Mike Holmgren: Lofa Tatupu's best football "still ahead"
At 1-3 with Seattle, things have been better for Tatupu, who doesn't gauge success with statistics — only wins.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Green Bay @ Seahawks, 1:15 p.m., Ch. 13
RENTON — Lofa Tatupu played running back the last time he was on a team that finished with a losing record.
He was 7 years old, in his first year of Pop Warner football, and he played some nose guard that season, too.
Eighteen years have passed, and that remains the only time his football team finished below .500 in a career so successful he can still count the losses up in his head. Nine defeats in four years of high school, three losses in his first year of college at Maine and one while he played for USC.
So, at 1-3 with Seattle, things have been better for Tatupu, who doesn't gauge success by statistics — only wins. So how does the coach measure the season of the man in the middle of Seattle's defense?
"Just OK," coach Mike Holmgren said.
And in his coach's eyes, that is not enough for a player like Tatupu.
"We expect a lot from him," Holmgren said. "His best football this season is still ahead of him."
In baseball, batting average and slugging percentage measure individual performances. Basketball offers scoring averages and field-goal percentage. In football, there are no standard measurements for defense, unless you really think that because cornerback Josh Wilson had a team-high 11 tackles Sunday against New York, he played the best game.
All that's evident is that Seattle allowed more than 30 points in each of its three losses, and the defense functioned like a turnstile last week when the Giants' first six offensive possessions produced points.
Tatupu has been a mainstay from his first game. He signed a new contract in the offseason, a renegotiation he earned by making the Pro Bowl each of his three NFL seasons, and now he's a leader the Seahawks need to stabilize the free fall through the first quarter of the season.
"It's not the first time we've faced adversity," Tatupu said. "Every team goes through it some way, shape or form. We've just got to be battling through it."
The Seahawks were 2-2 in 2005, receivers Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram were injured and Seattle won its next 11 games. Seattle was 4-4 in 2007 before winning five in a row.
A 1-3 record isn't a death sentence for the Seahawks or Tatupu. It's just the latest challenge for a 6-foot linebacker — once deemed too small to play for Pac-10 colleges — who became a second-round draft pick from one of the strongest college football teams in recent history.
"It's a difficult time, but it's not something we shy away from or we're just going to back down from," Tatupu said.
He's banged up, though he won't say that, either. He's playing with a cast around one hand and with a knee injured during the final exhibition game.
"I'm fine," he says.
With 23 tackles, he ranks third on the team, and he's not the only member of the defense Holmgren has attempted to stoke. Marcus Trufant is the one player on the defense Holmgren singled out as playing up to expectations. He mentioned Trufant's play twice, but Patrick Kerney, who's leading the Seahawks with four sacks?
"Honestly, the bar is very high for Patrick," Holmgren said. "I expect more from Patrick as well. There's no one left out of this deal."
Not even Tatupu.
"The Pro Bowl players that we have, they have to play great," Holmgren said. "That's expected of those guys, and when a game pops up where any of our quote-unquote Pro Bowl-caliber players don't meet that expectation, they're disappointed."
The fact that Tatupu hasn't finished on a team with a losing record in any of the past 18 years says plenty about his ability to rise to the occasion.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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