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Monday, December 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

One big guilt trip

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seahawks

Enlarge this photoROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Seahawks wide receiver Taco Wallace peeks at the scoreboard late in the game.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Shaun Alexander sounded almost apologetic.

His face reddened in a hallway outside the Seahawks' locker room after another loss. His head shook in disbelief. His words, born from frustration and tinged with disbelief, stung like a New York Jets team that "hit us in the mouth," according to Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren.

A 37-14 loss to those Jets in front of 77,894 at Giants Stadium yesterday was already in the books, the latest in a long line of defeats these Seahawks struggle to explain.

Alexander talked about the NFC West standings afterward — the Seahawks are, amazingly enough, a 7-7 first-place team — like he wanted to give the spot away, like he felt guilty, like the Seahawks were receiving a reward for somebody else's work.

"We lay eggs consistently," the running back said. "As sickening as it is, we'll still be in first place. It's like throwing salt in a wound. It's like a rock in a shoe. You know what I mean? It's terrible the way we do it."

Alexander wasn't holding back, and the Seahawks' defense wasn't holding on or holding up. It couldn't stop Curtis Martin (two rushing touchdowns), couldn't stop Chad Pennington (three passing touchdowns), couldn't stop yielding points in piles and yards in New York minutes.

Picture this


• The Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot with one more victory in the final two weeks.

• The Seahawks can win the NFC West with two wins OR with one win plus a loss by the St. Louis Rams.

• The Hawks also could win the division without another victory if the Rams lost twice and the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17.

• If the playoffs started today, the Seahawks would host the Minnesota Vikings in a wild-card game.

Banged up with injuries and beat down by the Jets, the Seahawks' defense didn't force one punt. The defense yielded a touchdown or a field goal on every drive except for two — a Doug Brien field-goal miss in the fourth quarter and a Pennington kneel-down 9 yards from the end zone as time expired.

"I'd like to sugarcoat it, but let's just say they took it to us pretty good," Holmgren said. "We could not stop them."

The Seahawks' defense is easier to explain than the NFC West playoff picture, but it also doubles as the reason the Seahawks have yet to pull away. Gone were linebacker Anthony Simmons, defensive end Grant Wistrom, cornerback Bobby Taylor and defensive tackles Marcus Tubbs and Rocky Bernard yesterday.

Thirty-seven points and 482 yards were in their place.

At least the defense is consistent in its inconsistency. Except for a solid second half in a win over Minnesota last weekend, this is the story of a defense leaking yards and points the way dams leak water when they break wide open.

Buffalo: 434 yards and 38 points.

Dallas: 405 yards and 43 points.

Minnesota: 242 yards and 20 points — in the first half.

New York: 482 yards and 37 points.

That's not just a yard-gushing, four-game stretch. That's nearly a mile.

Worse yet, Alexander admitted that he's pressing now, just like Holmgren said last week that the offense felt it needed to score every time it touched the football against the Vikings. They can't rely on this banged-up defense to win games. They worry about this banged-up defense keeping them in games.

"I think so," Alexander said. "It's harder on you when you're pressing. I was pressing the whole game. It's one of those things where you don't want to play a game (like that), but we did."

He paused, head dipping toward the floor, eyes planted on each shoe.

"It's bad," he said.

The Seahawks aren't getting any help in the karma department. The first of Martin's two touchdowns didn't look like one on replays, and Alexander said he scored on a third-quarter play before he fumbled on the next play.

But the Seahawks also were resigned to the cold truth — that officials did not decide it.

"We just got beat," tight end Jerramy Stevens said. "Beat bad."

"They kicked us around pretty good," Holmgren added.

Fortunately for the Seahawks, the NFC is full of teams on the receiving end of kicks. Should the Seahawks win one of their last two games, they will at least wrap up a wild-card berth. Should they win their last two games — at home against Arizona and Atlanta — or win one while the Rams lose again, they will clinch the NFC West.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck spoke for a legion of football fans afterward, shaking his head in disbelief.

"It's amazing we are still in the playoff picture," he said.

Getting to the playoffs and winning their division were the stated goals of the Seahawks entering this season. All those Super Bowl expectations came from outside the team.

Accomplishing their goals the way they are isn't as appealing to the Seahawks as it was a couple of weeks ago. But they will take a playoff berth nonetheless.

The question is whether the defense will heal enough and play well enough to keep the team in games. Or whether the injury bug will continue to make the rounds, just like it did when Chad Brown aggravated his left foot yesterday.

"Nobody has a give-up attitude around here," safety Ken Hamlin said. "We're not sitting here saying that the season's over with. We're saying that today we didn't play good."

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

NFC West
The Seahawks can clinch at least a wild-card berth with a victory Sunday against Arizona.
W-L Pct.
Seahawks 7-7 .500
Rams 6-8 .429
Cardinals 5-9 .357
49ers 2-12 .143

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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