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Originally published Monday, October 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Danny O'Neil

Mike Holmgren is forced to face new reality on offense

The coach spoke softly, his words measured, as Mike Holmgren stood at the podium, his volcanic personality as dormant as his offense was...

Seattle Times NFL reporter

The coach spoke softly, his words measured, as Mike Holmgren stood at the podium, his volcanic personality as dormant as his offense was in a 27-17 loss to the Packers.

"We're not used to this," Holmgren said.

Sixty-four yards net passing, the second-fewest in any Seahawks game he's coached and the worst since September 2001, when Seattle had 21 yards net passing. That was another place, and a different era. The Seahawks were nomads who were shacking up at Husky Stadium and Matt Hasselbeck was the new quarterback in town making his second start when the Eagles blitzed him into oblivion.

Hasselbeck could only watch Sunday, ruled out by doctors before he could even test out his injured right knee, and without him, the Seahawks offense turned to Charlie Frye and turned back the clock to a much more frustrating era of offensive futility.

"We're used to moving the football," Holmgren said. "We're used to scoring points."

There was no resignation in Holmgren's voice, just reality.

Seneca Wallace couldn't start because of a calf injury. Frye played like a third-string quarterback. A couple touchdown passes showed the talent that got him into the league and two interceptions illustrated why he's not usually a starter.

Seattle finished with fewer than 100 yards passing for the sixth time in Holmgren's 10 seasons with the Seahawks. Four of those games occurred during his first three years, part of the growing pains that were an unavoidable part of rebuilding the offense from the ground up with a young nucleus that eventually included players such as Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander and Steve Hutchinson. So Holmgren ground his molars while he watched his young offense grind its gears.

This is more like skidding into a ditch, because this isn't a young offense in need of experience. It's a unit retooled for Holmgren's swan season that has suffered a rash of injuries so severe that Seattle started this game with a quarterback Holmgren never expected to play throwing to a wide receiver the team let go three years ago. Frye completed two of his first three passes in the game to Koren Robinson.

This one was going to be a struggle. Holmgren knew that from the beginning with Hasselbeck out and Wallace's calf so sore that he would have been physically able to execute only about half a dozen plays in Seattle's game plan.

So Holmgren summoned his inner Woody Hayes and went with a menu of play calls conservative enough to be nicknamed "red state." Seven of Seattle's 11 offensive plays in the first quarter were runs. Seattle faced third-and-nine on its second possession and Holmgren dialed up the fullback draw, which is his equivalent of a white flag for that drive.

He was a coach whose best hope was muddying up the game, and he felt OK when he reached halftime with the score tied at 10 despite being outgained 147-83. This is that nip-and-tuck football played throughout the league where teams trade body blows for most of four quarters, then inevitably wait for some skinny kicker to trot out and attempt a game-winning field goal.

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"It was that type of game," Holmgren said. "If we could bring a game like this down to a field goal to win either way."

The Seahawks had never been that type of team during their run to five consecutive playoffs. But on Sunday they were, as the offense that led the league in scoring three years ago was moving in fits and starts.

When Seattle fell behind and tried to make up ground in the second half, Frye threw two interceptions. His 27-yard scramble in the fourth quarter was longer than any completion he had in the game.

Seattle's first touchdown was set up by a turnover, and the offense never recovered after Julius Jones' 51-yard run in the third quarter was called back because Mike Wahle had a fistful of Packer lineman Johnny Jolly's jersey.

"We're just not strong enough to overcome that kind of deficit, really," Holmgren said. "Maybe down the road we will be, but right now we're not."

There was no resignation in his voice, just an ugly reality after coming face to face with his team's worst passing performance in seven years.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Danny O'Neil
Danny O'Neil will comment on issues, events and personalities in the NFL. His column will appear on Sundays during the regular season. He also posts most days on the Seahawks Blog.
doneil@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2364

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