods. Four Arizona fumbles and they recovered them ALL? Sheesh!

Zebra Hunt: The relationship between the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL’s alleged “officials” has come to resemble a bizarre combination of angst and proctology more than anything else, and today’s officiating was true to form. As always, we’ll just list the offenses and wait for the apology:

• Early in the game, Crew Chief Larry Corrente and his Merry Band of Idiots missed obvious holding calls against the Cardinals on the persons of Jordan Babineaux and Isaiah Kacyvenski.

• With 1:35 left in the first quarter, Arizona QB Josh McCown threw a sideline pass to Bryant Johnson, who was being covered by Marcus Trufant. Johnson did not get both feet in bounds and Trufant barely touched Johnson after he caught the ball, but Corrente said that “the ruling on the field” was that it was a forceout. Only one small snag with that program: No official had actually ruled that it was a forceout on the field. Ah, those pesky details…

• This one actually went against the Cardinals, but it was stupid enough to mention, regardless. With 7:50 left in the second quarter. McCown again threw a sideline pattern to Johnson from the Arizona 20-yard line. Johnson was covered by Lucas – in fact, Lucas was climbing all over him in what would appear to be obvious pass interference. Johnson jumped to catch a high throw, grabbed the ball, and appeared to have control until he hit the ground and the ball popped out, which would make it a catch, right? Apparently not. The call was an incomplete pass, which was upheld on review. For once, the Seahawks were the beneficiaries of officiating incompetence.

• With 6:46 left in the second quarter, the Seahawks faced 3rd and 7 at the Arizona 17. Dilfer threw to Darrell Jackson, who was being covered (ahem) rather closely by cornerback Duane Starks. Could have been interference, but a five-yard illegal contact penalty was called instead. What is interference, if not illegal contact? The level of inconsistency in the administration of the new “five-yard rule” has been absolutely maddening. And it’s not just affecting the Seahawks, as evidenced by the increasing number of players and coaches who are quite willing to give the Big Raspberry to whatever fines the NFL may pass down for questioning the abilities of the alleged “officials”.

• With 9:36 left in the game, Emmitt Smith rumbled out of the backfield from the Seattle 45 on 3rd and 1, only to be met by several blue uniforms. Smith was driven back several yards and eventually brought down by Ken Lucas. The official then called unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard foul and automatic first down, on “the defense” (The entire defense? Wow!), despite the fact that no official had blown the play dead while Smith was still up. Shame on the Seahawks for not being aware of the rule in which you’re supposed to GUESS that the player is stopped and the play is dead! Did somebody’s whistle malfunction?

• 3:39 left in the game, and the Cardinals were at the Seattle 49 with a 4th and 5. McCown threw to Johnson, who was stopped by Trufant a yard short of the first down. The call was illegal use of hands (facemask) on Trufant – a verrrrrrrry suspicious call and a drive-extender for the Cards, which led to Larry Fitzgerald’s second touchdown catch of the day, and a 24-21 Seattle lead with 2:37 left. Fortunately, the Seahawks were able to get the ball back and kneel down a bunch of times to run out the clock, a tactic which will probably be declared a 15-yard penalty with loss of possession next week.

Offense (First Half – D, Second Half - B): “Intangibles”. Is there a more overused and less meaningful term in the Lexicon of Sport than this? When pundits line up to deify overrated athletes like Derek Jeter despite their all-too-average numbers, it is the “Intangibles” speech that is spent like so much expired currency. The most unfortunate aspect of this phenomenon is that when an athlete who possesses these “Intangibles” in spades, and has shown the effects of those “Intangibles” over and over again actually hits the field, it tends to have less of an effect.

Which is why I’m going on record as saying that Trent Dilfer has…well, there’s just a thing about this guy. Call it what you will.

With Matt Hasselbeck out with a bad elbow (an aftereffect of a nasty Shaun Ellis hit last week against the Jets), a Seahawk playoff berth, the season, and a lot of jobs were all put on Dilfer’s back. And though he often resembled the backup quarterback he is (going 1 of 6 for 18 yards at the end of the first quarter and 7 of 16 for 63 yards at the end of the first half), Dilfer did recover in the second half to lead the team.

Finishing up 10 of 26 for 128 yards and an interception, Dilfer’s performance can be mitigated by two…um…”Intangibles”. First, the creative overload blitzes that Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was sending non-stop put a real dent in Dilfer’s car. Second, his 7-yard run for a first down late in the game which clinched an incredibly important win for the team.

You want to define it? Trent Dilfer can make “winning ugly” look better than most. There’s your “intangibles”!

In truth, neither team did much in the first half – both the Seahawks and the Cards punted five times in the opening 30, and the Seahawks’ first three drives were 3-and-outs. Arizona was getting great pressure and keying on Shaun Alexander…but unfortunately, keying on Alexander only works for so long this year.

When Shaun finally broke through the left side for a 1-yard TD with 4:51 left in the first half, a Beast was awakened! Having run for 53 yards on 13 attempts and getting boxed in frequently in the first half, Alexander blew up in the final two quarters, finishing up with 30 carries (YES!) for 154 yards and 3 touchdowns. In this game alone, he broke the Seahawk single season record for rushing yardage (he currently has 1,616 – Chris Warren held the mark with 1,545 in 1994), and his own team record for touchdowns in a season with 19 after this game. With the passing game so inconsistent all year and the defense all over the place statistically, Shaun Alexander has been the lone pillar of reliability, and the team’s MVP in a landslide.

The “big news” coming into this game was Koren Robinson’s return from a five-game “maturation process” (a one-game coach’s suspension, followed by a four-gamer sent from the NFL). In truth, Robinson did little, besides a couple of well-placed blocks, to merit the number of headlines he got this week. As always, Darrell Jackson was the man in charge of the receivers - he continued an impressive stretch run with 6 grabs for 101 yards, including a 53-yarder which was primarily attained after the catch (something he’s been really great at lately). No other Seahawk wide receiver had more than one catch.

Jackson also set his own records – he now holds the Seahawks’ single-season mark for receptions with 84, breaking the record of 81 by Brian Blades in 1994. His 1,186 yards receiving this season is a career high, and he's reached the 5,000-yard mark in 76 games, two games less than it took Steve Largent. Not bad, eh?

Anything else on offense? Oh, yeah. Walter Jones was carted off with a sprained ankle (with rookie Sean Locklear playing well in spot duty), but there was something going on with our All-Pro tackle before that – lots of leakage on the left side. Was there more to his injury situation coming in? Oh, yeah…note to Mike Holmgren. Quit the running plays on third and long. You called three more of them today, and they never work. Flat-out drive-killers, sir. I’m assuming that one of the greatest offensive minds of the modern era has more than one play for third and long?

Defense (First Half – B, Second Half – C-): After yet another defensive meltdown against the Jets (y’know, the kind you’ve seen far too often in his two-year tenure here), Ray Rhodes was finally thrown in front of the media last week to do some ‘splainin’. He ‘splained it in a fairly standup fashion, although the fact that he’s just now realizing that his schemes don’t seem to work and that he’d better put some new plays together is rather disconcerting.

In any case, the aftermath was positive for the most part. Seattle’s run defense, a huge liability over the last month, did a far better job of containment – especially in the interior line. Frequent safety blitzes, sending Ken Hamlin from the edge, were also very effective. On the Cardinals’ first possession, Hamlin and Chad Brown blew up the line and Hamlin sacked McCown, causing the first of three McCown fumbles (all of which Arizona recovered…). Chike Okeafor had two sacks (and led the team with nine tackles) to lead an impressive (and far too rare) amount of pressure.

In Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson, the Cardinals have a Terrible Trio of receivers who will likely terrify the NFL for quite a few years. Proof of this fact was given when they went up against Seattle’s stellar secondary – it was a schooling for both sides, and the most interesting and decisive ongoing battle of the game.

Arizona’s first touchdown, a 31-yard pass from McCown to Boldin, was impressive in that Boldin had Ken Lucas completely turned around. No mean feat, and Lucas had revenge in mind. At the end of the first quarter, Lucas made an absolutely unbelievable play on a ball thrown to Fitzgerald at the end zone. Lucas jumped the route, deflected the ball, and caught it for the interception – all seemingly in mid-air. With Champ Bailey getting toasted like a bagel in the Mile High City these days, there’s more and more momentum to the idea that Lucas is quite possibly the NFL’s premier cornerback.

The Cards weren’t done, however. Boldin continued his string of amazing catches in the third quarter – a 21-yard catch at the Seahawk 39-yard line despite Marcus Trufant blanketing him with perfect coverage was a frightening exhibition of Boldin’s skill.

And unfortunately, the fourth quarter was yet another example of Ray “Take The Over” Rhodes’ “Back ‘Em Off and Let ‘Em Score!” Collapse-o-Matic™ defense. At the very beginning of the fourth quarter, Shaun Alexander’s third TD put the score at 24-7.

And if there’s one thing that Seahawk fans know, it’s that you don’t want Ray Rhodes anywhere NEAR a 17-point lead (See: Ravens, Baltimore; Rams, St. Louis).

Keeping Seahawk Nation on the edges of their seats, Arizona almost pulled off yet another killer with Fitzgerald’s two 4th-quarter touchdowns.

Procedural question: Seattle was in a dime defense on both of those late TDs, and yet Fitzgerald beat single coverage both times. How is that even POSSIBLE? Isn’t the whole point of the prevent defense (if there IS a point to it) to insure that any offensive plays will be reined in and that the end zone will be correctly covered? And why does this keep happening over and over? And has the inventor of the prevent defense been imprisoned yet?

Just wondering, Ray You didn’t ‘splain any of THAT!

Special Teams (Better, but still worrisome…): Again, an improvement, in that there were no unmitigated disasters. In fact, Seattle had a special teams highlight! No, really! With 7:42 left in the second quarter, Bobby Engram returned a Scott Player punt 48 yards to the Arizona 20-yard line! Swear to God! Check the tape if you don’t believe me! Ha ha!

Summary: With a playoff berth, this team has exorcised a few of their demons. If the Rams do them a big favor by losing to the Eagles on Monday Night, or if Seattle beats Atlanta next Sunday, the Seahawks will have their first division title since 1999. Then, it’s all up to them. Having elevated themselves beyond the miasma of mathematical probability and blind hope, the Seahawks now look to rub shoulders and butt heads with those teams who live in the rarefied air of Destiny, by way of Forward Perpetual Motion. And if they can stop tripping all over themselves long enough to get there…well, who knows what else they can do?

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