If they gave out awards for emphatic celebrations, then Seattle Seahawks left guard Steve Hutchinson probably would be making room on his trophy shelf this week.
The 27-year-old offensive lineman was so excited about a late Shaun Alexander touchdown in the Seahawks-Dallas Cowboys game on Monday night that he sprinted like Michael Johnson, leaped like Carl Lewis and swung at the air like Muhammad Ali.
All for naught, as it turned out in the end.
Alexander’s touchdown, which gave the Seahawks a 10-point lead with 2:46 to play in the game, didn’t quite seal the deal. As has been the case too many times over the past 13 months, Seattle could not hold on in the end.
But if there is a sliver of hope to come from the baffling 43-39 loss to the Cowboys, it’s that the game showed once again that things aren’t over until the very end.
That’s the message the Seahawks are clinging to this week. Despite a 3-6 record since the bye week, despite two unbelievable fourth-quarter collapses, despite a fan base that’s turned against them, the Seattle Seahawks are not dead yet.
“We can’t throw the towel in right now,” Seahawks receiver Jerry Rice said after Monday night’s loss, which saw Seattle lose a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead for the third time since Nov. 2003. “We have four games left to go and we have a tough team coming up this weekend in the (Minnesota) Vikings. So, we need to get back to work on Wednesday. We have to put it behind us and do the right thing.”
It’s entirely understandable if the Seahawks players and coaches are the only people in Seattle who still believe in this team. It has found new ways to lose every week, with each defeat more baffling than the last.
Once considered unbeatable at home, the Seahawks have now lost two in a row at Qwest Field – both of them coming against teams with sub-.500 records. Seattle hasn’t won back-to-back games in a month and hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since knocking off the 8-7 San Diego Chargers in the 2002 finale.
Most important, the Seahawks have fallen into a tie with St. Louis atop the NFC West. While both teams are 6-6, the Rams would win any tiebreaker because of a head-to-head sweep of Seattle this season.
“I wish I had answers for you,” center Robbie Tobeck said. “But I don’t.
“I think we’ll fight our butts off. We’re still tied for the lead in our division, and if we win the last four games – which we’re more than capable of doing – we win our division and go into the playoffs and have a first-round playoff game. That’s how you have to look at things. This game hurts, but our season’s not over yet.”
The fact that Seattle has struggled so much yet still has a shot at the division title says something about the NFC West. Since the Rams beat the Seahawks 20-12 on Nov. 14, the two teams have combined to go 2-4. They still haven’t won in the same week since the opening weekend of the season more than three months ago.
Coach Mike Holmgren has tried just about everything to get the Seahawks back on track after seeing a 3-0 start turn into a 6-6 season.
He’s screamed. He’s pleaded. He’s threatened. He’s coddled.
None of it has worked.
“The season is not over by any stretch of the imagination, but (Monday’s loss) was a huge game,” Holmgren said. “It’s just hard.”
If there are signs of hope, they come in the fact that Seattle’s offense had its best performance of the season Monday. The Seahawks piled up 507 yards of offense, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck finally showed signs of his Pro Bowl form.
Asked afterward why he believed Hasselbeck had played so well, Holmgren said: “He’s feeling better. He’s healthy.”
Hasselbeck has lost his last three games as a starter, including a game in which he bruised his right thigh more then three weeks ago.
The other reason for optimism is that St. Louis has done very little – outside of sweeping the Seahawks – to prove that it deserves to win the West. The Rams have struggled most of the season, particularly on defense, and got bad news this week when they found out starting quarterback Marc Bulger would miss at least one game due to a shoulder injury.
The way both teams are playing, it looks like the final celebratory dance probably won’t come until Week 17.
Because it never is over until it’s over.
“We’re a good team, and we’re going to fight to the end, no matter what,” linebacker Orlando Huff said. “I don’t care if we have to go into the playoffs being 10-6; we’re going to get to the playoffs. That’s our goal, and we’re going to fight until we do.
“Whoever’s with us, come along for the ride. If you’re not with us, we’re going to do it regardless. This team is not going to give up – regardless of what the fans may think.”
Notes: The Seahawks had a day off Tuesday and will return to work today. They face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. … Rookie defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, the Seahawks’ No. 1 pick, was carted off the field Monday with an injury to his lower left leg. He was wearing a protective soft cast in the locker room afterward, but no injury update was available. … Seattle’s 507 yards of offense Monday night were the most by a Seahawks team since they totaled the same amount in a December 2002 loss to San Francisco.