EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Cursed by the stain of mediocrity this season, the Seattle Seahawks are at least blessed by placement.
In the NFC, for starters. More specifically, in the NFC West.
The Seahawks dropped to .500 on the season after another humbling defeat at the hands of an AFC opponent Sunday, getting thoroughly out-classed by the New York Jets 37-14 at Giants Stadium. In its past two games against opposition from the American Football Conference, Seattle has been handed losses by a combined score of 76-23.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Seahawks (7-7) play in the NFC, where every Tom, Dick and six-win team is still alive in the playoff hunt. The St. Louis Rams’ 31-7 loss to Arizona helped Seattle maintain its one-game lead atop the NFC West, keeping the Seahawks in position to host a first-round playoff game.
“Even though it’s been an up-and-down season and a frustrating year,” center Robbie Tobeck said, “our goal is still to make the playoffs.”
As hard as it is to believe, the Seahawks probably will.
In fact, they could realistically play like they did Sunday against the Jets and still backstroke into the postseason – simply because there isn’t anyone in the West to knock them off.
That being said, the Seahawks look like anything but playoff-ready right now.
Seattle’s defense has given up 1,695 yards the past four games, including 482 against the Jets, while the offense has turned the ball over 12 times in the same span.
The Seahawks’ latest deficiencies were exploited by the Jets’ efficiency. Not including a meaningless kickoff return on the final play of the first half, New York (10-4) scored on each of its first five possessions, and six of eight overall. The Jets were 11 of 14 on third-down conversions, making good on nine of their first 10.
The Jets were so darned efficient that punter Toby Gowin kicked off seven times but wasn’t forced to punt even once.
“I’d like to sugar-coat it somehow, but let’s just say that they took it to us pretty good,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. “We could not stop them.”
The Jets methodically built a 24-7 lead by scoring on each of their first four possessions of the first half. Only a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive on Seattle’s final possession of the half kept the Seahawks within striking distance. Tight end Jerramy Stevens caught a 6-yard touchdown with three seconds left in the first half to get Seattle within 24-14.
But any hope of a comeback was quickly squashed in the second half. Seattle’s first drive stalled after three plays, then the Jets marched on another touchdown drive. Santana Moss caught a 7-yard Chad Pennington pass in the back of the end zone to put New York ahead 30-14.
The Jets finally went on a long drive that ended without points, coming up empty when Doug Brien’s 30-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 12:19 remaining in the game. But New York added another touchdown four minutes later after a Hasselbeck fumble to account for the final result. Hasselbeck hurt his elbow on the play and was eventually replaced by Trent Dilfer.
It was that kind of day for the struggling Seahawks.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get a couple of bounces, a couple good breaks,” Hasselbeck said, “and we definitely didn’t get any breaks today. It makes it that much tougher.”
The Jets, who would be leading two of the NFC’s divisions but are instead just hoping to be a wild card in the AFC playoffs, did nothing to let the Seahawks stay in Sunday’s game. Star running back Curtis Martin ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns, while Pennington completed 18 of 24 passes for 253 yards, three touchdowns and a sky-high efficiency rating of 148.1.
They also took advantage of three Seattle turnovers, resulting in two touchdowns and the missed field goal.
“The coaches said all week that you can’t make mistakes and you can’t turn the ball over against these guys,” Tobeck said. “We had a couple turnovers and who-knows-how-many mistakes today.”
Maybe the Seahawks could learn a thing or two from the team they played Sunday.
“The difference between a good team and a great team is that the great team plays together,” Seahawks defensive end Chike Okeafor said. “Of course, there are going to be mistakes. But they have enough consistency, up and down the lineup, that it makes up for it. If you don’t have that consistency all around, the mistakes start adding up and start gashing you. It’s hard to recover from.”
The irony is that Seattle, as an NFC team, is on pace to host a first-round playoff game. The Jets are probably going to San Diego or Indianapolis.
The NFL isn’t always fair, but don’t expect this year’s Seahawks to apologize for their fortune.
“They hit us in the mouth today, but we’ll bounce back,” Holmgren said. “We’re still playing for the playoffs, which is a good thing. There’s still a lot to play for.”