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Monday, November 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Greg Bishop
This game. First place in the NFC West. And, ultimately, this season.
Everything seemed so assured only six plays earlier, before a fumbled field-goal attempt, a 63-yard Carolina pass and a controversial Panthers touchdown. The Seahawks thought they learned their lesson against St. Louis, but here it came again.
Another deep pass. Another lead cut in half. Another comeback.
It felt like déjà vu, a bad dream turned reoccurring nightmare. And then Trufant cradled the ball like a newborn, a sideline breathed relief, and the Seahawks ran out the clock to secure a 23-17 win over Carolina in front of 66,214 yesterday at Qwest Field.
"We persevered," coach Mike Holmgren said.
Just barely. And for the first time in four weeks.
For the first time in four weeks, the Seahawks made enough plays necessary to secure a win. For the first time in four weeks, the Seahawks actually did just that. And with that win, the Seahawks tied the idle Rams at 4-3 for first place in the NFC West.
"Don't stop believing," read one sign in the crowd.
Even after consecutive losses to St. Louis, New England and Arizona, the Seahawks haven't. Which basically left them on an island alone before yesterday.
They went back to basics, simplifying the offense, handing the ball to Shaun Alexander 32 times and watching him rush for 195 yards and score two touchdowns. As a result, they controlled the clock, holding the ball for 11 more minutes than Carolina.
Carolina coach John Fox said his team didn't play well enough to win. Ten penalties for 79 yards attest to that. The Seahawks, on the other hand, played just well enough.
"This," tight end Itula Mili said, "is what we needed to get going."
Alexander set the tone with six touches on the Seahawks' first drive, including a 23-yard run and a 3-yard touchdown catch. He would score on a run from 4 yards out in the second quarter to give the Seahawks a 14-0 lead.
Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme hit Muhsin Muhammad with a 15-yard scoring strike on the Panthers' next possession, and Kasay kicked a field goal in the third quarter to cut the lead to 14-10.
And then, faster than you can say "same old Seahawks," the bottom started falling out. Trufant intercepted a Delhomme pass deep in Seahawks territory and returned it 58 yards to set up a field-goal attempt.
Only Matt Hasselbeck fumbled a perfectly good snap. On the next play, Panthers receiver Keary Colbert shook Ken Lucas on the press, then hauled in a 63-yard pass from Delhomme.
In the huddle before the next play, the Seahawks defenders referenced the collapse against the Rams. They talked about keeping focus and concentration. And they forced Carolina to use three plays to score from 2 yards out, on a Muhammad catch officials reversed into a touchdown.
"When we got into that situation before, people started to panic," defensive tackle Rocky Bernard said. "This time, we stayed together. That could have turned ugly quick. We weren't going to let that happen."
They didn't, reversing fortunes from earlier this season. But even in victory, Seattle was still defined, at least in part, by the plays it didn't make.
Hasselbeck turned in a decent day (201 yards passing) but tossed his seventh interception in the last three games, along with fumbling the field goal away. Darrell Jackson caught six passes for 71 yards but fumbled twice. Heath Evans dropped a third-down pass. And Lucas got beat deep.
"It's like, 'Man, not again,' " Lucas said. "We've been dealing with that for three weeks now. We're still young in certain areas, making dumb plays in crucial situations."
"That's like dropping the snap," Holmgren added. "We coach that, we know it, we had a huge mental error, and we were able to survive. But shoot, let's just do the right thing. Let's not beat ourselves."
Thus, there are two ways to look at this Seahawks season. Yes, the Seahawks are 4-3 and tied for first place in their division. But they also beat four teams are a combined 7-21.
Yes, the Seahawks made the plays necessary to win, Trufant's interception and onside kick recovery chief among them. But they also made the plays necessary to lose.
And yes, the Seahawks proved they can simplify to adapt, even tweaking one draw play as late as Saturday night. They proved they can run the football in Alexander's third 100-yard rushing game this season. But the three losses before this win proved that tweaking would be necessary.
"No win is ugly to me," center Robbie Tobeck said. "We just need to learn from this."
At this rate, the Seahawks will certainly be the smartest team in the NFL. But with a growing injury list shrinking their margin for error, have the Seahawks really learned their lesson?
"There's a sense of urgency," Lucas said. "We had high expectations coming in. And they're still up there. This was a step in the right direction."
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or email@example.com
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