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Originally published November 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 5, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Jerry Brewer

You just can't depend on them for a half yard

The Seahawks needed a half yard, 18 inches, about the length of a newborn. Rarely has a team's status been so measurable. It was fourth down...

Seattle Times staff columnist

CLEVELAND — The Seahawks needed a half yard, 18 inches, about the length of a newborn.

Rarely has a team's status been so measurable.

It was fourth down and a smidge, a gimme for good teams, a burden for this team. The Seahawks had the ball at the Cleveland 44-yard line in overtime, and you just knew this play would decide the game.

This moment was too poetic, a half-season's theme bottled in a half yard.

The Seahawks ran to the left, the place where tackle Walter Jones and guard Steve Hutchinson once opened up holes the size of craters. They gave the ball to Maurice Morris, the backup running back who once saw little action because Shaun Alexander was so good.

They just needed to nudge the ball forward. They just needed a nibble.

They got nothing.

Another botched short-yardage play. Another example of the run game's downfall.

"We used to be pretty good at it," coach Mike Holmgren said softly. "We're not very good at it now."

Holmgren looked up and stared for a few seconds. Perhaps he was trying to look back to 2005.

Back then, just two years ago, the Seahawks failed to convert on third-and-one just twice, a stunning example of their short-yardage might. Alexander was the league MVP, the offense was nearly unstoppable, and the Super Bowl was their destiny.

Now, after a 33-30 overtime loss to the Browns, the Seahawks are exactly what their 4-4 record indicates.

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Average. OK. Decent on the right day, dreadful on the wrong one.

On Sunday, they were middling in the Midwest.

They were good enough to take a 21-6 lead, bad enough to blow it by allowing three second-half touchdowns.

And in overtime, they stood a half yard from rescuing themselves. Instead, they flopped.

"I'm down. We could've had that win. We should've had that win," said guard Rob Sims, who now occupies the spot Hutchinson vacated when he left for Minnesota two years ago.

It's the same Hutchinson who helped Adrian Peterson run for a record 296 yards Sunday. Until the Seahawks figure out their problems, he will haunt them.

Sims had a scratch on his nose and a frown that dominated the remainder of his face. If the film shows it was his fault, he says he'll take full responsibility. The second-year guard, an Ohio native who had tons of family at this game, is a stand-up guy. But it wasn't just his fault. If only the Seahawks' rushing woes could be narrowed to one person.

They're a team that has lost its edge in many places. The run game is where mean, nasty football players impose their will. The Seahawks lack that mentality. The young guys on the offensive line are too green, the old guys too worn. In the backfield, Alexander is too injured and too uncertain, and Morris is merely a backup.

Alexander was ineffective again, finishing with 32 rushing yards, his fourth consecutive game with less than 50 yards. In addition, he suffered injuries to his left knee and ankle in this game to go with his broken left wrist. As a substitute, Morris did the best he could, performing better than the starter, scooting for 55 yards.

"I wish he could've gained another yard," Holmgren deadpanned.

The Seahawks can only wish the play before the ill-fated fourth down had worked out in their favor. On third down, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck scrambled for what was initially ruled a first down, but after reviewing the play, officials spotted the ball a half-yard short.

Holmgren didn't believe the replay showed enough evidence to overturn the call. He had a legitimate gripe. But he refrained from complaining too much. He knows that because his team couldn't get inches on the next play, forecasting victory would've been foolish.

Just a little push. That's all the Seahawks needed. Instead, they got pushed.

Hasselbeck remembered the play called. He called it one of the team's "bread-and-butter" plays. When he came to the line of scrimmage, he noticed Cleveland strong safety Sean Jones was unaccounted for, and under ideal circumstances, Hasselbeck said he would've called an audible.

On the road, in a loud stadium, Hasselbeck decided to "bite the bullet."

"We needed inches," he said. "You hope you can get inches in those situations. It's too bad. It's really too bad."

After the stop, the Seahawks defense allowed the Browns to rumble down the field for an easy, winning field goal. Even if the Seahawks had a great defense, the offense should've gone for it on fourth down. But the botched play made you realize Seattle's perilous state.

You just knew that, if the Seahawks failed to convert, the defense would succumb. This team is that shaky.

A half yard.

The Seahawks seemed so close to escaping. In reality, victory was so distant.

Short yardage? It's a longshot for this team.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. For more columns and the Extra Points blog, visit seattletimes.com/sports

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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