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Originally published October 23, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified October 23, 2011 at 10:16 PM

Steve Kelley

Seahawks must decide who will drive their offense

You need a quarterback to win in the NFL. You need somebody who commands respect, who isn't afraid to be daring. But in this quarterback-driven league, the Seahawks have no driver.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Where are the posts from all of those screaming CHARLIE! a few weeks ago. I was... Read more
quotes Lets move Poris up the charts... Read more
quotes Well I guess this will quiet the pro-Whitehurst contingent. That would include me. ... Read more

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CLEVELAND — Sidney Rice was so alone he looked almost lonely, wide open down the right sideline, ready to do what turned out to be impossible on this slumberous Sunday afternoon — score a touchdown.

All scrambling Seahawks quarterback Charlie Whitehurst had to do was parachute the pass into his arms.

But instead of leading Rice toward the end zone, Whitehurst's pass led Rice out of bounds. Although Rice caught the pass and did his best Karl Wallenda impression, desperately tiptoeing down the sideline, he finally slipped out at the Cleveland 9.

"I saw he was open and just tried to put it on him," Whitehurst said after this dismal 6-3 loss to the Browns. "I don't know if I could have made a better throw or not. Obviously if I did, he probably stays in there."

Eventually on that third-quarter drive, the Seahawks had a first-and-goal from the 2 and still couldn't get into the end zone. Whitehurst, who played because starter Tarvaris Jackson had a sore pectoral muscle, missed on second- and third-down passes.

This was his chance and Whitehurst muffed it. On a day when all he had to be was adequate, Whitehurst was bad. In fact, the Seahawks offense, which was missing tailback Marshawn Lynch, was virtually unwatchable.

Whitehurst completed just 12 of 30 passes for 97 yards. His passer rating was a miserable 35.0. The Hawks possessed the ball for just 17 minutes and converted just 2 of 12 third downs.

"Charlie. Charlie. Charlie."

Sorry, Whitehurst is not the answer.

"I'm disappointed for sure," he said. "We lost a football game that was absolutely there to take. We couldn't get in a rhythm. There was no way of getting anything going.

"We couldn't convert. When you don't convert on third down, when you don't make your yardage on first down ... I couldn't hit some guys that were open when they were. It was a tough day on offense for us."

The thing is, you need a quarterback to win in the NFL. You need somebody who commands respect, who isn't afraid to be daring.

But in this quarterback-driven league, the Seahawks have no driver.

Obviously Jackson, who almost certainly will start next Sunday against Cincinnati, is their best answer. But the quarterback of the future, the true heir apparent to Matt Hasselbeck, isn't on the roster, which makes every week of this season a new and uncertain adventure.

Whitehurst got all of the reps in practice this week. He prepared as if he would be the starter. He knew this would be his next best chance to prove he could be the starter. He had no excuses.

"All that matters is the win or loss, and they got the W," said wide receiver Mike Williams, who had only one catch. "We're better than that. Any other time, I don't see that team beating us."

But on this offensively inept Sunday, Whitehurst looked unsure from the beginning. He played cautiously, often held onto the ball too long and was grossly inaccurate. Whitehurst made too many mistakes by the lake.

"I felt like we came out sluggish as an offense," Rice said. "Not getting our tempo right. It's something we have to correct soon."

Whitehurst took a sack and lost a fumble near midfield that led to the first of two 50-plus-yard Phil Dawson field goals. On the first play of the second possession of the second half, Whitehurst put up a ball, intended for Rice, that Sheldon Brown intercepted.

Five times, the Seahawks (2-4) went three-and-out. Their tempo was so bad, coach Pete Carroll didn't feel comfortable keeping them in the no-huddle offense that had worked so well against Atlanta and the New York Giants.

"We never got going," Carroll said. "It felt like we were getting in our own way. We just couldn't find it. We didn't take care of our business."

The Seahawks' quarterback controversy will continue, but the tone has changed. It isn't Jackson vs. Whitehurst. It's who will be the starter in 2012? Who is the real Seahawks quarterback of the future?

Their defense is too good to allow them to lose enough games to be part of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

But how about Ryan Tannehill, the quarterback at Texas A&M? His coach, former Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman, runs the same offense as the Seahawks.

And Tannehill is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, has thrown 15 touchdown passes in seven games and has completed 65 percent of his passes.

I'm just saying that after a loss like this, you have to at least peek into the future, because the present is muddy at best.

"I'm not ready to call anybody out but myself," Carroll said about a half-hour after the game.

But he could have started with his quarterback.

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

Scoring record set
Seattle's loss Sunday set a franchise record for the fewest combined points by both teams in one game.
Pts Game Date
9 Seattle (3) at Cleveland (6) Oct. 23, 2011
14 Seattle (14) vs. Washington (0) Sept. 28, 1980
15 Seattle (9) at Cleveland (6) Sept. 9, 2001
15 Seattle (6) at N.Y. Giants (9) Sept. 22, 2002
15 Seattle (9) at Detroit (6) Sept. 9, 2006
Take the ball, please
Seattle's time of possession against the Browns was its second-worst all-time.
Time Opponent Date
14:28 vs. L.A. Rams Nov. 4, 1979
17:04 at Cleveland Oct. 23, 2011
17:10 vs. San Francisco Nov. 25, 1988
17:10 vs. Arizona Oct. 18, 2009
17:26 vs. N.Y. Giants Nov. 7, 2010

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