Fisher, Hasselbeck Reflect Before Vacation

It was the worst of times after the best – the Seattle Seahawks began the 2006 season at a 3-0 clip, with a 42-30 statement over the New York Giants as the cherry on the sundae. But it was the next Sunday that upended a perfect record lined with several caveats – and they all showed up when the Chicago Bears thrashed Seattle, 37-6.

After the game, Coach Mike Holmgren announced that instead of being “punitive” after what could only be termed as the coach himself did – “We played a stinker and we took one on the chin” – the team would get an entire week off during the bye. The Seahawks won’t hit the field again until they meet next Monday at Kirkland HQ for practice.

For defensive end Bryce Fisher, it was a breath of fresh air, greatly appreciated after a claustrophobic loss. “Coach understands that these types of games happen every once in a while,” Fisher said. “Reiterating all the bad things we did for the next five days isn’t going to make us any better next week when we play St. Louis. Everybody gets a chance to get away and come back and be ready to play.”

This time last year, Fisher’s first season with the Seahawks after one with the Bills and three with the Rams, saw the Seahawks begin the season with a 2-2 record, and without receivers Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram – both lost to injury in the loss to Washington. Jackson missed nine games, and Engram three. Joe Jurevicius stepped up, the team became a team like never before, and the Seahawks didn’t lose another meaningful game until Super Bowl XL. So…you can’t blame Fisher if he isn’t peering over the ledge, anticipating disaster as some seem to be – only ten of the NFL’s 32 teams are 3-1 or better. “3-1 is a better place to be,” he told the media on Tuesday. “I think the way that we are looking at it is, we got an opportunity to see what beats us and we are going to have to fix those things when we get ready to play St. Louis because they are going to be watching that same film.”

These things that beat them in Chicago – protection breakdowns, miscommunication, iffy playcalling and the inability to maintain a physical presence – will doom this team if they aren’t solved. Fisher mentioned Chicago’s persistence with the running game – “We stopped them early in their run game but they stayed with it and cut things back to catch some soft spots of our defense” and admitted the hard truth. The Bears were simply more physical. “It is the truth,” he said. “They lined up and pushed us around on both sides of the ball. Neither of our lines played well enough. I think that all of us are going to have to come back in here ready to understand that it doesn’t matter how fast you are if a team can line up and mush you.”

What does Fisher think needs the most work on defense? Beginning with the fourth quarter of the Giants game through the Chicago debacle, the Seahawks have been outscored, 64-6. “I think one thing we know is that we are fast enough that we can catch just about any play out there,” Fisher said. “We just have to make sure we do a good job of holding on the back side of plays so teams can’t cut back against us.”

Dropping the “back-em-off-and–let-‘em-score” defense displayed against the G-men late in the game would be a good idea as well.

Fisher is 2-0 against his old team as a Seahawk, but the Rams are in Seattle’s grill yet again. They’re tied with that 3-1 record – based primarily on Kurt Warner’s fumbles and Jeff Wilkins’ field goals – and a win over the Green Bay Packers while the Seahawks sit home would put the Rams alone at the top of the NFC West for the first time since 2004. Despite this weight hanging over the impending Week Six contest between the longtime rivals at St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome, Fisher doesn’t see the battle as entirely definitive.

“I don’t think people understand that this is the pros,” he said about the concept of ‘statement games’. “Those things don’t matter until December and January. You play games in September and October so you can play games in December that matter. Right now we are 3-1. I think every team in the league would take 3-1 through four games.

”As far as we are concerned, we have to get better so we can play next week.” A sole focus, helped along by time.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck agrees that the bye and the subsequent ability to get away from the game for a while is important. He might feel differently were he not currently ranked 25th in the league in passer rating (74.6), having thrown two fewer interceptions through four games (7) than he did all of last season, but things are what they are. The test will be how the Seahawks recover from the early malaise. “I’m glad we got the bye right now,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to get this out of our system, and get away, and kind of forget about it, and probably more importantly heal up. It reminded me a lot of the Jacksonville game last year, where we had a plan. We didn’t really do what we said we wanted to go out and do. We said ‘let’s not turn the ball over’. We turned the ball over. ‘Let’s block really well’, we didn’t do that. We didn’t play smart. You got to take it and move on, and use it as motivation, and hopefully just forget about it too.”

After a certain point, as Hasselbeck suggested, practice and intensity are factors that can implode, falling in on themselves and taking a team with them. Too much can send a team over the edge if there are already concerns. “(The loss is) probably going to sit a little bit, but Mike (Holmgren) talked to us (on Tuesday). He was very tough on us, but after he was tough on us he said, ‘Alright, I said what I had to say, and I hope you listened, and forget about it.’ Let’s clear our minds. We’re 3-1. We still got a great chance to win our division. We really hold the keys to our own destiny. We got the opportunity to have a great season. We’ve got to fix some stuff obviously. Our coaches are going to reevaluate some of the stuff that we’re doing, and whatever they say when we come back we’re going to do it. We’re going to do it the best that we can and try to improve.”

The focus is the same for offense and defense – what to do when they get back? How to prepare for the Rams and a better showing overall? Correcting the miscommunications is where it all begins. “I think the things that come with time,” he said, when asked what’s harder to fix. “The communication is obviously one of them, and our communication needs to be better on the field and on the sidelines, and even at halftime. When someone says something, we all have to understand the same thing. That’s stuff that comes with time. It comes with being together, and I think we can improve on it. It’s a little bit tougher to improve that than it is to improve ‘this is your assignment on this play.’”

Those missed assignments were a big part of the gameplan that didn’t work – the four-receiver sets, hyped to set the Bears’ defense on fire, sputtered and staggered in the face of Chicago’s old-school approach. “To be honest with you, after you watch the film, they should have had a more difficult time,” he said. “We didn’t communicate well at the line of scrimmage. We got some people blocking the run and some people blocking the pass on the same play. Ultimately, that’s my fault. It’s my job to communicate with everybody on the field on what we’re trying to do. Sometimes it’s difficult when you’re playing on the road. That’s the kind of stuff we’ve to get fixed. My job is to make sure that all eleven guys are doing the right thing, or the same thing anyway, then I have to do my job.”

For now,. Bryce Fisher and Matt Hasselbeck are spread to the four winds along with their teammates and all in the organization. With time to decompress and readjust, here’s hoping that the Seahawks of 2005 – the team that turned scrap metal into finely-honed steel against the Rams in St. Louis in the fifth game – show up again. For if the Seahawks can match that thrilling 37-31 victory, and use it to re-create everything which followed?

Perhaps history really can repeat itself.


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.


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