They weathered a slow start, myriad defensive injuries and a couple off-the-field issues that could have easily been distractions. And somehow they won the NFC West.
They’ve had to test their depth at wide receiver. One of their most notable defensive signings has been sidelined by a knee injury. They’ve gone underappreciated by the national media and quietly crept toward the playoffs without much fanfare.
For those of you who only recently jumped on the bandwagon, we’re not just talking about the 2005 Seattle Seahawks. We’re also talking about the 2004 team, which had a lot more in common with this year’s team than anyone is willing to remember.
Make no mistake about it: the 2005 Seahawks are superior to the 2004 version. They work better as a team, they’re mentally tougher and they have a knack for making plays at the right time.
But the stuff about this team being closer than ever before? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because Tim Ruskell spent the entire summer in a chemistry lab.
As they say, winning takes care of everything. This team is close because it’s on a nine-game winning streak.
We heard the same talk about chemistry early in the 2004 season, before the team that everyone was picking to win the NFC Championship came crumbling down beneath the weight of unfulfilled expectations.
We also heard it in 2001, when the Mariners won 116 games, and again last season when the Sonics went on their improbable run to the Northwest Division title. But both those teams were a couple losing streaks away from possible disaster, just like this year’s Seahawks team could have been.
(Couldn’t you just see the headlines? OLERUD GIVES BOONIE SILENT TREATMENT … MCMILLAN ON ALLEN: “HE’S NO JESUS SHUTTLESWORTH.”)
Even Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren shuddered last week when a reporter made reference to a group of since-departed players from the 2004 team that “didn’t care.”
“I think we have to be careful how we talk about some of these guys,” Holmgren said while answering a question about this year’s locker-room chemistry. “In reality, (a player) might care a whole bunch, but he’s got other issues.”
That would be a veiled reference to Koren Robinson, one of the most notable issues that plagued the ‘04 team. But his problems with alcohol and chronic tardiness were personal, where it could be argued that some of this year’s potential distractions carried more of a widespread ripple effect.
When your defensive coordinator gets hospitalized just days before the season opener, it’s not exactly a dream start. And the incident involving Ken Hamlin, which left some of the local television stations and newspaper reporters drooling all over themselves, could have been more devastating to the team psyche than anything Robinson ever did.
Then there is the never-ending cycle of injuries, which were also blamed for last year’s disappointing-yet-good-enough-to-win-the-West 9-7 record. The 2004 Seahawks lost six starters due to injury during the course of the regular season, while the ‘05 unit has lost eight. In last week’s win over the 49ers, Seattle was without Hamlin, wide receiver Darrell Jackson, two starting linebackers and two of their top three cornerbacks.
And yet the Seahawks won, again. And it’s because of their resolve – not just because everyone likes each other.
Who’s to say that this year’s team couldn’t have turned out like the 2004 team if things had started to go south?
If the Seahawks were 6-7 right now, couldn’t you see Shaun Alexander making more of an issue of his stalled contract talks? Might Pork Chop Womack start grumbling about the team’s decision to stick with right tackle Sean Locklear?
Maybe first-round pick Chris Spencer would be starting as part of a youth movement, leaving center Robbie Tobeck without anything funny to say. Perhaps the playing time that has gone to rookie linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill wouldn’t sit as well with veterans like Isaiah Kacyvenski, Niko Koutouvides and Kevin Bentley.
This team has been able to get past all that because of its success. Not just because of its so-called chemistry.
Seahawks at Titans
Kickoff: 1:05 p.m. Sunday
TV: Fox (Channel 13)
Radio: KIRO (710 AM)
Stars to watch: Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander is leading the NFL with 1,496 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. WR Darrell Jackson is expected to return from a knee injury that cost him the past nine games. MLB Lofa Tatupu leads the Seahawks with 94 tackles and is a legitimate candidate for defensive rookie of the year. DT Rocky Bernard has a team-best 81/2 sacks this season.
Titans QB Steve McNair is 0-3 during his career against the Seahawks. RB Chris Brown ranks 12th in the AFC with 777 rushing yards. DE Kyle Vanden Bosch has 12.5 sacks this season. LB Keith Bulluck has a team-high 120 tackles.
Breaking down the game: The Seahawks have made a killing off NFL also-rans over the past two weeks, and there is no reason to believe Sunday’s game will be any different.
Sure, the Titans have won two of three. But those wins came against Houston and San Francisco, who have a combined record of 3-23. Sandwiched between those victories was a 35-3 home loss to Indianapolis.
Tennessee’s running game has sputtered, its passing game is too reliant on tight ends, and even the once-great defense has fallen to the middle of the pack.
Don’t expect the Titans’ defense to look like either Philadelphia or San Francisco; the Seahawks probably won’t put up 40-plus points this week. But they’ll score enough.
Pick: Seahawks, 31-13.
Injury report: Seahawks S John Howell (hamstring), CB Andre Dyson (ankle) and CB Kelly Herndon (knee) are out. LB D.D. Lewis (knee) is questionable.
Titans RB Chris Brown (elbow), RB Travis Henry (ankle), TE Erron Kinney (knee), DE Travis LaBoy (elbow), QB Steve McNair (back/ankle), LB Robert Reynolds (ankle), WR Sloan Thomas (groin) and TE Ben Troupe (concussion) are questionable.
Little-known fact: In their five games against teams with winning records, the Titans have allowed 32.4 points per game. In eight games against teams with sub-.500 records, the Seahawks have scored 36.3 points per game.
Other NFL games
Tampa Bay (9-4) at New England (8-5), Saturday, 10:30 a.m.: A matchup of the only two teams to win a Super Bowl in the past four years, and both are back in the hunt this year. The Patriots are quietly sneaking back into the talk of serious contenders, with a rematch against the Colts on the horizon. The Bucs aren’t really being picked to do much of anything … but watch out. Pick: Patriots, 20-10.
Kansas City (8-5) at New York Giants (9-4), Saturday, 2 p.m.: The most interesting part of this game might come during the pre-game warmup conversation between KC’s Lawrence Tynes and the Giants’ Jay Feely. Feely: “They threatened to throw me in the Hudson after my three misses.” Tynes: “Oh, yeah? Well, in KC, they like to barbecue things. Enough said.” Both teams hope this doesn’t come down to a field goal. But it probably will. And that just might mean an overtime tie. Pick: Giants, 27-24.
Atlanta (8-5) at Chicago (9-4), Sunday, 5:30 p.m.: Yeah, we know who the Seahawks are rooting for in this one. Unfortunately, a dome team with a hobbled quarterback will be no match for the Monsters of the Midway … not to mention the Midway’s monstrous weather. Don’t expect much passing from either team. Pick: Bears, 12-10.