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Originally published Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 9:09 PM

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Seahawks could have used Kellen Winslow at crunch time

Russell Wilson threw seven incomplete passes in the final minute of Sunday's game, targeting a total of four different receivers. None of them were...

Seattle Times NFL reporter

Sunday

Cowboys @ Seahawks, 1:05 p.m., Ch. 13

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Russell Wilson threw seven incomplete passes in the final minute of Sunday's game, targeting a total of four different receivers. None of them were named Kellen Winslow.

Winslow wasn't on Seattle's roster Sunday. Still wasn't Tuesday even after Charly Martin suffered a bruised lung in Arizona that will keep him out at least a couple of weeks.

The Seahawks released Winslow eight days before the start of the season, cutting a player who has more receptions over the past five seasons than all but two tight ends in the league.

They made that move with an eye toward their long-term plans, but it also came at a short-term cost. Seattle let go of a very productive player who had spent the past four months learning this offense and preparing to play a prominent role.

It would be simple-minded and silly to chalk a four-point defeat up to any single player who appeared in the game let alone one who didn't, but after revisiting the nitty-gritty offensive details of Seattle's season-opening loss it would be naïve to dismiss the possibility Winslow could have made a difference in the outcome.

Seattle's passing offense was an eyesore for a good chunk of Sunday's game as its single-most productive play was defensive pass interference. That's how Seattle gained 27 yards on its first possession of the game, which matched the Seahawks' longest play from scrimmage. It's also how Seattle gained its last two first downs of the game.

Seattle got three catches from its trio of tight ends during the game, all by starter Zach Miller. Anthony McCoy was targeted once, and Evan Moore — the player Seattle signed to replace Winslow — was on the field for exactly one play.

But the most significant part of Seattle's struggles occurred in Arizona's half of the field when the quarters got cramped. Seattle started four possessions in Cardinals territory and it failed to gain a first down on two of them, settling for field goals when a touchdown would have made all the difference.

And on the Seahawks' final possession, when only a touchdown would do, Seattle ran seven plays inside Arizona's red zone.

It was just the kind of opportunity that made Winslow such an intriguing acquisition this summer. He's not a downfield threat so much as mismatch underneath the defense. He's too big for defensive backs to handle, but too agile and adept a receiver for a linebacker. Only Dallas' Jason Witten and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez caught more balls the previous five seasons.

But Winslow was gone, released before the Seahawks were obligated for the entirety of his $3.3 million salary and replaced by Moore as Seattle swapped out a player with a history of production for one it saw with more potential.

"Kellen has been a great big-time performer for a long time, and there's no doubt about that," coach Pete Carroll said last week before the game. "He showed us why. You could see it, but it's a big exchange that we make because it's long-haul thinking. We're not just thinking about the immediate."

That's very clear. Moore has 62 career receptions while Winslow has averaged more than 70 each of the past three years. But Moore is also two years younger, a whole lot healthier and at 6 feet 6 he might become a contributor for years to come while Winslow might not have had more than a season in Seattle even if he had taken a paycut.

"We want to continue to build for the future," Carroll explained last week, "and make sure we always have our eye on that. Going with a guy that's younger that's in great shape and all of that, we felt like we could make a good exchange here and get the production that we need."

That still might turn out to be true. But on Sunday — when 4 yards separated Seattle from a victory — the Seahawks needed just one more play, and they didn't have Winslow available as they tried to find a way to crack Arizona's red-zone defense.

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


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