By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
SEATTLE — No metaphor could more appropriately describe the Seattle Seahawks’ season than what happened on the final play of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
With the game within reach, turnstile quarterback Jon Kitna — starting in place of injured Brock Huard after earlier playing his way out of the position — dropped back to the Seahawks’ 40-yard line and heaved a throw with all his might. The ball fell wearily between a group of Kansas City defenders at the Chiefs’ 15, eventually getting knocked away as the clock ran out.
For the first time in almost a month, the Seahawks were within striking distance of an opponent, but just didn’t have enough at the end. For the fifth consecutive week, and for the seventh time in nine games this season, Seattle’s group of young, tired and weary got outmuscled in a 24-19 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Husky Stadium on Sunday.
There were certainly signs of hope, as there have been in each of Seattle’s four home games this season. But afterward, the players were left wondering how to end the current slide while coach Mike Holmgren searched for a way to net his young team its first victory since Sept. 24.
"You need to start feeling good about certain things, and then you start gaining some momentum," Holmgren said. "We just haven’t had nearly enough to feel good about."
There were moments in Sunday’s game, most notably an improved run defense, another warrior-like outing from Ricky Watters, and the fact that Seattle battled Kansas City (5-3) right to the end. But, as has been the case all too often this season, there were also untimely mistakes. When all was said and done, Seattle had been flagged for 10 penalties for 99 yards, had turned the ball over four times and trailed for the final 35:54 of the game.
The Seahawks consistently blew chances to close the gap, including a Kitna interception in the Kansas City end zone as the first half wound down and a failed two-point conversion that could have tied the score at 21 with less than six minutes to go in the game.
"We stopped ourselves a bunch of times," said tight end Christian Fauria, whose 2-yard touchdown reception from Kitna gave Seattle its last lead — 10-7 midway through the second quarter. "I don’t think (Kansas City) ever really stopped us. They intercepted the ball and we gave it to them a couple times, but I felt like we could run on them, pass on them. Guys were really playing hard. We just had a lot of penalties, the things you do when you’re in Pop Warner."
For a team that started 16 players with at least four years of NFL experience, the talk of youthful mistakes may be growing tiresome. During the first half, the veterans were getting burned on defense, as cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Willie Williams each gave up a long touchdown of 50 yards or more to Kansas City wideout Derrick Alexander. In the process, Kansas City piled up 220 passing yards and a 21-10 lead by halftime.
Seattle had a chance to bite into that lead late in the second quarter, until Kitna threw a pass from the Chiefs’ 4-yard line into the waiting arms of Kansas City cornerback James Hasty in the end zone with just 46 seconds to go before halftime.
While the Seahawks defense stopped giving up big plays in the second half, Kitna and the offense did not add any points until the final 15 minutes. Rian Lindell opened the fourth quarter with a 24-yard field goal to close Seattle’s deficit to eight points, and then a 41-yard punt return put the Seahawks in scoring position again. Kitna’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Watters three plays later closed the gap to 21-19 with 5:53 remaining.
But Seattle missed a two-point conversion when Kitna couldn’t find anyone open in the end zone and had to eventually try to force a pass to Fauria into triple coverage.
A chance to take the lead fell short when Kitna threw a pass behind rookie receiver Darrell Jackson and into arms of Chiefs cornerback Pat Dennis. Former Seahawks kicker Todd Peterson added a Kansas City field goal with 42 seconds remaining before Kitna’s last-ditch effort proved futile.
"We had a bunch of opportunities, but we did not help ourselves any by not coming through," Fauria said. "I am just sick to my gut right now."
The veterans are all growing tired of losing, and their play isn’t helping matters. But Holmgren’s talk of a youth movement also held some water. Rookie Shaun Alexander’s second fumble of the season set up Kansas City’s third and final touchdown, while Jackson was partly at fault for Dennis’ interception.
"We can’t turn the ball over, we can’t fumble, we can’t jump offsides," Holmgren said. "I don’t care if you’re young, old or whatever. But it happens more when you’ve got some young players playing more than they should.
"But they’ll also suffer the consequences. Just because you’re young, that doesn’t make you invisible to the coaches."
Said Fauria: "One side is that we’re young and that’s expected. The other side is, we’re in the NFL now and it’s not expected. It’s just one of those things where you have to grin and bear it until something good happens. And that’s what we’re doing right now."
Whatever the age, these Seahawks just don’t seem to have enough horses when it counts.
"It’s just a situation where we’ve been in position to make a play and we just haven’t done it," defensive tackle Riddick Parker said. "I don’t think that speaks toward physical ability. Maybe it speaks toward something mental.
"Who’s to say what it speaks to? I just know that there are times when we’re being dominant. If you don’t have the talent, you can’t do that. It’s just that we have to do that play after play after play. Hopefully it will come."
It hasn’t come yet, but at least the undermanned Seahawks are gaining experience.
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