What’s this? Hawks in AFC playoff chase

  • Scott M. Johnson / Herald Writer
  • Monday, November 19, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By Scott M. Johnson

Herald Writer

KIRKLAND – Left for dead a few short weeks ago, the Seattle Seahawks suddenly find themselves in the thick of the playoff race.

In fact, if the season ended today, the Seahawks would be in the playoffs – courtesy of a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cleveland Browns.

Over the past six games, the Seahawks have won four times and have gone from fourth to second place in the AFC West.

“Last year at this point, we were already out of the playoffs,” said coach Mike Holmgren, whose team improved to 5-4 following Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Buffalo Bills. “Every player, and every coach, knows if you’re still in it. And it makes a difference.”

Seattle’s recent surge has coincided with injury-related freefalls from division rivals Denver and San Diego, as well as underachieving seasons in Tennessee and Indianapolis. That has allowed the Seahawks to pull into a tie with Cleveland for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

Of course, there are still seven games to be played, so no one in the Seattle locker room is celebrating yet.

“Right now, everybody’s pretty much in the same situation,” defensive end Lamar King said. “You’ve got to go out there and try to win each game. If we do that and continue to improve each week, we’ll have a great chance to make the playoffs.”

Holmgren said he hasn’t even looked at the standings.

“I know we’ve won more games than we’ve lost, I know that,” he said. “And we’re playing better now, I know that. But if I’m asking the players to focus on the next game and not overlook anybody, then I certainly have to do that. I have to set an example that way.”

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck isn’t trying to look too far ahead, but he can’t help but notice the renewed postseason possibility.

“It is something we wanted to talk about early on,” Hasselbeck said. “We have been told we couldn’t compete and that we were too young, and this and that. We sort of listened to that for awhile, but now we are past the midway point and we feel like we have a chance.”

Last season, Games 5 through 9 determined the course of the Seahawks’ season. During that span, Seattle went 0-5 while compiling a minus-5 turnover ratio. The same span this year has included a 4-1 record and a plus-4 turnover ratio.

“If you’re going to get hot, and you’re going to improve, and you’re going to feel good about what’s going on, it is the best time,” Holmgren said.

Historically speaking, the Seahawks haven’t been able to close the deal down the stretch. The last four times they had a winning record through nine games, they went on to lose more games than they won over the final seven. That is certainly a possibility this year, but the games are favorable. Of their last five opponents – they play Kansas City and San Diego twice – only one team has a record above .500. All three remaining AFC West road games are winnable, as Denver, San Diego and Kansas City have combined for a 6-14 record since Oct. 7 – with three of those six wins coming against one another.

One thing the first nine games of the NFL season have proven is that parity is alive and well. Fifteen of the league’s 31 teams have records somewhere between 4-5 and 5-4. Only seven teams are three or more games out of first place in their respective divisions.

In effect, there is a lot of football left to be played. But the Seahawks have put themselves in a pretty good position thus far.

“We haven’t accomplished much yet,” Holmgren said, “but (the players are feeling better about themselves.”

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