Once again, Seahawks face toughest opponent of all — their bodies
A roundup: Hasselbeck (ribs), linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring), cornerback Josh Wilson (ankle) and tackle Sean Locklear (ankle) started the game but couldn't finish.
Seattle Times staff columnist
SAN FRANCISCO — On the final play of a calamitous, fret-generating game, Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson caught a pass in the middle of the field. He ran until San Francisco safety Michael Lewis and linebacker Patrick Willis had him cornered, and then, in atypical fashion for No. 81, Burleson covered up and fell to the ground to avoid a massive hit.
It was the smartest play of the Seahawks' achy afternoon.
After losing four more starters to injury Sunday, including centerpiece Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks didn't need Burleson to take a risk at the end. They were lucky to leave Candlestick Park without breaking the X-ray machine.
When they weren't chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore, they were grabbing injured body parts. The 23-10 loss was disappointing enough, but it didn't even compare to the concern over injuries.
A roundup: Hasselbeck (ribs), linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring), cornerback Josh Wilson (ankle) and tackle Sean Locklear (ankle) started the game but couldn't finish. Put them with the others who are hurting, and the Seahawks now have essentially 10 starters out with varying levels of pain. The number is 11 if you include guard Mike Wahle's ailment-induced retirement.
Just when you thought the great injury bug of '08 was buried, the present starts pining for the past.
Oh-eight, meet Uh-oh-nine?
Well, don't panic yet. But if your finger is resting atop that button, I can't blame you. The good news is that, from what we know right now, none of these injuries are season-threatening problems.
Seahawks coach Jim Mora did his best to quell any hysteria. He portrayed his team as "disappointed, not dejected." He talked about fixing the mistakes that allowed Gore to go all Barry Sanders on his defense. He found positives in his players' resolve to compete despite the injuries and repeatedly said the Seahawks won't make excuses about injuries.
"We can't let that be an excuse because nobody cares," Mora said. "Nobody cares. There's no asterisk next to today's loss that says we have a bunch of starters out."
No, the story of this game was Gore, who rushed for 207 yards, including 79- and 80-yard dashes for the 49ers' two touchdowns. A team shouldn't give up two long runs like that in a season, let alone a game.
San Francisco finished with 256 rushing yards, which was 190 more than what the Seahawks could muster. The game was won there, in the trenches, where physical play and precise execution matter most.
"San Fran brought their A-game, and we brought our F-game," Seahawks safety Deon Grant said.
F, as in fiasco.
The mistakes can be corrected. The core of this Seahawks team has always been diligent about improvement, and they've always progressed as the season advances. Except for last season, they've always responded after a tough early-season NFC West division loss. There's no doubt this team will get better.
Tougher question: Will they get healthy?
It's hard not to look at them and see a roster full of aging stars unable to avoid inevitable breakdowns. It's hard not to wonder whether their bodies can complement their willpower.
Hasselbeck's injury is a prime example. He wanted to score a touchdown so badly, maybe too badly, that he dove for the goal line. Willis popped him, and now the entire Hawks-loving community is holding its breath.
You can't keep Hasselbeck from going all out to try to help his team win. You can't keep Tatupu from wanting to fight off a hamstring injury to lead his defense. You can't keep Walter Jones healthy by changing the way he plays left tackle.
The only hope is that the injured Seahawks will heal and still be themselves as they strive for durability. In the meantime, the team's depth will be tested.
"If you strap it on, if you throw the helmet on with the bird on it, you're expected to perform," Mora said. "So we can't allow excuses to creep into our environment. We just can't allow it."
Later, Mora, in full motivational mode, ended his postgame remarks by saying, "We're going to be OK. We're going to be OK."
He looked up and grinned.
"Did I convince you?" Mora asked.
He gave an inspired effort. He dove at reassurance, a la Hasselbeck diving for the end zone.
And Mora didn't even strain his vocal chords. At least he came away from here unscathed.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
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