By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Six days before the start of the 2008 opener, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson was reminiscing about the last time he went into a regular season as his team’s No. 1 receiver.
The year was 2005, and Burleson was taking over as the Minnesota Vikings’ go-to guy after the team traded Pro Bowler Randy Moss to Oakland. Instead of putting up Moss-like numbers, Burleson struggled through a season that saw him sprain a ligament in his knee.
“I guess the critics could say I couldn’t handle the pressure,” Burleson said one week ago, “but my PCL couldn’t handle the (pass) routes.”
As it turned out, the same could be said for the 2008 season.
Burleson’s latest knee injury — both the receiver and coach Mike Holmgren described it as an aggravation of his 2005 sprain, but Burleson will likely undergo an MRI today — served as another setback to a receiving corps that has been snake-bit since last January.
Burleson left Sunday’s 34-10 loss to Buffalo in the third quarter, leaving the team without its four most experienced receivers.
Deion Branch is still trying to come back from February knee surgery, Bobby Engram could miss two more games with a shoulder injury, and Ben Obomanu is out for the season after breaking his clavicle in the preseason finale.
And now, Burleson is hobbling.
“That’s football,” Holmgren said. “But you’re human, so when you’re on the sideline, you’re saying, ‘What else can happen?’ But you can’t dwell on it. You just have to keep going. We’ll see how he feels (Monday), and we’ll see where we go from here.”
Burleson told several reporters after Sunday’s game that he expects to be back this week, but the team’s medical staff will be the ones making that decision. He was not on crutches Sunday, despite how bad the injury looked at first glance.
Midway through Sunday’s third quarter, while Burleson was making a cut on a pass route, he collapsed on the turf and writhed around while holding his left knee. The scene was eerily similar to the one in last January’s playoff game, during which Branch suffered a knee injury that required offseason surgery.
But Burleson’s injury does not appear to be as serious.
“It was a little bit of an aggravation from an old injury,” Holmgren said.
If Burleson does miss time, the Seahawks could be left with a young receiving corps that includes three wideouts with a combined nine NFL receptions. Courtney Taylor had two of his seven career receptions on Sunday, while Logan Payne caught the only two passes of his career in Sunday’s game. Second-year player Jordan Kent saw plenty of action in the second half of the Buffalo game but did not catch a pass.
“This is where we are,” Hasselbeck said about the state of Seattle’s receiving corps, “and it is OK. We can handle this.
“Like I’ve said: there is nothing that hard work and a little communication can’t fix. I’m not worried about this at all.”
Branch has a chance of returning to action this Sunday, as he started practicing last week. But he’s still a long way from 100 percent, so even his addition would be risky.
Hasselbeck also mentioned tight ends John Carlson and Jeb Putzier as possible candidates to see more opportunities in the passing game.
“All of those guys, I’ve got faith in all of them,” Hasselbeck said. “It is just a matter of how the coaching staff wants to work it and the plays they want to call. I just do what they want me to do.”
Before getting hurt in Sunday’s game, Burleson was the main — some might say only option — in the Seahawks’ aerial attack. Before he suffered the injury, Burleson had been on the receiving end of five of Hasselbeck’s 11 completions — as well as Seattle’s lone touchdown.
“We are leaning on him big right now,” Hasselbeck said. “We are definitely counting on him to step up and make those big plays and carry us at times.”
Unless Burleson is a quick healer, the Seahawks might not be able to lean on him again this weekend.
“That’s the nature of the game,” said Taylor, the starting flanker who caught two passes for 19 yards but also had at least one drop. “We’ve got to take it in stride. Our other receivers need to step up and make a big play. We didn’t (Sunday).”