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Monday, November 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

These Hawks are not super

Seattle Times staff columnist

SAN FRANCISCO — Pack up those Super Bowl dreams. Forget about February in Miami and all those thoughts of redemption you've been carrying around with you like unpaid bills since the end of last season.

Surrender all those thoughts that these Seahawks are as hungry, as resourceful, as good, as last season's team. Kiss Super Bowl XLI goodbye.

This 20-14 loss to San Francisco on Sunday was startling, like waking up and realizing you're late for a job interview. And it said a lot about this Seahawks team and this season.

We've been tricked by the mushy schedule. We've been hoodwinked by the rhetoric into thinking everything was right again in Hawks Nation after home wins against Oakland and St. Louis.

But these Seahawks aren't those 2005 Seahawks. This team is missing something that last season's Seahawks had in spades. This team is softer than last season's team. It doesn't do the basics well, like blocking and tackling.

These Hawks lose games to teams they should thump. Against the upgraded-to-mediocre 49ers, the Seahawks were outhustled, outplayed and outsmarted.

For the first 30 minutes, as they fell behind 20-0, the Hawks played as if they felt that winning this game was their birthright.

They allowed running back Frank Gore to rip through them even more convincingly than Kansas City's Larry Johnson (155 yards rushing) did in a 35-28 loss on Oct. 29.

Gore ran for 212 yards, making Seahawks safety Jordan Babineaux, who made so many big plays last season, and linebacker LeRoy Hill swing and miss more often than Pat Burrell with the bases loaded.

After the loss in Kansas City, it seemed as if the defense came together. It met with coordinator John Marshall and asked for a more aggressive game play. It played well in wins against bottom-feeding Oakland and St. Louis.

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Then came Gore and the first half looked like Johnson all over again.

"This was surprising in the manner in which we played the first half," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "The bottom line is we had guys in position to make plays. John [Marshall] made the right calls. But it's up to us to make a play when we have the opportunity, and we didn't."

This is who these Seahawks are. The personnel hasn't changed dramatically. In fact, you could say the personnel on this team is better than last season's team. But the fire that roared through the NFC last season is gone.

There is too much ho-hum on this team.

"This was kind of disappointing," said linebacker Julian Peterson, a 49er last season. "It seemed like they wanted it a little bit better, and that is disappointing."

It's a lot disappointing.

Last season, there wasn't one instance where the opposition appeared to want the game more. This season there has been Chicago, Minnesota, Kansas City and San Francisco.

This season has been baffling that way.

"I think we played a very, very poor first half," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Disappointing in our energy and our tempo in the first half. I was not pleased with the way we played today."

The Hawks will argue that they will get their quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, back next week, after missing the last 4 games. They will argue that Shaun Alexander, who rushed 37 yards in his first action since Sept. 24, will get stronger.

They will argue that Robbie Tobeck will return at center. And Sean Locklear will return at left tackle. And Bobby Engram will return to wide receiver.

But they don't play defense. They didn't allow 416 offensive yards to the San Francisco 49ers. And nothing that happened at Monster Park should make us think the return to health of these five starters will staunch the here-today-gone-next-Sunday inconsistency of these Seahawks.

The Hawks committed five turnovers, something Super Bowl teams don't do.

Seneca Wallace, who played like a backup quarterback for the first time since replacing Hasselbeck, threw three interceptions. And tight end Jerramy Stevens, who can't shake the tendency to self-destruct, fumbled after an 18-yard pass play, leading to a late first-half field goal by Joe Nedney.

And late in the game, Holmgren called a running play for Alexander on fourth-and-one that looked doomed from the snap.

This is a team in trouble. It has a one-game lead over San Francisco in the NFC West. It still would take a disaster for them to lose the division, but this season feels more like 2004 than 2005. Unless something dramatic happens quickly, this feels like another quick playoff exit.

"We will bounce back from this game," Holmgren promised.

The Seahawks should have cakewalked through November. Last year's team did.

But something is missing this season. The Seahawks are losing games that Super Bowl teams should never lose.

It's 2004 all over again.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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