Shaun Alexander played his finest game of the season and one of the better games of his career. He has piled up better stats in other games, but never has he run so hard and effectively against a defense so talented. The 31-carry, 140-yard performance gave Seattle hope that its offense might be getting closer to functioning at previous levels.
The Seahawks go into this game with a few priorities. They want to keep the running game going. They want to complete at least 60 percent of their passes while avoiding interceptions that have plagued the team all season. Holmgren also wants to cut down on some of the special-teams penalties that cropped up against the Chargers. Finally, he wants the defense to build on its mostly strong performance against the Chargers.
"They talk about momentum going into the playoffs," Holmgren said. "I think that's a real thing. And the team always has a little more confidence, which is a good thing."
The Seahawks are getting the Bucs at a relatively good time. While Tampa Bay's offense is improved with veteran Tim Rattay under center, the defense no longer resembles the dominating defense that made things tough on Matt Hasselbeck a few seasons ago. Tampa Bay has suffered from injuries on that side of the ball. Opponents are completing 61.2 percent of their passes with 25 passing touchdowns, up from 15 all last season.
Seattle's passing game has sputtered. Deion Branch dropped four passes last week. Hasselbeck tossed two interceptions. San Diego finished with six sacks. And yet the Seahawks liked what they saw from Bobby Engram, who played extensively for the first time since a thyroid condition derailed his season.
"There is a big difference between playing poorly and playing well, but there are not that many things that need to change," Hasselbeck said. "Really, if I just look at myself, just me alone, not even talking about anyone else on the team, if I take my two interceptions from last game and get rid of those, it is a far different game.
"I think each guy just has to look at their own game and what they're doing and how they have played this year and see what they can improve on and that is what I am doing. I think if we get enough guys feeling that way, we will be right back to playing really good football."
SERIES HISTORY: Seattle leads the series, 5-1. The teams entered the NFL together in 1976. Seattle beat the Bucs that season, 13-10 when Mike Curtis blocked a 42-yard field-goal try. The teams last played in 2004, when the Seahawks claimed a 10-6 victory at Tampa Bay.
--The Seahawks are sticking with Michael Boulware at strong safety even though the former second-round pick remains a liability in deep coverage. Boulware's error led to the Chargers' winning 37-yard touchdown pass in the final 30 seconds of Seattle's 20-17 loss Sunday.
FS Ken Hamlin rode to Boulware's defense when asked what teammates had done to help Boulware get back on track. "Who said he had to get back?" Hamlin asked. "Mike did a great job in the game regardless of whoever ripped him in the papers.
"I still have faith in him, just like everybody else does. You all need to get off him. That's my guy."
Boulware will remain the starter against Tampa Bay, coach Mike Holmgren said.
--Joey Galloway left the Seahawks seven years ago, but the receiver still holds several team records. His speed remains a big threat against a Seattle defense that has allowed too many big plays. "Man, Galloway is unbelievable," LB Julian Peterson said. "He can still almost run like a 4.2. Great athlete."
The Seahawks traded Galloway to the Cowboys in 2000 after a holdout. Seattle received two first-round picks in exchange, including the one Holmgren used for Shaun Alexander. Even so, the Seahawks have missed Galloway's speed at times. "The few times we played against him since he was here, I wished there was some way he would have stayed with us," Holmgren said. "If you remember back to those days, it wasn't in the cards. It wasn't going to happen."
BY THE NUMBERS: Three -- The number of offensive starters who have played in every game this season (Chris Gray, Walter Jones, Mack Strong).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought it was OK. I can't comment on any further than that." -- Bucs coach Jon Gruden on his relationship with Seahawks president Tim Ruskell, whose 17-year run with Tampa Bay ended when Gruden assumed more power within the organization following the 2003 season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Seahawks are saving roster spots for a couple of players whose seasons might very well be over.
C Robbie Tobeck (hip) and CB Marcus Trufant (ankle) are valuable contributors when healthy. Tobeck has missed the last seven games after suffering from an abscess in his hip. He is struggling to regain weight and strength, but Seattle has resisted putting him on injured reserve because Tobeck could prove valuable if the team advances deep into the playoffs.
Trufant suffered a high ankle sprain Sunday against San Diego. Holmgren said he's hoping for a "miracle" but Trufant is out indefinitely.
--WR Darrell Jackson missed practice Wednesday. He has a turf-toe condition. Jackson probably will not play Sunday.
--C Robbie Tobeck missed practice Wednesday. He has a hip injury. Tobeck will not play Sunday.
--DT Rocky Bernard practiced Wednesday despite a foot injury. He is probable.
--CB Marcus Trufant will not play Sunday. He missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury and his season is in jeopardy.
--LB Niko Koutouvides practiced Wednesday despite an ankle injury. He is probable.
GAME PLAN: The Seahawks have traditionally set up the run with the pass. That might not be a bad idea in this game because the Bucs' defense has been vulnerable through the air. This would be a good game for Seattle to get its passing game going. TE Jerramy Stevens could be a threat over the middle, where the Tampa-2 defense can be vulnerable. Defensively, Seattle should be OK against the Bucs' weak offense. Tampa Bay has had some problems in pass protection, and RB Cadillac Williams has been banged up.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Seahawks SS Michael Boulware vs. Bucs WR Joey Galloway. Boulware will not be primarily responsible for covering Galloway, of course, but his lapses in deep coverage make Seattle vulnerable in this matchup. Boulware remains the starter this week even though he gave up the winning TD pass in the final seconds against San Diego. Boulware's confidence is not high at this point. Galloway is well-equipped to make Seattle pay.
--Seahawks C Chris Spencer vs. Bucs MLB Shelton Quarles. Spencer is getting better as he gets more experience. He's a physical player who had some success moving massive San Diego DT Jamal Williams last week. Quarles is small, fast and elusive. Seattle will try to pound the ball with Shaun Alexander.
INJURY IMPACT: CB Marcus Trufant's injury hurts because he was playing very well over the last couple of weeks. The Seahawks will have to juggle things in their secondary as a result. Rookie CB Kelly Jennings is a first-round pick who has played well, but he's a smaller corner still finding his way.