Despite cheers and tears, Holmgren’s work not finished

RENTON — During a post-game celebration that lasted well into Sunday night, the city of Seattle sent off Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren with a bang this weekend.

But then there was linebacker Julian Peterson, putting the brakes on Holmgren’s ride into the sunset by adding the most important fact of the day.

“We haven’t said goodbye yet,” Peterson said from the Seahawks’ locker room late Sunday afternoon, shortly after Seattle beat the New York Jets 13-3 in what is expected to be Holmgren’s final home game as head coach. “We’ve still got one more game.”

Oh, yes. The Holmgren era is not over yet.

While the 60-year-old coach gave his players a day off Monday, he was back at work for what will be — and this time he really means it — the last week of game preparation during his tenure as head coach of the Seahawks.

“Last week had its own set of challenges. This week will have its new set of challenges for me,” he said Monday. “The reality will set in, I’m sure, at some point. But I trust I’ll be able to do my job.”

This Sunday’s game at Arizona is unlikely to have the pageantry of the Jets game, which included a Holmgren victory lap around the playing surface at Qwest Field. Because of the way that game ended, with Holmgren waving to the fans while surrounded by team security and dozens of cameras, the regular-season finale in Arizona might be anticlimactic.

But Holmgren said Monday that he doesn’t feel like Sunday’s post-game celebration was an official goodbye.

“It was a closure with our fans at Qwest,” he said. “I have not had closure with my players yet. We’ll play the game (against the Cardinals) Sunday, then we’ll have meetings with the players Monday, like it always is.

“Normally, that conversation is: ‘This is what you need to do in the offseason,’ all that kind of stuff. Now it will be a different conversation. And I suspect (next) Monday will be a pretty emotional day.”

Holmgren’s emotions have already overcome him on several occasions over the past few weeks. A 2-11 start has allowed him to put his final season in perspective, and the fact that his injury-plagued team has rallied around him for back-to-back wins has not been lost on the longtime coach.

“In the last five games of the year, when I really changed the challenge to the team, how they responded is really encouraging to me,” he said Monday. “And then to win a game like we won (Sunday) against a team that had a lot to play for, and against one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, and the circumstances surrounding the game? Very special day. I’ll never forget it.”

As for how to pull off an encore, Holmgren said that the win-one-for-the-old-coach speech is not an option — nor has it been.

“Last week, I didn’t dwell on myself at all to the team,” he said. “My approach to (Sunday’s) game was the same as it’s been: ‘We are not in the playoffs, but how we finish the season is very, very important.’ I will repeat that again.

“We’re going to go down and play the team that beat us and won the division, and we have to approach it a certain way.”

The Cardinals (8-7) clinched the NFC West when they beat the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 7. But that represents Arizona’s only win in the past five games, and the Cardinals have been pounded by an aggregate score of 82-21 in their past two outings.

With a division title in hand, the Cardinals have very little motivation this weekend.

The Seahawks, of course, will be playing for their coach — again.

As Peterson said Sunday night: “We’re going to try to finish up and show that we’re the real champions of the West.”

As for the coach? Holmgren said that the emotions of another goodbye — this one the finale — had not hit him as of Monday afternoon.

“I’m not quite there yet,” he said. “I’m not quite feeling how I’m going to feel. I don’t know what to expect.

“I’ve got a cold, and I’m tired; I know that. So the idea of going some place warm is very appealing.”

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