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Seattle earns first Super Bowl bid
Seattle Times staff reporter
Three words: Super Bowl Seahawks.
Say it again just to make sure it's for real. Or say it because you like the sound of it.
It's not a dream. The Seahawks are going to Detroit for Super Bowl XL as NFC champions after their 34-14 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday at Qwest Field.
Minutes before the game clock ran out, the celebration was on. Team president Tim Ruskell shook hands with the players as they walked the sideline embracing each other. Fans had already started the chants of "Su-per Bowl! Su-per Bowl!"
The George Halas NFC championship trophy was passed around. Fireworks shot into the sky.
Bring on the AFC-champion Pittsburgh Steelers in 13 days, live from the Motor City.
"Part of me wants to enjoy it, and part of me knows we have a game coming up," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "Raising that trophy in front of our fans was a dream come true."
Thirty years into franchise history, the Seahawks are playing for the NFL championship for the first time. They earned their place in much the same way they have won games all season: a balanced offense with a tempo that threw off and tired out the opponent, and a big-play defense that once again was stout in defending the run.
The defense, particularly cornerback Marcus Trufant and linebacker Kevin Bentley, was also effective in shutting down Panthers star receiver Steve Smith. Hasselbeck affirmed his place among the elite in the game at his position with a stellar 20-for-28, 219-yard, two-touchdown-pass effort. And Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, the league's Most Valuable Player, finally had a big performance in a postseason game.
Big, as in a franchise postseason-record 132 rushing yards. With confetti streaming and everybody beaming, Alexander made one last run when the game was over, a jog down the field with the trophy.
NFC title game by the numbers
Super Bowls for Seahawks in 30 NFL seasons
Touchdown runs by Shaun Alexander, and TD passes by Matt Hasselbeck
Different teams Mike Holmgren has coached in the Super Bowl, the most ever (49ers as an assistant, and Packers and Seahawks as a head coach)
Catches by Panthers star Steve Smith, for only 33 yards.
Super Bowl appearances by Steelers.
Margin of victory for Seahawks, 11th largest in NFC Championship Game since the first Super Bowl.
Seahawks first downs. Panthers had 11.
Jake Delhomme's passer rating, a career-playoff low.
Panthers rushing yards
Matt Hasselbeck's passer rating.
Respect is finally theirs, and the Seahawks took their shots at the naysayers who didn't believe this team could ever be in a Super Bowl.
"No one is going to give us anything," tight end Jerramy Stevens said. "We haven't done anything in the past. But we've been out here taking it [respect] this year, that's for sure."
Said Alexander: "We decided in training camp we weren't going to listen to what people say."
The Seahawks made their statement on the field in the biggest game in franchise history, and they made it look easy.
They opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Stevens with 5:31 left.
On defense, the Seahawks took advantage of two interceptions thrown by Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. The first came when Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu stepped in front of a pass intended for Smith and ran it back 21 yards to set up a field goal.
Smith, all week the focal point of the Seattle defensive strategy, finished the game with five catches for a paltry 33 yards. And he fumbled late in the fourth quarter.
"I got my hands on him a few times. I almost knocked him down a few times," Bentley said. "It was great. My whole job was to beat him up."
Smith became frustrated, Bentley said. It was easy to see.
Seahawks safeties Marquand Manuel and Michael Boulware also had interceptions. Defensive tackle Craig Terrill forced Smith's fumble late in the game, and Trufant recovered.
Manuel returned his interception 32 yards to set up the Seahawks at the Panthers' 17. Three plays later, Alexander punched it in from the 1 for a 17-0 Seattle lead 7 seconds into the second quarter.
It looked as if the Seahawks couldn't be stopped. They really weren't.
Smith ran a low punt back 59 yards for a touchdown. The referees threw a flag for a block in the back by Carolina's Vinny Ciurciu on the Seahawks' Joe Tafoya. But then the officials picked it up, and Panthers trailed 17-7. The score momentarily took some life out of a Qwest Field crowd that roared almost from start to finish.
The Seahawks came back with a 10-play, 57-yard drive for a second Josh Brown field goal and led 20-7 at halftime. The Seahawks' defense held running back Nick Goings to 2 total rushing yards on five carries, and Delhomme to 4-of-15 passing for 58 yards in the first half. Delhomme got 41 of those yards on one play.
Hasselbeck was on point all afternoon, and he capped a 65-yard drive to open the second half with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Jackson for a 27-7 lead.
Jackson made the catch at the Carolina 3, shed a tackle attempt by safety Marlon McCree and jogged into the end zone. Alexander added a touchdown run with six minutes left to close out the Panthers.
'05 Hawks Audio Recap
∑ Times columnist Steve Kelley looks back on Seattle's tumultuous first four weeks of the regular season.Weeks 5-9
∑ Beat writer Jose Romero recounts the beginning of the Hawks' 11-game winning streak in weeks 5-9.Weeks 10-13
∑ NFL expert Chris Cluff throws down the knowledge as Seattle improves to 10-2 in weeks 10-13, and begins eying home-field advantage for the playoffs.Weeks 14-17
∑Enterprise reporter Greg Bishop reminisces about the final four weeks of a Seahawks regular season to remember Link
Produced by Spike Matau, seattletimes.com staff
After the game, Hasselbeck spoke to reporters with his father, Don, watching from the back of the room.
"For our team, it was, 'We should really just go out and play to make our parents proud, so to speak,' " Hasselbeck said.
Back in the happy locker room, where team employees were mugging for photos with the championship trophy, veteran tight end Itula Mili looked at teammate Ryan Hannam and bowed his head.
"Can you believe we're a part of history?" Mili asked.
Mack Strong could, after 13 years as a Seahawks fullback.
"It means everything," Strong said. "You play the game to win and to play in the Super Bowl. And we get that. It's not a dream. I'm not going to pinch myself in two seconds here and wake up. It's actually going to happen, and hopefully we go down there [to Detroit] and play the game of our lives."
Josť Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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