After starting off with a predictable loss on the road to Jacksonville in the season opener, the Hawks busted out with two straight wins over teams expected to be in the playoffs come January. The win over the Falcons was a nail-biter, one that Hawks teams of the past five or six seasons would have lost.
Dominating wins over Arizona and Houston were overshadowed when the Seahawks threw the Rams monkey off their collective backs with a 37-31 thriller that wasn’t clinched until long-snapper J.P. Darche recovered a fumble by Rams PR Shaun McDonald with a little less than three minutes to go.
A heartbreaking loss on the road to Washington has been the only other blemish on this team’s season-long resume, and they appear to be gaining the confidence needed to win the close games that the “same old Seahawks” used to lose - up to and including last season.
Also, keep in mind that for the past three weeks, all wins mind you, the number one offense in the entire NFL has played without their two best wideouts (Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram) and one of their starting cornerbacks (Andre Dyson). Stepping into those spots are free agents (WR Joe Jurevicius and CB Kelly Herndon) and an inexperienced second-year player (D.J. Hackett) who was injured most of his rookie season.
GM Tim Ruskell and head coach Mike Holmgren seem to be on the same page, something that was not the case over the past six seasons with Ruskell's predecessor, Bob Whitsitt. Ruskell scours the waiver-wire every week looking for that one player that might make a difference, if not directly on the field then on the sidelines and in the locker room with his heart and attitude.
WR Peter Warrick, though he hasn’t seen as much time as some had hoped, adds another set of hands to QB Matt Hasselbeck’s corps of receivers and before the end of the season he could be a weapon that gets used on a weekly basis.
Now it’s time for some awards.
Team MVP – RB Shaun Alexander: You could choose several players here. Hasselbeck and LT Walter Jones are having Pro Bowl seasons, but none has been more dominant than Alexander. Alexander ranks second in the NFL and first in the NFC with 776 yards and he has scored the most rushing touchdowns in the league with 12. He is running harder and blocking better, two areas in his game that needed improvement. Seahawks coaches are using him more on third downs, something that hadn’t happened in recent years and that decision is paying off in spades for the team.
Rookie of the Year – LB Lofa Tatupu: Is there any question? He leads the team in tackles with 44, and he has two sacks and one interception. Even more important is that he consistently lines his teammates up correctly and makes adjustments and calls before the snap of the ball. Coming out of college, Tatupu had a reputation as a very instinctual player. While he still is learning the finer points of playing the middle in the NFL, his football knowledge is very evident and if he can continue to improve, he could have some Pro Bowls in his future.
Best Free Agent Signing – WR Joe Jurevicius: Because the Seahawks signed so many mid-tier free agents during the offseason, this was a tough choice. DE Bryce Fisher leads the team with five sacks, LB Jamie Sharper is fourth on the team with 34 tackles, CBs Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon have played well at times and Jimmy Williams, Josh Scobey and Warrick are all players who have made their presence felt. Jurevicius, however, has been superlative. He is the team’s only big wide receiver (6’5”, 230), and he has excellent hands, runs precise routes and has stepped into a starting role while Darrell Jackson nurses an injured knee. His nine-catch, 137-yard, one touchdown performance against the Rams in week five was the best of his career and it showed how much faith Holmgren and Hasselbeck have in him.
Comeback Player – TE Jerramy Stevens: An enigma since he was taken in the first round in 2003, Stevens has worked hard the past two offseasons to realize the vast potential he possesses in his 6-7, 265 pound body. He is running better routes, is blocking well and has soft hands. He is a mismatch waiting to happen and look for the Hawks to get him even more involved during the second half of the season. As it is, he’s still managed to post 22 catches for 308 yards and two touchdowns. He is on his way to a career-season and he may never let go of his starting position if he stays healthy.
Biggest win – October 9th vs. St. Louis: Not only was this the first time the Hawks had beaten the Rams in five tries, it was also the first time they had beaten the Rams on road since they joined the NFC West in 2002. The Hawks beat the Rams with their two starting wideouts out, one of their starting corners dinged and were reeling from their overtime defeat to the Washington Redskins the week before. At 2-2, the Hawks appeared headed for yet another late meltdown against the offensively formidable, but defensively challenged Rams. Holmgren shunned the conservative play-calling of the week before, when he didn’t pass to get closer for his kicker. Instead, he called three straight pass plays late in the game, killing a drive, when conventional wisdom would say to burn the clock. Many questioned the strategy, but it was all made moot when J.P. Darche recovered McDonald’s fumbled punt and Alexander gained two first downs to seal the win. This win seemed to have energized this team and given them a belief in their ability to win the close games they used to lose.
Biggest Play: Jordan Babineaux’s interception vs. Dallas: There are several plays that could be considered big this season. Babineaux causing McDonald’s fumble, Herndon’s interception versus Washington late in the fourth quarter to set up K Josh Brown’s attempt to win the game, Hasselbeck hitting Stevens on that beautiful touchdown pass against Atlanta, but none exceeds Babineaux’s interception last week. Up to that point, the Hawks appeared headed to another tough defeat at home in front of the third largest crowd at Qwest Field. Babineaux’s return and heads-up play to get out of bounds before time expired are the reasons why Brown had a makeable 50-yard kick as time expired. The emotion following that game is the most we have seen from this team in a long, long time.
So, what’s ahead for the men in blue?
Nine games versus teams which have a combined record of 24-27, including two one-win teams (San Francisco twice and Green Bay). The toughest games remaining on the schedule are the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts, which will both be played at Qwest Field, and the Monday nighter at Philadelphia in the first week of December.
The game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field could be a precursor to the NFC Championship Game. The Eagles’ defense isn’t what it has been the past two years and their offense, while still potent with Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook, hasn’t been as productive as many envisioned heading in to the season.
The Seahawks have the number one ranked offense in the league and the 10th rated defense, the highest they have been at this point in the season in a decade.
The win versus Dallas, as Mike Holmgren has said, has to pay dividends down the road. With a few tough games down the stretch, this team will need to rely on that confidence to pull out wins they may not have gotten otherwise.
Look for Hasselbeck to continue on his path toward a third Pro Bowl; look for Alexander to continue to run hard as he is playing for his last big contract; look for Jackson and Bobby Engram to return and to bolster an already consistent wideout corps; look for Fisher and Wistrom to both register double-digit sacks and for rookie LB Leroy Hill to see more time and lead all rookies with sacks; look for the Hawks to become even more aggressive on defense and to finish in the top half of the league in overall defense; look for Holmgren to smile a lot more as this team goes above and beyond the expectations of the so-called pundits heading in to the season and posting their best record since they went 12-4 in 1984; look for the Hawks to win the NFC West and to be the second-seed during the playoffs; look for the Seahawks to win their first playoff game in 21 years and to play for the NFC Championship against Philadelphia.
If they get that far, anything can happen…and long-suffering fans will be able to look on the 2005 season as one of the greatest seasons ever for their beloved Seahawks.Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.