NFC Wildcard News & Notes - 1/4/06

The Seahawks will be scouting three teams this weekend - the Giants, Panthers and Redskins - as they wait to see who they will play in the divisional round. Seahawks.NET takes a look at the playoff preparations of those three teams, as well as the Seahawks' "week of leisure".


The Seahawks won't hold traditional practices during their bye week. The team plans to divide into groups to work on specific areas, a way to remain sharp without wearing down. Players will have the weekend off before resuming a normal practice week Monday.

Seattle will play the Giants, Panthers or Redskins in a divisional-round game Jan. 14 or 15.

If the Redskins beat the Buccaneers, they will visit Qwest Field on the 14th. If the Bucs beat the Redskins, Seattle will play the Giants-Panthers winner on the 15th, also at Qwest Field.

"I have not been in this situation before," Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "It's a bye week, we're not playing anybody this week, we're not game-planning for anybody this week.

"We're going to come in and work on some things that we feel we need to get better at, and then the other thing we're going to do is try and get stronger. Obviously we're going to get healthier this week by not taking hits and stuff like that, but we lifted weights and we're lifting weights Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."

Seattle coaches are already working on game plans for the Giants, Panthers and Redskins. Players are looking forward to kicking back and watching games from a fan's perspective, something they rarely get to do because they are playing almost every week.

"I'll probably watch them all just because I enjoy it," Hasselbeck said. "There are other guys that make a joke about, 'You were watching a football game and you didn't have to?' I enjoy it and I love it. I'll watch the AFC games and I'll watch the NFC games.

"There are some guys on our team that have probably watched 90 percent of the bowl games. Sometimes it's fun to be a fan, too."


--Hasselbeck has not been mentioned much as an MVP candidate, but his numbers are up there with the best. Hasselbeck finished the season with a career-high rating of 98.2 and his 13-3 starting record was second in the league. He threw 24 touchdown passes with nine interceptions, not far off the numbers put up by two-time MVP Peyton Manning (28 and 10). Like Manning, Hasselbeck was not allowed to pile up stats in some games because his team was winning by a blowout.

--QB Seneca Wallace showed last Sunday that he can be effective when given playing time. Wallace led an eight-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to open the second half against Green Bay. Statistics can be misleading, but the Packers did lead the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed. Wallace had some problems as the Packers' pass rush increasingly had success. He was working behind a line featuring four backups. RT Sean Locklear was the only starter among the group; he played the left side instead.

--RB Shaun Alexander is a very strong candidate for MVP even though his team's success prevented him from piling up more stats. Alexander did not play in the second half of a 42-0 victory at Philadelphia. He did not play in the second half of the final regular-season game because Seattle had already clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Alexander missed portions of the fourth quarter in other games. Had he played in those quarters, Alexander might have topped 2,000 yards and challenged Eric Dickerson's single-season league record. Alexander finished with 1,880 yards.

--FB Mack Strong went over the middle for a 27-yard reception Sunday, his longest receiving gain since 2003. The Seahawks have too many weapons offensively to feature the fullback, but every now and then Strong reminds people that he can catch the ball and hurt a defense in the passing game.

--WR Darrell Jackson's knee will not be 100 percent for the playoffs, but the Seahawks hope he can be effective after receiving extra time to rest. "He's doing well," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I'll tell you what he's nervous about: going on and practicing and having it flare up so he's not at his best for the game. So the plan is to let him continue to rehab it this week and be out at practice, catch some balls and do some stuff, but not really running around too much. The week of the game, go and get ready."

--WR Bobby Engram missed three games to injury and was not 100 percent after returning, but he still finished with a team-high 67 catches for 778 yards. Engram caught 88 passes with Chicago in 1999, but he had never caught more than 64 in any other season.

--WR Joe Jurevicius is the fifth player in Seahawks history to finish a season with at least 10 touchdown receptions. The others were Steve Largent, Daryl Turner, Joey Galloway and Derrick Mayes. Jurevicius signed a modest one-year deal with Seattle in the off-season. He stepped up big when injuries felled the team's starting receivers.

--TE Jerramy Stevens finished the season with a career-high 45 receptions. He was not a factor in the final regular-season game as the team force-fed the ball to RB Shaun Alexander before replacing its offensive starters for the second half. Stevens should re-emerge in the playoffs.

--K Josh Brown has made 40 of 43 career field goals from inside 40 yards. This season, the team trusted him to attempt eight field goals from 50-plus yards. He made five of them.

--MLB Lofa Tatupu should benefit from the bye week. The rest should help him shake any possible effects of the "rookie wall" that sometimes slows down first-year players. Tatupu is also a bit undersized, which could lead to wearing down a bit. The rest comes at a good time.

--LB D.D. Lewis has been an impact player when healthy, but injuries have slowed his NFL career. A shoulder injury kept Lewis from playing last season. Knee and foot injuries have hurt him this season. The bye week gives him a chance to gear up for the playoffs, but it remains to be seen whether Lewis can stay healthy for more than one game in a row.

--DT Marcus Tubbs is playing at a Pro Bowl level down the stretch. He manhandled the Packers' interior offensive linemen Sunday, continuing a late-season trend. Tubbs is extremely valuable as a run stuffer, but he can also get upfield and rush the passer.


Sunday's playoff game will have a little added meaning for Carolina Panthers coach John Fox. This weekend, Fox heads back to New York, where he spent five seasons as the Giants' defensive coordinator before taking over as Panthers head coach in 2002.

Normally, Fox would give it the old this-is-just-another-game routine, but this week he was surprisingly candid about his feelings. "Any time I go back there, it brings back memories. I am very thankful to the late (co-owners) Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch for the opportunity they gave me," Fox said. "I had a good run there as an assistant coach.

"You are always going to have fond memories of places where you had success. As far as what it means in this exact game, this will be a tough game against a good football team at their place."

Both Mara and Tisch died of cancer during the 2005 NFL regular season. "It's hard to believe in a short period of time - because they both were very, very healthy when I was there - that they are not on this earth any more," Fox said. "I know Jerry Richardson, my present team owner, was very close to them. Without the two of them, I'm not sure I'm sitting here (with this job)."


--QB Jake Delhomme played one of his better games of the season on Sunday against Atlanta, but more people wanted to tease him about ripping open the seat of his pants during a first quarter drive. The Panthers had to call timeout so trainers could repair a softball-size hole in the back of Delhomme's pants. He later changed into a new pair of pants and led Carolina to a 44-11 win.

--QB Chris Weinke saw some mop-up action on Sunday in a 44-11 win over the Atlanta Falcons, but remains the team's No. 2 quarterback.

--QB Stefan LeFors is Carolina's third-string quarterback. The rookie from Louisville has not played all season and would only see action in a real emergency situation.

--RB DeShaun Foster could have broken the Panthers' single-game rushing record against Atlanta, but was taken out of the game early in the third quarter with 165 yards rushing because the Panthers led the game by 24 points and they didn't want to risk an injury to their featured back. Foster had a great game, but you had a feeling most backs would have run well against a lackluster Falcons defense. Now the big question is, can Foster put up big numbers against someone other than the Falcons?

--RB Nick Goings had one carry for 17 yards against Atlanta and didn't see much action because he'd sprained his foot earlier in the week. He will likely be held out of practice most of this week.

--FB Brad Hoover injured his leg on the very first play against Atlanta but returned later in the game.

--WR Steve Smith should be in for a big game against the Giants, especially if this one becomes a shootout. The Giants have only scored fewer than 20 points at the Meadowlands once this season, so the Panthers may have to put up some big-time points to win this game.

--WR Keary Colbert continues to be lost in a horrendous sophomore slump.

--WR Ricky Proehl seems to step up when big games arrive. Proehl caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme on Sunday to put the Panthers up 7-0 and get them started on the right foot in a 44-11 win over Atlanta.

--WR Drew Carter continues to emerge as a much-needed deep threat for the Panthers and should see more action as the postseason arrives. Carter is much more effective than Keary Colbert, who adds little to the offense.

--TE Michael Gaines could see more balls thrown his way - not that that will be a whole lot anyway since the Panthers rarely throw to their tight ends - now that his ankle is feeling a little better.

--TE Kris Mangum is thrown to primarily on third downs.

--PK John Kasay seems to be kicking better the last two games, but we'll have to wait and see how he does in the cold New Jersey weather on Sunday.

--P Jason Baker leads the NFC in net punting average and has punted well down the stretch.

--PR Steve Smith will return punts against New York this week. Smith returned a punt for a touchdown against the Giants in 2003, setting the tone for a Panthers rout.

--KR Rod Smart was active against Atlanta and actually got a few carries in a 44-11 rout. Smart got a jersey only because linebacker Dan Morgan was hurt.

--KR Jamal Robertson has been the Panthers' kick returner the last few weeks and got 10 carries against the Falcons along with his first touchdown. Robertson is the team's No. 3 back behind DeShaun Foster and Nick Goings.

--DE Julius Peppers had a huge game against Dallas with three sacks and a blocked field goal. However, he was also involved in the controversial running into the kicker penalty that cost the Panthers at the end of the game. Peppers and the rest of the defense also allowed Dallas to run for 214 yards.

--DE Mike Rucker will have to come up huge for the Panthers in the playoffs for them to have a chance to win. Rucker should get a good push on Sunday against a vulnerable Giants defense.

--DE Al Wallace had a huge game for Carolina on Sunday with two sacks and big stop on a fourth-down run.

--DT Kindal Moorehead had two sacks in a backup role for Carolina this past Sunday against Atlanta.

--DT Jordan Carstens played much better against the Falcons after a rough outing the week before against Dallas.

--LB Dan Morgan sat out the Atlanta game with an injured shoulder. No word yet on his status for this week.

--MLB Chris Draft is seeing plenty of action in the second half of the season due to the shoulder injury to Dan Morgan. Draft played extremely well against the Falcons last week with a forced fumble on defense and a fumble recovery on special teams.

--OLB Brandon Short has been consistent for the Panthers this season, but hasn't made a lot of big plays.

--CB Ken Lucas continues to play well for the Panthers and will be counted on to shut down Plaxico Burress this week.

--CB Chris Gamble will need some tighter coverage on Sunday if the Panthers are to escape New York with a win.

--CB Ricky Manning and the rest of Carolina's third down defense struggled some against the Falcons.

--FS Mike Minter continues to be the emotional leader on defense, but he drops a lot of interception possibilities because he has poor hands.


Giants coach Tom Coughlin has been here before. In the NFL playoffs, that is.

He made his first appearance in 1990, when he was an assistant under Bill Parcells, and that Giants team went on to win Super Bowl XXV. He was in the playoffs twice as coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, twice earning a spot in the AFC Championship Game (and twice losing it). But it is the experience that counts as his Giants prepare for their first-round playoff game against Carolina.

Coughlin notes there is a definite difference during the playoffs in team attitude and intensity level, and he thinks it must be experienced before a player can truly understand the impact the playoffs have on a team. "You need more from your playmakers," he said. "You need them to lift the team, to show the younger guys how to do it. And you must avoid penalties. You cannot shoot yourself in the foot; you cannot make those kinds of mistakes."

As to the opposition, Coughlin spoke only in superlatives.

"Carolina is a very physical team," he said. "Your mistakes are magnified against a team like that. You have to eliminate them. Carolina comes in with a plus-16 (turnover margin) and we are a plus-12. So both teams have an emphasis on takeaways and not giving the ball away. You can't be penalized. All of these things, and others, are magnified as you go into the playoffs."

Being at home, Coughlin admits, is a positive. "But you have to play smart and physical," he said, "or it doesn't much matter if the other team can take advantage of your mistakes."


--TE Jeremy Shockey (ankle) missed the final regular-season game against Oakland, the first one he's missed this season, but all indications are he will be ready for the playoff game against Carolina. "I think I could have played, but it was better that I didn't," he said. Coach Tom Coughlin, somewhat more cautious, said only, "Jeremy is improving daily. The outlook is positive to get him on the practice field, if not Wednesday then Thursday."

--DT Fred Robbins (hamstring) and DE Eric Moore (hamstring) are "still struggling," according to coach Tom Coughlin, who put them in the day-to-day category.

--QB Eli Manning, who is still struggling but now has completed his first full season as a starter, finished with 3,762 yards and 24 touchdowns, completing 294 of 557 passes. He finished 10 attempts short of the team record and is now fifth in passing yards per season. "I feel I am playing more consistently now than earlier in the season," he said. "I still make some poor decisions but I feel like I'm managing the game better, seeing things well."

--RB Tiki Barber came within 20 yards of the NFL rushing title, finishing with 1,860 yards (Seattle's Shaun Alexander had 1,860). "I think this team has a lot more talent than previous playoff teams," he said. "I know the quarterback (Manning) is a lot younger than the one we had in 2000 (Kerry Collins), "But he is very confident, he doesn't get flustered, so we know he's going to bring the same leadership he brought all season."

--WR Amani Toomer, the nine-year veteran who was generally discounted this season, had a banner year as the "other wide receiver" to Plaxico Burress. "I had a good season and I had fun playing," he said. He finished with 60 receptions for 684 yards and seven touchdowns.

--WLB Nick Greisen praised all the backup linebackers who have been juggled into the lineup throughout the season. "I think it's great," he said. "I told the guys that we can't be the weak link, that I know there are new guys and new faces, but we have all played football before." It is likely that Greisen will stay at WLB even if starting MLB Antonio Pierce (high ankle sprain) doesn't return, because freshly signed Kevin Lewis, the Giants' starter at MLB for all 16 games last season, was re-signed and played well against Oakland.

--DE Michael Strahan was poked in the eye by Oakland T Chad Slaughter, and Strahan was screaming and cursing at him as he was being led off the field, his eye bloodied. "That's a hell of a way to block," he said later. But the next day he said that when he came back to the field, Slaughter "tried to say he was sorry." Did Strahan accept the apology? "I'm not sure, I don't know," he said. "I haven't seen it. But everybody who did see it told me that it looked like he spread his fingers and took a straight poke at it (the eye)."


So much for the "where's Gregg going?" sweepstakes. Redskins assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams, perhaps the hottest candidate for an NFL head coaching job, isn't going back home to his native Missouri, or to Houston, where he began his NFL career, or to Minnesota, where he would be reunited with former Washington cornerback Fred Smoot.

Williams signed a three-year contract extension on Tuesday to remain in charge of the Redskins' defense.

"It makes me very happy and it makes my family very happy," Williams said in an exclusive interview with Redskins TV. "My family loves living here. It was a unanimous decision by the family. I'm very loyal and respectful to (Redskins owner) Dan Snyder and (coach) Joe Gibbs for giving me this opportunity. It's been a great time in Washington and hopefully I can stay an awful long time. It's nice to see the respect Dan and Joe gave me in this new contract."

Williams, who coached Buffalo to a 17-31 record in three seasons from 2001-03 before assembling top 10 defenses with Washington the last two seasons, was thrilled to get the new deal done before the Redskins play their first postseason game since 1999 on Saturday at Tampa Bay.

"We've got to be focused on Tampa Bay and I'm glad to get this thing taken care of today," Williams said. "We've got to be locked on, ready to go, cued in to win this game. We can get this completely off the table right now and get focused when the players get back in here tomorrow."

Not that Williams, 47, doesn't want to be a head coach again.

"I want to be a head coach again," he said. "I think I'll have that opportunity again. I knew I had those opportunities this off-season. But that's not the most important thing. It's what am I doing, where is it at and who's it with? I really like what I'm doing. I really like where I'm at and I really, really, really like who it's with."

Down the road, Williams is interested in succeeding Gibbs, who's 65 and has three years left on his contract.

"When that time comes, that's a bridge that we'll cross when we get there," Williams said. "But the fact that I get a chance to coach side-by-side with the only Hall of Fame coach still coaching today is a tremendous opportunity for me and I'm very happy for that."


--QB Mark Brunell, playing on a sprained right knee, was off-target badly last week at Philadelphia, but still finished the season with a 23-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a solid 85.9 passer rating. Brunell is expected to see more practice time this week and be healthier for Saturday's wild-card game at Tampa Bay, against whom he passed for 226 yards with two TDs and two interceptions in a 36-35 loss on Nov. 13.

--After sparkling when Brunell was hurt on Dec. 24 against the New York Giants and getting most of the practice reps last week, QB Patrick Ramsey didn't play, as usual, against the Eagles.

--RB Clinton Portis's 112 yards on 27 carries gave him nine 100-yard games and five in a row to tie Rob Goode's 54-year-old team record. With 1,516 yards, Portis shattered Stephen Davis' 4-year-old Redskins single-season rushing record and finished fourth in the NFL. Portis gained a season-high 144 yards on 23 carries the first time he faced the Bucs. Portis led the Redskins with 68 points on 11 rushing touchdowns and a two-point conversion. He also threw a TD pass.

--RB Ladell Betts carried five times for 30 yards against the Eagles and finished the year with 338 yards on 89 carries despite not starting a game and missing four games with injuries. Betts had 45 yards of offense and a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown at Tampa Bay.

--WR Santana Moss had four catches for 83 yards against the Eagles to surpass Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell's team record with 1,483 receiving yards. Moss' 84 catches in his Redskins debut have been topped only by Art Monk (1984, 1985, 1989) and Laveranues Coles (2004). Moss tied for the NFC lead in third-down catches and was second in yards.

--H-back Chris Cooley had a season-worst two catches for 8 yards against the Eagles but still led all NFC players at his position with a Redskins-record 71 catches, was tied for the lead with seven TDs and was third with 774 yards.

--TE Robert Royal didn't catch a ball against Philadelphia, finishing with 18 catches for 131 yards compared to 13 for 118 during his first two seasons combined.

--K John Hall's 25-yard field goal against the Eagles was his first in three weeks. He finished 12-for-14, missing from 45 and 52 yards, and was 27-for-27 on PATs.

--DE Phillip Daniels didn't have a sack at Philadelphia after recording five the two previous weeks. He still led the team with a career-high eight sacks. Daniels also forced the fumble that FS Sean Taylor returned 39 yards for the clinching TD with 2:16 remaining.

--MLB Lemar Marshall's interception in the fourth quarter set up Clinton Portis' 22-yard touchdown run that put Washington ahead to stay with 12:19 to play. Marshall led the Redskins with four interceptions this season in his second year as a starter, his first in the middle.

--SS Ryan Clark ended Philadelphia's last threat with an interception, just as he did in the first victory over the Eagles on Nov. 6. It was Washington's first sweep of Philadelphia since 1988. Top Stories