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Originally published Monday, December 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Chargers hush Hawks

One hallway connects the two locker rooms at Qwest Field, but after Sunday's game the distance could better be measured in decibels. "Ooooh, they're sick in...

Seattle Times staff reporter

One hallway connects the two locker rooms at Qwest Field, but after Sunday's game the distance could better be measured in decibels.

"Ooooh, they're sick in that locker room over there," San Diego safety Marlon McCree said.

Yes, the Seahawks certainly were. As reporters entered Seattle's locker room after the game, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stood in front of Deion Branch's locker, leaning down and speaking in hushed tones. Seahawks safety Michael Boulware sat in his locker, still wearing his full uniform as reporters entered, his forehead resting on forearm.

It seemed more than just three points that separated San Diego and Seattle after the Chargers' 20-17 comeback victory.

"This is a magical season," McCree said.

For San Diego maybe. But for Seattle it was more a reminder of the magic missing for so much of this Seahawks season.

The Seahawks became the first team in more than two months to keep LaDainian Tomlinson out of the end zone. Seattle allowed just one first-half completion to the highest-scoring team in the league, and with two minutes to go held a four-point lead with the Chargers more than half the field away from the winning touchdown — only to give up a 37-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with 29 seconds left.

These were the kind of victories Seattle had last season. Games like the victory over Dallas when Jordan Babineaux plucked Drew Bledsoe's pass out of the sky to set up Josh Brown for the improbable winning field goal or when Darrell Jackson caught the winning touchdown in Tennessee.

A year ago, the Seahawks won their 11th consecutive game of the year on Christmas Eve and guaranteed themselves the NFC's top seed in the playoffs. On Sunday, they lost a third consecutive game and that beeping sound heard around Seattle was the Seahawks backing into the playoffs while the Chargers won their ninth game in a row.

"I'm not saying every team that loses can't win the game, but there's something about that momentum and that confidence," Vincent Jackson said. "No matter what the game looks like, the situation, there's still a chance."

It was an opportunity Jackson grabbed with both hands. He caught a 9-yard touchdown pass with 3:12 left in the second quarter, the Chargers' only completion of the first half.

Then in the final minute, he ran a post pattern and got behind Boulware, who had let his feet settle while watching tight end Antonio Gates move to the outside.

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Jackson's 37-yard touchdown was the difference in a game that epitomized the swing in Seattle's fortunes. A year ago, the Seahawks were primed for a Super Bowl run. Now, they are seeking to extract silver linings out of solemn defeats.

"I am very proud of the way they came back in the second half," coach Mike Holmgren said.

Seattle led by four points with two minutes left, the Chargers holding the ball with no timeouts, standing 59 yards away from a winning touchdown. The situation wasn't just urgent. It was an opportunity.

"Nothing but focus," San Diego center Nick Hardwick said of the huddle as the drive began. "We all shook hands before we went out there.

"Let's get it done."

Then San Diego did, showing determination as firm as any handshake. That more than anything is what separated the team that could have won Sunday's game from the one that did win it.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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