By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — During the first 14 weeks of a regular season that saw the Seattle Seahawks defense rank sixth in the NFL in points allowed, the fourth quarter was shutdown time. Seattle gave up just 49 fourth-quarter points in 13 games.
But in the final three weeks, the Seahawks gave up an alarming total of 43.
That pattern continued in Saturday’s playoff game, when another fourth-quarter meltdown nearly cost Seattle the game.
After shutting out the Washington Redskins for three quarters, the Seahawks gave up two touchdowns in the opening 2:22 of the final period.
“It was a back-and-forth game,” said Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant. “The fourth quarter is when you have to go out and earn your money.”
Eventually, Trufant and his teammates did. After a Matt Hasselbeck touchdown pass and two-point conversion gave Seattle a 21-14 lead, interception return touchdowns by Trufant and Jordan Babineaux put the game away.
“At some point in this game, we knew we were going to have to fight adversity,” Babineaux said. “I think it goes to show the type of character that these guys have in this locker room.”
While Babineaux and Trufant closed strong, it was linebacker Leroy Hill who set the tone early. Hill finished the game with 13 tackles, which marked the third-highest total in Seahawks postseason history, and added a sack.
“It’s the playoffs. You don’t need anything to get you jacked up,” Hill said. “Even during the regular season, I’m four or five Red Bulls in.
“It was cool. The crowd was into it, and we were all into it.”
Follow the bouncing ball: Seattle’s special teams almost made the most critical mistake of Saturday’s game when a Washington kickoff bounced over return man Nate Burleson and was recovered by the Redskins.
Because a kickoff can not be advanced by the kicking team, the ball was blown dead at the Seattle 14-yard line. Three plays later, Washington kicker Shaun Suisham missed a 30-yard field goal to render the mistake moot.
“I was relieved,” Burleson said. “But I still knew we had a ton of time (11:37 remaining in the fourth quarter). But once they missed it, I said, ‘OK, we’re back where we started.’ “
Burleson took responsibility for the gaffe.
“I don’t know if I misjudged it or what,” he said. “It just looked like it died. I thought, if I’m not going to be able to catch it, let me get in front of it and catch it off the bounce. And it bounced so hard, it just flew over my head.
“I’m going to have to look at the film and see what happened. But there’s really no excuse. You’ve got to make a play on that.”
Grant bounces back: The Seahawks survived an even more dangerous scare late in the third quarter, when safety Deon Grant fell to the turf with a neck injury.
Trainers hovered over Grant for about a minute while teammates gathered around in concern.
Grant eventually got up, jogged to the sideline, and returned to the field after missing just one play. He broke up a pass in the end zone shortly after returning.
“I had Leroy (Hill) telling me I better get my bleep up,” Grant said after the game while showing no signs of pain. “He said, ‘Don’t even pull that.’ So I knew I had to get right back in the game.
“Regardless of how bad the injury was, I knew I had to get right back in the game.”
Clutch scorer: Seahawks fullback Leonard Weaver has scored just two touchdowns during his three-year NFL career, but they’ve come at opportune times.
Weaver scored the game-winning touchdown in a victory at St. Louis two months ago, and he added the first score of Saturday’s game.
“I think that jump-started our offense,” said Weaver, who bounced outside for a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter. “Obviously, our defense played great, but I think that contributed.”
Cromwell’s final run: Before Saturday’s game, Texas A&M football coach Mike Sherman announced that he will add Nolan Cromwell to the Aggies’ 2008 staff.
Cromwell, who has served as the Seahawks’ receivers coach since 1999, will take over as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator.
“He’s a very bright guy, and it’s a great opportunity for him,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. “As much as I hate to lose him, I think the opportunity to coordinate and call the plays, all those things, … I just said, ‘Go for this. Make sure they pay you enough, but go for this.’”
Coaching greats: With Saturday’s win, Holmgren moved into a tie for 11th place on the all-time list of coaching wins. Holmgren and Paul Brown both have 170 career wins.
Washington’s Joe Gibbs ranks 10th, with 171.
Gibbs has an all-time postseason record of 17-5, and his past two games were both losses to Seattle.
Good buddies: Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant and Dallas counterpart Shawn Springs, a former Seahawk, struck up a solid friendship when the former was drafted in 2003. They played together one season before Springs moved on.
“That’s my guy,” Springs said of Trufant. “Everybody knows that Marcus and I have a special relationship. I think he’s awesome, and he’s been playing great all year.”
Trufant had a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday, “and that play put us away,” Springs said. “That was the nail in the coffin.”
Gibbs’ future: Several Washington players were asked about 67-year-old head coach Joe Gibbs after the game. His future — will he retire or return for another season — will be a big topic of conversation as the team heads into the offseason.
“I’d love to see him back,” said wide receiver Santana Moss. “What better coach to play for than Coach Gibbs. But I’m not in that situation to make those decisions. I just hope he makes the best decision for him and his family.”
“You have to give Coach a lot of credit for the way our team rallied the last month of the season,” added offensive guard Pete Kendall.
Quick slants: With Saturday’s win, Holmgren has now won eight in a row against NFC East opponents. Three of those were playoff games. … Kicker Josh Brown hit a 50-yarder into the wind Saturday, marking his third field goal of 50 yards or longer in the past two games. … Prior to Saturday’s game, Washington’s Gibbs had never lost a playoff game when leading in the second half. He is now 17-1 in games in which his teams led after halftime.
Herald Writer Rich Myhre contributed to this notebook.