Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu has those attributes in enviable quantities. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, but he also keeps his wits about him, garnering enough national attention with his team-leading 105 tackles along with four sacks, three interceptions and one touchdown to finish second in the league’s defensive rookie of the year voting to San Diego’s Shawne Merriman.
While Merriman sits at home contemplating how to help his Chargers get to the playoffs in 2006, Tatupu and his teammates are preparing to host the NFC Championship game this week at Qwest Field.
“I think it’s obvious, but they are balanced,” Tatupu said regarding Seattle’s opponents this weekend – the Carolina Panthers. “That run game is very strong and you have to give them the respect they’ve earned over there. We have our hands full.”
Last week, in their win on the road versus the Chicago Bears, the Panthers lost starting running back DeShaun Foster. Does the absence of a dynamic runner like Foster mean the Hawks will game-plan differently? Not according to Tatupu.
“No. They are still doing the same game plan, they are calling the same plays and that was evident when they played the Bears. We just have to keep going,” the rookie from USC said. “We have been consistent against the run all year and that’s our main focus. If you don’t stop anybody’s run game it is going to be a long day for you. We’ll pile up against the run and rally to the pass and make sure we know where (Steve Smith) is at all times.”
Last week, while preparing for the Washington Redskins, the Seahawks piped in loud music to their practice while their defense tried to make calls and adjustments in an attempt to help the unit prepare for a crowd clamoring for a playoff win. They were met last week with a 102-decible roar before the opening kickoff and Tatupu said he expects more of the same from the rabid Seahawk fans in attendance.
“You can see the frustration on the offense’s face when they can’t get the audible they want or they can’t get the right personnel in,” Tatupu said grinning. “It is an advantage. Some of getting off the field on third-down is a tribute to them. I am just thankful for it.”
Because the 2005 season has been such a pleasant surprise for many with ties to the franchise, Tatupu said he realizes the time needs to fight against being satisfied.
“If you sit back and look at what has happened you’re going to be sitting back watching next Sunday or two Sundays from now. We just want to keep playing ball,” Tatupu said understatedly.
“If you don’t win this (game) you don’t go on. But you can’t get outside yourself and realize it is just another game. We are thankful to be playing at home, in front of our fans and are just excited about the challenge.”
If they overcome the challenge on Sunday, they will be packing their bags for Detroit.
Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.