MMQB: Redskins 20, Seahawks 17 (OT)

It was a game they weren't supposed to win...and they didn't. Mike Holmgren wasn't supposed to outcoach Joe Gibbs...and he didn't. The Seahawks' offense wasn't supposed to dispose of Washington's killer defense...and they didn't. Today, the Seahawks frustrated merely by living up to expectations. It was the soft underbelly, so familiar to Seahawk devotees, which caused the real concern.

Washington Redskins 20, Seattle Seahawks 17 (OT)
Sunday, October 2, 2005
FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland


Play Of The Day: Unfortunately, the play on which this game turned was not performed by a player on either team – the key factor was the completely ridiculous pass interference penalty called by the back judge on safety Michael Boulware. With 7:33 remaining in the third quarter, the Redskins up 7-3 and the ball on the Seattle 33-yard line, Mark Brunell threw to David Patten at the Seattle 4-yard line. Boulware was obviously playing the ball, not the receiver, and there didn’t appear to be any contact from Boulware on Patten’s back. Nonetheless, the (unreviewable) penalty was called, the Redskins had the ball at Seattle’s 4-yard line, and Brunell threw a TD pass to tight end Mike Sellers on the very next play.

As always, the apology letter the Seahawks will undoubtedly receive from the league will right this inequity.

Handouts To The Standouts: Lofa Tatupu, continuing to silence the doubters…Bobby Engram, Mr. Clutch Catch…Michael Boulware, the pointman of an effective blitz…Shaun Alexander, the man who makes this offense go..and Matt Hasselbeck, who led his team as effectively as he was allowed.

Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: Mike Holmgren, his stale playcalling, and the inevitable “excuse-o-matic” press conferences we’re in for…Andre Dyson, who needs to re-learn the meaning of “Man-on-man”…the ever-likeable Robbie Tobeck, for a disturbing run of holding penalties this season…and Josh Brown, for muffing two key field goals – although he gets a partial mulligan on the second one due to some very strangle setup work from his head coach.

Offense: The first half was as ugly as Seahawk fans can ever expect to see from their boys in blue – in the first quarter, Seattle had the ball for a grand total of 1:49, Matt Hasselbeck completed two out of four passes for 15 yards, and Shaun Alexander rushed twice for three yards. Still, Seattle was up 3-0 at the end of the first fifteen minutes. By the end of the first half, Hasselbeck had thrown for 77 yards and Alexander had rushed 6 times for 12 yards. The Seahawks simply could not put together effective drives against Washington’s defense, its impressive series of blitzes, and the mad genius of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

The game began impressively, as Hasselbeck found Bobby Engram twice early on the opening drive which ended with a 53-yard Josh Brown field goal. That was the last scoring seen by the Seahawks until the third quarter. Holmgren was quoted during the week as saying that he would call running plays up the middle to counter Williams’ blitzes – a tactic proven completely ineffective. Until Alexander started to hit runs to the outside (especially to the left), there was nothing doing on the ground.

Even when it appeared that the Seahawks might put an impressive drive together, poor execution and bad playcalling scuttled Seattle’s aspirations long before that could come to fruition. Seattle’s first drive of the second quarter, which began at their own 23, started effectively with a mixture of pass and run. But a holding penalty on center Robbie Tobeck which pushed the ball from Washington’s 30 to its 40 was followed by two incomplete passes and a punt. This was symptomatic of the offense’s misguided efforts throughout the first half – a good play here and there, but no cohesion, and an alarming lack of execution.

The Seahawks had possession receivers underneath, and running lanes to take advantage of, but they didn’t capitalize. When the first half was over, the Redskins had obliterated the Seahawks in the time of possession battle by a total of 21:57 to 8:03, and Seattle was extremely fortunate to be down 7-3.

The second half was marked by an increased commitment to the run – Alexander rumbled for 86 yards on 14 carries in the final 30 minutes – and a corresponding improvement in both time of possession and overall momentum. With 6:13 left in the third quarter, Alexander broke his biggest gainer to the left for 34 yards behind the dominant blocking of Steve Hutchinson. This play brought the ball from the Seattle 37 to the Washington 29 and set up Shaun’s 3-yard TD run five plays later. Coming as it did after the Washington TD which was predicated on the ludicrous interference call on Boulware, the drive proved Alexander’s value to the team, and the consequences of Holmgren’s unfortunate reluctance to go to him early and often in the first half.

Throughout the second half, Holmgren continued to try the middle on running plays, basing the game’s outcome on a seemingly stubborn insistence that Washington’s blitz could be exploited. If it could, that wasn’t the way. Seattle’s offense didn’t display any solidarity until halfway through the fourth quarter, when they put together a very balanced and effective 91-yard drive which took 6:19 off the clock, culminated in a 6-yard TD pass from Hasselbeck to Darrell Jackson, and tied the game at 17 with 1:23 left to go.

Hasselbeck did have a couple of boo-boos to answer for – he’s still not showing the touch required with the deep ball, overthrowing a wide-open Joe Jurevicius early in the fourth quarter. But given the pressure he faced and the playcalling he was saddled with, his final stats (26 of 38 for 248 yards and a touchdown) don’t tell the full story.

Bobby Engram’s day was spectacular (9 catches for 106 yards, despite leaving the game in the fourth quarter with cracked ribs suffered on the first play of the game) and Alexander was a real factor when he was allowed to be.

This one is on their coach.

And by the way…why in the Wide World of Sports did the Seahawks run only two plays in the final drive of regulation after Kelly Herndon’s interception with almost a minute left in the game? Sheesh, Mike…your guy had already missed one 47-yarder. Why insure disadvantageous field position when you have time to do more? We are trying to win here, right?

Right?

Defense: Seattle’s defense began shakily – on Washington’s first drive, Bryce Fisher was blown up off the line on a stunt and running back Clinton Portis was able to convert a 4th and 1 from the Seattle 20. Rookie Nick Novak’s subsequent field goal attempt was blocked by Craig Terrill, providing a frustrating end to a drive that lasted over seven minutes.

Most notable in the first quarter was Michael Boulware, who picked up a sack on a safety blitz, and Lofa Tatupu, who displayed a real affinity for the opponent’s backfield. With seconds left in the first quarter, Boulware blitzed again and Andre Dyson batted away a Brunell pass intended for David Patten from the Seattle 42.

Seattle’s blitzes began to lose their effectiveness in the second quarter, and one play made that reversal of fortune quite obvious. Ken Hamlin came fast on the blitz with 10 minutes and change remaining in the second quarter, but Brunell found David Patten on a little out route for 11 yards at his own 26. Those blitzes did not decrease in frequency, but the Redskins had cracked the code. Seattle frequently blitzed on third down, and Washington was still able to convert 13 of 18 third-down opportunities due to their ability to find the quick escape hatch and leave the Seahawks reaching and gasping.

Washington’s first touchdown, a 1-yard pass from Brunell to TE Robert Royal with 2:44 remaining in the first half, was the culmination of yet another long drive – 16 plays, over 8 minutes and three third-down conversions – and the end of a half that had Seattle’s defense understandably exhausted. This Seahawk D was game, but the allowance of third-down conversions was the killer.

The Redskins’ second TD, the aforementioned pass to Sellers set up by the Boulware penalty, began with good field position as the result of the first of two Josh Brown missed 47-yard field goals. That penalty simply framed the efforts of a defense that was beginning to lose its grip. In the third quarter, Portis and Ladell Betts began to gash the line with effective runs.

The fourth quarter gave the D a much-needed break, as the Seahawks controlled the ball for over nine minutes. Rested and refreshed, they stopped Washington’s final drive in regulation when Kelly Herndon picked off a Brunell pass to Portis at the Washington 35 with forty-nine seconds left.

Fisher was the goat of overtime, as his laughable arm tackle attempt on Brunell allowed the Washington QB to convert a 3rd and 9 with an 18-yard run to the Seattle 45, which set up Novak’s game-winning field goal five plays later. Fisher also dropped a potential interception at the line in the same drive. The deciding play on the drive, however, was the 30-yard pass to Santana Moss two plays after Brunell’s run. Andre Dyson had been playing soft coverage for most of the game…Brunell and Moss made him pay at the worst possible time.

On third and ten, no less.

Special Teams: Lot of explaining to do here. Whether it was Brown’s two missed field goals, Leo Araguz’ 33-yard average on three punts, or the invalid fair catch signal penalty on Maurice Morris which began the third quarter, it appears that the special teams messes which marked the tenure of former special teams coach Mark Michaels have not been corrected under Bob Casullo…at least not just yet.

Summary: Two things we learned today…first, the Seahawks are not as good as they appeared to be when they decimated the Cardinals last week. Second, the underpinnings of insecurity which have killed this team slowly and softly over the last few years are still in effect. Poor coaching at times, an inability to get off the field defensively (and stay on it offensively) and a lack of killer instinct away from the friendly confines of Qwest Field are three all-too-familiar demons and they all must be overcome before this team can hope to be of championship caliber.

However, one of the more insidious gremlins can be exorcised next Sunday in St. Louis, as the Seahawks look to get past the “We Can’t Beat The Rams” thingy. For that to happen, as depleted as the Rams may appear to be, this team must tighten up the “little things” that mean a lot.

At 2-2, their ability to do so will decide their season’s fate.


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at doug@seahawks.net.


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