By Scott M. Johnson
SEATTLE – In finding a way to resurrect a pulse-less offense, the Seattle Seahawks turned to a couple of players who know what it takes to win.
The result was the Seahawks’ best offensive performance of the season and, for the first time in almost a month, a victory.
Trent Dilfer earned his 12th consecutive win as a starting quarterback, and 24-year-old running back Shaun Alexander ran for 176 yards and two touchdowns as the Seahawks ended a two-game slide by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-15 at Husky Stadium on Sunday.
Seattle (2-2), which came into the game averaging an AFC-low 248.7 yards per game on offense, piled up 395 yards with a balanced attack Sunday.
“We knew we weren’t holding up our end of the deal,” said wide receiver Bobby Engram, who led the Seahawks with 71 yards on five receptions. “This is one step, and we just have to continue to get better.”
Seattle’s offensive resurgence had something to do with improved offensive line play, but the most visible changes came with the insertions of Dilfer and Alexander into the starting lineup. Both players were injury replacements, but somehow helped the offense run more fluidly than it has all season.
Dilfer, making his first start in a Seahawks uniform, led the offense to touchdowns on Seattle’s first two drives of the game, giving the Seahawks a 14-3 lead that they would never relinquish. By halftime, he had 162 passing yards as Seattle held on to a 21-12 lead.
Still, coach Mike Holmgren reiterated afterward that Matt Hasselbeck would start next week if he is healthy. Hasselbeck, who was held out of the game because of a groin injury, said he expects to return for Sunday’s home game against Denver.
“No question,” he said. “I was ready this week, but it wasn’t my decision.”
Alexander, making his second official NFL start but his first in a feature role, did a pretty good impression of Ricky Watters. While Watters sat out the first of what could be up to seven games because of a shoulder injury, Alexander put up career numbers that came two yards shy of matching Watters’ career high of 178 yards.
Alexander almost single-handedly led the University of Alabama to a 10-1 regular season mark in 1999, but his NFL career to date has been relatively quiet.
“We know he’s a good runner, and he showed that today,” Holmgren said. “He’s tough. He carried the ball a lot.”
Most of Seattle’s damage was done during a first half that looked nothing like anything Seahawks fans had seen this season. Dilfer came out and completed 3 of 4 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive, then led the Seahawks into the end zone on two of their next three drives.
By halftime, the Seahawks had 87 more total yards (234) than they had in a Week 2 loss to Philadelphia, and had almost as many plays of 20 or more yards (six) than they had in their first three games combined (seven). Their average of 6.5 yards per play was the highest mark during Holmgren’s 36-game tenure with the club.
“I think (Dilfer) handled the team pretty well, made some nice throws,” Holmgren said. “Bobby Engram made some nice catches. We just played better today: threw the ball, caught the ball.”
Seattle’s defense also held its own against a strong Jacksonville offense. The Jaguars’ running game, without starter Fred Taylor, was held to 57 yards while halfbacks Stacey Mack and Elvis Joseph combined for three fumbles. Seattle linebackers Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons set the tone early, then cornerback Willie Williams came up with perhaps the two biggest defensive plays. Williams caused a Joseph fumble on third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter, then batted away a Mark Brunell pass on fourth down late in the game to seal the win.
“We were bending, but we’re not breaking,” Brown said. “We are giving up too many yards, and we will continue to get better. But when we need it, we found a way to make plays today.”
On both sides of the ball, the Seahawks were making plays Sunday. That came as a welcome change for a team that had been pretty one-dimensional through its first three games of the season.
“For the past couple weeks, it’s been kind of difficult. That’s part of this business,” Holmgren said. “When you’re losing the way we lost, when you get beat up a little bit, it’s even worse. To be able to bounce back, emotionally and mentally, and play a good football team and win, it perks everybody up.
“All the sudden if there were any doubts to the younger guys and the guys who haven’t been through the wars, those are kind of eliminated. This is how we can play when we play, and I can build on that. Teams have started 1-3 and finished the season respectably; yeah, that’s happened. But for our team, this was a big win. This was big.”