After five-game skid, Seattle has won two straight
By SCOTT M. JOHNSON
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — What a horrible time for a bye week.
Just when the Seattle Seahawks start to hit their stride, to look like something other than a stat-builder for opponents, to have found themselves a quarterback … it all comes to a screeching halt.
Sunday’s 28-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars not only showed what kind of team the Seahawks are capable of being, it also forced coach Mike Holmgren to make good on a promise to give his players this week off.
So any emotion from Sunday’s victory will probably have washed off by the time the Seahawks (4-7) play their next game in 13 days.
"That was a big motivation," cornerback Chris Canty said of the week off. "But I think the bigger motivation was just to get us going."
Echoed linebacker Chad Brown: "I just want to win some games."
Brown added that Holmgren had a talk with him as they walked off the field Sunday, during which the coach tried to re-neg on his promise.
But the way the Seahawks won Sunday’s game, there is no doubt they earned some time away from the office.
Seattle had to rally from a 21-7 deficit, had to hold Jacksonville’s high-powered offense scoreless for the entire second half, and had to rely on some last-minute heroics to pull it out at the end.
Jon Kitna’s game-winning, 4-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Watters with 2:01 remaining in the game was sandwiched between goal-line stands as the Seahawks won their second game in a row.
Watters’ game-winning catch came on a play, a play-action fake reverse to Darrell Jackson, that hasn’t been used in nearly 15 months. The last time it was called, Brock Huard failed to convert a two-point conversion in the waning seconds of a 24-23 loss to San Francisco in a 1999 exhibition game.
"It’s been in the can since," Kitna said, "because Brock messed it up."
Kitna’s heroic throw gave Seattle its first lead of the game after the defense had held the Jaguars (3-7) without any second-half points. No defensive stop up to that point was more crucial than Anthony Simmons’ tackle of running back Fred Taylor on fourth-and-goal from the Seahawks’ 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
By the final play of the game, the Seahawks had to duplicate the feat.
A broken defensive play on third-and-25 resulted in a 45-yard pass from Jacksonville’s Mark Brunell to Keenan McCardell with less than 30 seconds remaining. When the timeout-less Jaguars finally spiked the ball to stop the clock, they had the ball at Seattle’s 11 with two seconds to go.
Reggie Tongue was called for pass interference on what appeared to be the game’s final play, giving the Jaguars another play from the 1-yard line with no time left.
Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin called a quarterback keeper, but Brunell audibled out of it because of the Seahawks’ middle-heavy defense. Receiver Alvis Whitted didn’t get the signal, and Brunell’s final pass flew harmlessly through the end zone after Whitted got jammed at the line of scrimmage.
"It was miscommunication," Brunell said, "and it’s unfortunate because the play was there."
The defensive stops in the final quarter proved quite a turnaround for the Seattle defense. The Jaguars had a 300-yard passer (Brunell), a 100-yard rusher (Taylor) and two 100-yard receivers (McCardell and Jimmy Smith) in the same game, yet got only 181 of their 437 yards of offense after halftime.
In the first half, the Jaguars moved the ball at will. Only a holding penalty by Jacksonville and a timely sack by Seattle prevented the Jags from scoring on all five of their first-half possessions. As it stood, Brunell’s 67-yard, ad-libbed touchdown pass to McCardell with just over a minute to go before halftime put Jacksonville ahead 21-7.
The following drive, during which the Seahawks went 67 yards in nine plays, proved to be the turning point of the game. Seattle needed just 63 seconds before Kitna hit Sean Dawkins for a 15-yard touchdown pass to cut Jacksonville’s lead to seven points, at 21-14.
"That was huge," Brown said. "It kept the belief going on both sides of the football."
While the defense held Jacksonville scoreless in the second half, the Seattle offense was also much more effective after halftime. Kitna completed 11 of 15 passes with two touchdowns over the final 30 minutes in what may have been his most solid performance of the season.
Perhaps Kitna’s most important statistic came in the fact that the Seahawks did not turn the ball over at all — the first time that has happened in his eight starts this season.
"Basically, we’re in the playoffs right now. It’s survival," said Kitna, who finished with 22 of 33 passing for 231 yards and three touchdowns. "We have to win every game. Obviously, that’s a lofty goal — maybe a little bit too lofty — but crazier things have happened."
If the Seahawks hope to make an unlikely playoff run, they won’t have to begin preparing until next week.
Even though they might break up Seattle’s mini-run, the days off come as a welcome relief for some Seahawks.
"For me, I’ll take it," Dawkins said after catching six passes for 92 yards despite a bruised thigh muscle. "Everything from my waist down hurts. It’s been a long season, and (the bye week) came at a good time."
Dawkins rubbed his leg as he spoke, the image summing up Seattle’s season. These guys have been hurting for a while, but they’ve kept on playing through it.
"The natural thing people think is that you’re going nowhere, you’re packing your bags and you’re going home for Christmas," Holmgren said. "The important thing is that these guys are battling. They’re playing hard. And they’re still with us. We’re all in this together, and there’s still a real good feeling on the football team. And that’s progress to me."
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