The Seahawks revamped their defense in the offseason, and the changes seem to have made important differences in attitude and production. A year ago, this team would have been lamenting another blown lead. But after holding off the impressive Falcons in Week 2, the Seahawks have finally answered their biggest question. This team can close the deal, after all.
"I wasn't scared we were going to give it away or anything like that," said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who answered a few questions of his own with a 281-yard day backed by a 115.1 passer rating. The 21-18 victory at Qwest Field featured enough warts to keep the Seahawks grounded. The pass defense sprung a few leaks that Atlanta failed to exploit. The offense sputtered throughout the second half, and Atlanta enjoyed huge advantages in field position after halftime.
But for a team notorious for blowing fat leads in recent seasons, the victory tasted sweet.
"It was a great win for us, a great win," coach Mike Holmgren said. "The guys battled their hearts out."
Last season, Seattle blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead against St. Louis. The team blew another late double-digit lead against Dallas. In 2003, the Seahawks lost in overtime at Baltimore after building a 41-24 lead midway through the final quarter. All the signs were there for a similar collapse Sunday. But when the Falcons needed a third-down conversion to get closer to the potential tying field goal in the final minutes, Bryce Fisher sacked Michael Vick.
The psychological boost could prevent meltdowns later in the season.
"I think it's very valuable," Holmgren said. "Our defense, at the end, just played really good defense against a very explosive guy (Vick). That was really encouraging to me."
The Seahawks racked up 428 yards, including 163 on the ground, during a 21-18 victory over the Falcons at Qwest Field. Seattle's defense came through in the clutch after Atlanta stormed back from a 21-0 halftime deficit.
Matt Hasselbeck overcame a rough first game to pass for 281 yards, two TDs and a 115.1 rating. Tight end Jerramy Stevens made his day with a diving 35-yard grab in the end zone, while wide receiver Darrell Jackson caught eight balls for 131 yards working mostly against talented Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
Shaun Alexander enjoyed a big day against the Falcons' usually tough run defense, racking up 144 yards and a 5.1-yard average. Seattle's defense, featuring seven new starters for 2005, did its part in key moments, including once when Atlanta failed to convert second-and-1 and third-and-1 on consecutive plays. The defense sacked Michael Vick three times and knocked him from the game for stretches of the fourth quarter.
--DT Rocky Bernard was dominant against the Falcons. He pressured QB Michael Vick a few times and sacked him to end a key second-half drive. Bernard has enjoyed hot Septembers before.
--WR Alex Bannister left the game against Atlanta with an injured right clavicle. He has broken the same clavicle twice. A definitive diagnosis was not forthcoming. The initial thought was that Bannister suffered a bruise, not a break. Additional tests were planned for Monday.
--TE Jerramy Stevens made one of the most impressive catches by a tight end, or anybody, when he dove to make a 35-yard TD grab in the end zone against Atlanta. The ball was in the air for at least 40 yards before Stevens made the catch. Officials reviewed the play to see if Stevens had indeed made such a spectacular grab. They determined the ball did not hit the ground.
--RB Shaun Alexander gashed the Falcons' highly regarded run defense for 144 yards on 28 carries. He uncharacteristically ran over a Falcons defender in getting extra yards at a key moment. Alexander also scored his first TD of the season, a 14-yard run on a draw play.
--WR Darrell Jackson won his matchup with Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall, finishing the game with eight catches for 131 yards. Hall matched up with Jackson from start to finish, but he didn't get enough pass-rush help to make plays on the ball consistently.
The Arizona offense needs to spend considerable time cleaning up the mistakes that have plagued it, especially in the red zone. Last week, the Cardinals were in the red zone four times yet came away with only three field goals. Fumbled snaps, blitz-pickup failures, penalties -- you name it, the Cardinals experienced it.
"We had four field goals this week and two field goals last week," coach Dennis Green said. "I think that's what is hurting us as much as anything." Part of the problem is the lack of continuity on offense. Quarterback Kurt Warner is new, and center Alex Stepanovich returned last week after suffering a broken hand early in training camp.
Keith Rowen is the team's fourth offensive coordinator in four years. The lack of familiarity among players and coaches has caused occasional confusion, and it's something that time might solve.
Until then, the offense's struggles will leave a decent defense with little margin for error. The Cardinals are counting on this defense to carry them this season, not only by stopping opponents but also by setting up the offense with turnovers.
But with an 0-2 start, the season already is at a critical point. The next two games, at Seattle and in Mexico City against the 49ers, are against division opponents. The Cardinals need to win both, or they face a long road to respectability.
The Cardinals' stretches of offensive competence were broken up by flurries of silly mistakes in a 17-12 loss to St. Louis. Eight penalties, an interception and three fumbles, only one of which was lost, combined to stop drives.
Again, the club had no running game, with Marcel Shipp gaining only 54 yards. After throwing 56 times in the season opener, the Cardinals passed 41 times against the Rams and had some success.
Anquan Boldin, who caught only four passes in the opening week, caught eight for 119 yards. But the team faltered in four trips to the red zone, coming away with only three field goals.
--RB J.J. Arrington was inactive against the Rams because he was still suffering from a flu bug that caused him to miss two practices last week. Arrington was replaced by Marcel Shipp, a move that could take on some permanence because Arrington has looked tentative at times.
--RB Marcel Shipp started Sunday's game and gained 54 yards on 12 carries and caught five passes for 8 yards. Shipp has given the offense a spark, so it's possible he could start next week, too.
--WR Anquan Boldin caught eight passes for 119 yards against the Rams after catching only four in the opener. Boldin made several nice grabs, and he's the team's best receiver at making yards after the catch.
--C Alex Stepanovich started against the Rams and snapped with a large, padded cast on his right hand. There was one fumbled exchange between Stepanovich and Kurt Warner. It was in the red zone, so it hurt the team's chances of a touchdown.
--QB Kurt Warner played fairly well against the Rams, but there is a disturbing trend being set. Again, a ball slipped out of his hand. This one was a fumble that St. Louis recovered. The previous week, a poor pass slipped out of Warner's hand and was intercepted.
--DT Darnell Dockett has a large bruise on his forehead but should be able to play Sunday in Seattle.
--WR/KR Reggie Swinton has a sore toe, but he's expected to play in Seattle.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Rams escaped with a win in the desert against their former quarterback, Kurt Warner, and now they play their home opener against the Titans after splitting their first two division games on the road. The Rams' 17-12 victory over the Cardinals came after a 28-25 loss to San Francisco the week before.
While the offense sputtered at times and managed just 17 points, it did score touchdowns on two of three trips to the red zone. Most important, the defense allowed the Cardinals only nine points in four red-zone possessions, and held the Cardinals to 82 rushing yards. Of those 82 yards, 25 came on two end-arounds by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
"We've come a long way defensively," coach Mike Martz said. "We have a ways to go, but our front seven has been terrific. Overall, I'm very pleased with the defensive effort." But to continue the team's winning ways, the offense will have to develop a killer instinct. On their three scoring drives, the Rams totaled 235 yards and 12 first downs. However, on their other nine possessions, the Rams gained just 62 yards on 31 plays and managed only four first downs.
After taking a 17-9 lead with 5:45 to play in the third quarter, the Rams had the ball four additional times, but had only two first downs and gained just 25 yards on 15 plays. Knowing comparisons with Warner probably will never end, Rams quarterback Marc Bulger said, "You guys can pick apart the stats all you want, but I've told you before and I'll say it again. All I care about is winning."
Bulger completed 18 of 29 passes for 216 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while Warner passed for 327 yards on 29 of 42 passing. But since he failed to get the ball in the end zone, Warner and Bulger's passer ratings were nearly identical. Warner edged Bulger 82.1 to 82.0.
As Bulger concluded, "Look at this week's NFL statistics. It shows that we're ranked at or near the top in total offense after last week (fourth in the NFL, first in the NFC), and what good did it do us last week? We still lost. So we didn't get the numbers this week, but we won. Could we have played better? Yeah, sure. But all I know is we won, and I'll take that every time."
The Rams defense bent but didn't break in the final two minutes as the Cardinals drove from their own 14-yard line to the Rams' 5-yard line, where they had a first down with 27 seconds remaining. But a perfectly timed blitz resulted in Kurt Warner being sacked for a 5-yard loss by safety Adam Archuleta.
Rather than spiking the ball, Warner had to adjust to a change in personnel, and while the clock ticked, he was going up and down the line relaying the play. But left tackle Leonard Davis was guilty of a false start with seven seconds remaining, and the required 10-second runoff ended the game.
"We came up with the stop we needed," Archuleta said. "Coach Marmie (defensive coordinator Larry Marmie) had the right call at the right time on the blitz. We needed to make something happen."
--S Oshiomogho Atogwe, one of the Rams' two third-round picks, was inactive for Sunday's game against Arizona. Atogwe had several mistakes on special teams in the season opener, and was replaced on the kickoff coverage unit by Chris Johnson.
--LT Orlando Pace was in and out of the game Sunday because of a flu virus that has been going through the team for the last few weeks.
--OG Claude Terrell was active for Sunday's game after being inactive in the opener. The rookie was starting at the beginning of the preseason. With RT Rex Tucker sidelined because of a calf injury, Terrell was the seventh offensive lineman.
--OT Alex Barron was inactive for the second straight week. The team's first-round pick had been working almost exclusively at left tackle since signing after missing more than two weeks of training camp. However, last week he began getting some work on the right side.
--CB Travis Fisher left the game Sunday with an elbow injury early in the third quarter, but returned later in the quarter.
--CB DeJuan Groce banged his knee in the first half at Arizona, but he was back on the field at the start of the third quarter.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers were dominated on the stat sheet for a second consecutive week, so maybe they should consider themselves lucky to be 1-1 after two regular-season games.
Coach Mike Nolan knows there are no quick fixes after inheriting a 2-14 team. That became apparent when the 49ers absorbed their worst regular-season loss in 25 seasons. But he said he believes that a positive can come out of the 49ers' humiliating 42-3 loss to the Eagles.
"This is only the second step in our journey, but it might be more valuable than our first one," Nolan said, referring to the 49ers' 28-25 opening-week win over the Rams. "That was a very important win, but I think this might have as much to do with us getting better down the road than last week.
"From a personal experience, I know that adversity is sometimes some of the best experiences you have, and this is certainly an adverse situation for our football team."
The 49ers have a lot of work to do. They surrendered 583 yards to the Eagles, just 1 yard shy of the most the 49ers have yielded since entering the NFL in 1950. Their offense has not been a model of efficiency, either. Seven of their 11 drives lasted three or fewer plays against the Eagles. They have not sustained any running game, which means they have been dominated in time of possession, as well as virtually every other statistical category.
After playing well in the opener, quarterback Tim Rattay struggled in the Week 2 loss. Rattay completed just 13 of 26 attempts for 107 yards and three interceptions.
"Obviously, this was not a good game for us, but the main thing is that we are 1-1 and we need to regroup," Rattay said. "We need to correct our mistakes and get ready for Dallas next week. It is early in the season now, and we just have to fix what we did wrong. We have a long way to go to get ready for Dallas."
Terrell Owens had the final word against his former teammates, as he caught two of Donovan McNabb's five touchdown passes in the Eagles' 42-3 victory over the 49ers.
It was the worst 49ers loss since a 49-3 defeat to the Giants in the 1986 playoffs. The last time San Francisco was beaten so soundly in the regular season was a 59-14 drubbing by the Cowboys in 1980. The deflating loss comes one week after the 49ers opened the season with an upset victory over the Rams.
Linebacker Derek Smith certainly did not apologize for some less-than-flattering comments he had about Owens in the days leading up to the game. Smith said Owens put himself ahead of the team at the end of his stay with the 49ers, and called him a "bad apple."
"Did anything I say really get him going? Maybe, maybe not," Smith said. "Either way, he's a good player and he came out and had a good game. I said what I said. I wouldn't take anything back. I stand by what I said."
--LT Jonas Jennings did not play in the second half against Philadelphia after taking a hit to his throat. Coach Mike Nolan said Jennings should be available for Sunday's game against the Cowboys. Rookie Patrick Estes, a backup tight end at Virginia as a senior, stepped in to play the second half.
--TE Eric Johnson is expected back at practice this week after being sidelined since Aug. 9 with a partial tear to the plantar fascia under his right foot.
--QB Alex Smith made his NFL debut on Sunday against the Eagles. He got in for one series, and threw an incomplete pass in his only attempt. Tim Rattay will be back in the starting lineup against the Cowboys on Sunday.
--DE Marques Douglas recorded four tackles against the Eagles. He also had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery all on the same play.
--RB Kevan Barlow and the 49ers run game continue to struggle. Barlow gained just 34 yards on 10 carries as the 49ers were forced to abandon the run game against the Eagles because of a 28-point deficit early in the second quarter.