SEATTLE – Shaun Alexander needed one reasonably sized hole to run through. One defender to fall down. One missed tackle. One short gain.
Even overtime would have helped him.
The Atlanta Falcons closed in on Alexander like he was a marked Seahawk on Sunday, and they snuffed out his opportunity to win the NFL rushing title.
By one yard.
Alexander finished with 80 yards rushing and ended the regular season with 1,696. Earlier in the day, Curtis Martin of the New York Jets rushed for 153 yards at St. Louis and pushed his total to 1,697.
“To see your guy come so close to a huge, huge thing like that, it is kind of disappointing,” center Robbie Tobek said.
Alexander seemed on his way to the title in the first half, when he gained 56 yards on 10 rushes, including a 29-yard gain in the second quarter. He needed 25 yards in the second half to tie Martin.
For a variety of reasons, he gained only 24.
* Of the nine times Alexander carried the ball in the second half, the Falcons stuffed him for gains of two yards or less six times.
* His biggest run of the second half got him 11 yards, only after he broke a tackle at the line and plowed forward with a second and third effort. On the next play, he gained 2 yards up the middle to put the ball at the 2-yard-line and set up what became the Seahawks’ winning touchdown.
It also was his biggest disappointment, because he never touched the ball again.
Alexander, who had fumbled at the goal line in each of the previous two games, watched as Hasselbeck carried on a quarterback sneak for the touchdown that gave the Hawks a 28-20 lead.
After the play, Alexander left the field with a look of frustration.
“I feel worse because we had a quarterback sneak for a touchdown,” he said. “That hurts. But I’ll be all right, though.”
* With 4:28 remaining in the game, it still seemed likely that Alexander would have one more chance to run. Instead, the Falcons consumed all of that time with a 15-play drive that ended with a touchdown as the clock ran out.
“It was too bad we couldn’t get the ball back,” coach Mike Holmgren said.
That would have required something the Seahawks clearly didn’t want, for the Falcons to score on the two-point conversion and send the game into overtime.
* Alexander also wasn’t helped by the absence of receiver Koren Robinson, who plays a big role in the Seahawks’ blocking schemes when he isn’t involved in pass patterns. Holmgren sent Robinson home Sunday morning, saying he broke a team rule.
“He’s a very good blocker in the running game, as well,” Hasselbeck said of Robinson.
How important are the receivers in the running game? On Alexander’s one long run, the 29-yarder in the first half, Jerry Rice laid the lead block.
Alexander put on a happy face afterward, something made easier because the Seahawks won the division title.
“It’s exciting, it really is,” he said. “This was part of our plan, to first get into the playoffs and then win the division.”
That, Hasselbeck said, was more important to the team than the rushing title.
“To me, it would have been a great honor for Shaun and the offensive line and our coaches,” Hasselbeck said. “But in my mind, Shaun has had a phenomenal year. He came in and really stepped up his game and that meant a lot to our team.
“I think he’s had as good a year as anybody. He should know that. Whatever the numbers might say, it’s not about that. It’s about winning games, and Shaun has done a phenomenal job helping us win.”