The Seahawks can't beat good teams by simply handing off to Shaun Alexander and letting the offensive line take over. The passing game also must function effectively. The team needs more performances like the one quarterback Matt Hasselbeck provided Sunday against San Francisco. "This year, I've been the one who has been in the end zone a bunch of times," Alexander said, "and I thought it was great to see Matt sling the ball around and let everybody know that we can score a lot of points really quick.
"I was excited. This was one of the most fun games I have played in a long time."
Alexander topped 100 yards on the ground for the ninth time in 13 games, but the passing game did most of the damage. Hasselbeck completed 84 percent of his passes with four touchdowns for a 127.2 rating. Those kinds of numbers won't be the norm against good teams, of course, but Seattle should have more firepower through the air now that receiver Darrell Jackson is returning from knee surgery.
"Our balance in the pass/run this year on offense has been as good as I've ever had," coach Mike Holmgren said.
Hasselbeck did not play during the second half of a 42-0 victory at Philadelphia on Dec. 5. He sat out the fourth quarter of the 41-3 pounding against San Francisco on Sunday. The team hasn't needed Hasselbeck to come through with 300-yard games, as he did consistently when Seattle needed to win shootouts in late 2002.
"In the last two games, I have taken him out of the game," Holmgren said. "I don't care about 300-yard games; if I can do that every week, that's what I would like to do.
"He's having a great year, and the 300-yard passing thing, well, sometimes when you have those big passing-yard games, usually you're playing catch-up, and usually you lose. So, I will take it the way it's going right now."
--Seattle's defense has taken some lumps this season, but the unit has battled hard consistently, and the results are showing up on the stat sheet. The Seahawks rank 11th in total defense after setting a franchise record by holding the 49ers to 113 yards. The team ranked 26th in total defense two games ago. Seattle also ranks fourth in scoring defense after holding Philadelphia and San Francisco to a combined three points. "Our defense is playing real well right now," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Giving up three points in two weeks, that's pretty good."
--Running back Shaun Alexander has been putting up big numbers for years. The national media hasn't always paid close attention, but one would expect Seattle's division opponents to focus their energies on stopping the Seahawks' career rushing leader. With 108 yards Sunday, Alexander topped 100 yards for the ninth consecutive game against a division opponent. The feat breaks the NFL record he previously shared with Walter Payton (1976-77), Freeman McNeil (1984-85) and Marcus Allen (1985-86).
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--QB Matt Hasselbeck avoided serious injury despite two scary moments against the 49ers. Officials flagged 49ers LB Derek Smith for the helmet-to-sternum shot he put on Hasselbeck early in the game. DE Travis Hall also twisted Hasselbeck's leg after the 49ers collected their lone sack of the game. "The guy at the bottom of the pile, I don't know if he knew or didn't know, but he's holding on for dear life to my foot, twisting my foot, and it was just a bad situation for my knee," Hasselbeck said. "Whether it was intentional or not, I don't know, but it was kind of a scary moment."
--RB Shaun Alexander's quest for 2,000 yards is taking a back seat to team goals. Fat leads have allowed Seattle rest Alexander for three full quarters over the past two games. Alexander has only 157 yards in those two games. He still leads the league in rushing with 1,496 yards, but the team is more concerned about keeping him healthy than running up big stats down the stretch.
--WR Joe Jurevicius has eight touchdown catches in 13 games with the Seahawks. He came close to a ninth TD reception Sunday but officials called offsetting penalties to wipe out the score. Jurevicius could return to the No. 3 receiver role as early as Sunday because Darrell Jackson is healthy again, and Jackson is expected to start opposite Bobby Engram.
--WR Darrell Jackson will dive back into a full practice schedule this week and play against the Titans on Sunday, coach Mike Holmgren said. Jackson has missed the past nine games with a knee injury. The team is 9-0 without him. Jackson's return will affect the rotation at receiver, meaning fewer snaps for others. The plan is for Jackson to return to the starting lineup but probably play limited snaps at first. WR Joe Jurevicius will return to his No. 3 role.
--MLB Lofa Tatupu has 94 tackles, 4.5 sacks and three interceptions through his first 13 games as a pro. The rookie has turned draft-day skeptics into believers by becoming a leader in the locker room and on the stat sheet. He is demanding attention as a Rookie of the Year candidate, particularly now that Seattle's defensive ranking has climbed from 26th to 11th over the past two games.
--CB Andre Dyson could return from his ankle injury in time for the divisional round of the playoffs if Seattle makes it that far, coach Mike Holmgren said Monday.
--CB Kelly Herndon could return from his sprained knee in time for the Green Bay game Jan. 1, coach Mike Holmgren said Monday.
--FS John Howell could return from his hamstring injury in time for the Indianapolis game Dec. 24, coach Mike Holmgren said Monday.
REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- QB Matt Hasselbeck ran the offense to near-perfection and fully exploited the 49ers' weak secondary. Seattle often lured the 49ers' safeties into coverage mistakes that allowed one or more receivers to roam free on a given play. Hasselbeck made the right decisions in where to go with the ball. He set a season high with four touchdown passes. He set a career high by completing 84 percent of his passes (21 of 25), the second-highest one-game rate in team history.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- RB Shaun Alexander needed only three quarters to get his 108 yards on the ground. Seattle mostly relied on the passing game, but the ground game proved reliable when needed. That was evident on the Seahawks' second drive. Hasselbeck had absorbed a hard hit to the sternum and was having trouble breathing. Alexander carried for gains of 16 and 10 yards on the next two plays. FB Mack Strong followed with a 4-yard run. The running game bought time for Hasselbeck, who finished the drive with three consecutive complete passes, the last for a touchdown.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Seattle padded its league-leading sack total with four against 49ers QB Alex Smith. The Seahawks held Smith to 9-of-22 passing and 77 gross yards. MLB Lofa Tatupu collected an interception for the second consecutive week. LCB Jordan Babineaux, who converted from safety after Seattle lost CBs Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon, had no problems in coverage even though this was his first NFL start. The 49ers' longest completed pass to a receiver covered 14 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Seattle didn't have DT Marcus Tubbs for its previous game against the 49ers. He made a big difference Sunday even though DT Rocky Bernard got the start ahead of him. Tubbs was disruptive much of the afternoon. His bulk inside pairs nicely with the speed Seattle has on the perimeter. Working against an injury-depleted offensive line, Seattle's front seven held the 49ers to 3.0 yards per carry with a long run of 11 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Penalties in the return game continue to be a problem. The Seahawks have suggested that officials are calling things more closely this season. The Seahawks were able to overcome two more return-game penalties against the weak 49ers, but similar errors could prove costly against a superior opponent. K Josh Brown made a pair of 52-yard attempts, offsetting a 50-yard miss that came up short in the cold, damp air of Qwest Field.
COACHING: A -- The Seahawks were on top of their game against the overmatched 49ers. This was another example of Seattle avoiding the kind of letdown performance that immature teams experience. Coach Mike Holmgren gets some of the credit. Holmgren also was aggressive offensively, a smart move against a team with so many problems. The blitz-heavy defensive plan produced the lowest output by a Seattle opponent -- 113 total yards -- in franchise history.
The Titans' offense has gone nine quarters without a touchdown, and though Tennessee beat Houston for the second time this season Sunday, it became the first team to fail to score seven points on offense against the woeful Texans. For the second week in a row, Drew Bennett and Ben Troupe dropped passes in the end zone that would have been touchdowns.
"We missed some opportunities out there, a couple dropped balls here and there for a touchdown," quarterback Steve McNair said. "I think we just have to overcome that. ... We preach all week that we have to make some big play somewhere."
The Texans defense, with little to be happy about all season, left Nashville feeling pretty good about itself.
"I think defensively we went out and did what we wanted to do," Texans defensive lineman Gary Walker said. "We shut them out for the game." The Titans are without two rookie receivers who had been making plays -- Brandon Jones is out for the season with a knee injury and Roydell Williams' season was finished by a wrist injury. Their top pass-catcher, tight end Erron Kinney, was out of the Houston game after minor knee surgery.
"There are a lot of different things, a lot of contributing factors," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Obviously, first off, it's not good. It's not a good thing. We're working hard. We've had opportunities. We just haven't gotten the ball in the end zone."
--Titans owner Bud Adams left the Coliseum before Sunday's game ended, and Adams said at the point he stopped watching, things "weren't looking good" for his team. But he told The (Nashville) Tennessean he was not unhappy with the coaching staff nor the front office and said he was optimistic with another high draft pick, his team will be able to start turning things around next season.
Adams agreed that a decision on the status of Steve McNair will be the first big domino of the offseason. The quarterback has a $50 million option bonus, which the Titans won't pay, in his current contract.
As to whether he wants McNair to continue to quarterback the team or thinks the franchise should start to think about a younger quarterback, Adams didn't have a lot to say.
"We're not going to make a decision with three games left," he said.
--The Titans went for it on fourth down three times against Houston and failed to convert any of them. Tyrone Calico let a pass fall out of his hands on fourth-and-5 from the Houston 34 in the first quarter. It was his second drop in two plays.
On fourth-and-3 from the Houston 27, Fisher passed up a 44-yard field goal attempt, and McNair threw a short pass behind Drew Bennett, who was well-covered by cornerback Chris McKenzie.
And on fourth-and-3 from the Houston 35 on the first possession of the second half, McNair threw incomplete to Bennett.
"Absolutely it's a challenge," McNair said of the fourth-down chances. "We messed up a couple opportunities, but I don't think (Fisher is) going to shy away from it."
Fisher has decided to go for it on fourth down 11 times in the past three games, with just three conversions.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--QB Steve McNair came out of the Houston game with a sore left shin and left ankle. Those injuries were left over from the team's Dec. 4 loss in Indianapolis. It won't be a surprise if McNair is not ready to resume practicing Wednesday when the Titans begin preparations for Seattle.
--RB Chris Brown is likely to carry the full load Sunday against Seattle as Travis Henry injured his right ankle against the Texas and is expected to miss a week.
--RB Travis Henry is likely to miss the game Sunday against the Seahawks because of a right ankle injury. Chris Brown would get a full workload in the event Henry can't play.
--TE Erron Kinney (knee) is likely to miss his second game in a row Sunday against Seattle as he recovers from minor knee surgery he needed after the Titans' Dec. 4 loss in Indianapolis.
--TE Ben Troupe didn't finish the Titans' win over Houston because of a concussion that resulted from a jarring hit by Robaire Smith. But coach Jeff Fisher said he didn't expect Troupe's injury to linger this week and keep him out of action.
REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS
PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- A 42-yard screen pass to RB Travis Henry was the highlight on an afternoon when QB Steve McNair was 18-for-30 for 208 yards with no touchdowns. The Titans dropped a bunch of balls and were punchless and unthreatening. Tyrone Calico dropped two balls, and Drew Bennett and Ben Troupe dropped TD passes for the second week in a row.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D-plus -- The Titans got the 30 carries they like, but they didn't do much with them. McNair had an 18-yard scramble on the drive that provided the winning points, but the running backs averaged 2.6 yards a carry.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- Solid, with a tremendous early pass rush that set the tone. The Titans finished with six sacks. David Carr hit on 17 of 26 passes for 116 yards, with 50 coming on Houston's one good drive -- a 72-yard touchdown march just before halftime.
RUSH DEFENSE: D -- They allowed Domanick Davis 139 rushing yards and the Texans a 5.8-yards-per-carry average in a game in which they were determined to slow him.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The Titans got their only TD of the game on a beautiful 52-yard punt return by Pacman Jones, and they got a game-winning field goal from Rob Bironas. But Bironas had a 46-yard miss, the Titans got burned on a fake field goal, and they allowed Jerome Mathis a 50-yard kickoff return at the end of a game, drawing a penalty that allowed Houston to attempt a field goal that would have forced overtime.
COACHING: B -- Jeff Fisher deserves credit for keeping his team's attention and not allowing it to lose interest. The defense played aggressively and bailed out an anemic offense.