Among the many things that must have annoyed the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at Qwest Field — the weather, the five turnovers, the audio belligerence, the decision to start at quarterback rookie Annie Hall . . . um, Max Hall — nothing had to aggravate more than the verticality, reliability and indomitability of Mike Williams.
The Seahawks’ 6-foot-5 mobile monolith at wide receiver seemed to be the object of frustration for many Cardinals defenders. Asked whether they were saying much to him after he pulled in catch after catch, Williams interrupted his post-game stoicism with a grin.
“No, not really,” he said. “They just said, ‘Man, you big.'”
Smart guys, these Cards. Smart as they are short, at least compared to Williams, who followed his 10-catch day in Chicago last week with 11 catches Sunday.
On a blustery day when little else worked on offense, the emergence of such a weapon for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was of the highest value in a 22-10 triumph that was otherwise uglier than last call in the “Star Wars” bar.
“I’m trying not to talk about him too much, because I don’t want people to know,” Hasselbeck said, smiling. “But I think we’re done sneaking up on people with that situation.
“I like him.”
For a quarterback, a man-crush is inevitable when a receiver can turn a wounded duck of a pass into an eagle, a third-and-long into a first-and-10, a tight contest into a breathable one.
“He played a great football game,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the ex-Trojans coach who gave the chance to a one-time USC star who washed out of the NFL because of arrogance and sloth. “He didn’t just make some of the tough catches, he made a couple of great catches.
“He played tough, he played physical and he came through in a big way. Matt really loves going to him.”
In a game in which three key players — starting left tackle Russell Okung, fullback Michael Robinson and backup receiver Brandon Stokely — left because of injury, the offense had to find someone with some figurative duct tape to hold things together long enough so the defense and special teams could prevail.
Williams responded by catching 11 of Hasselbeck’s 20 completions, including Seattle’s only touchdown, a two-yard bit of niftiness in the second quarter. The modest total of 89 yards hides the fact that the catches were often key third-down plays when defenders knew the Seahawks were likely to go him.
In that way he mimics new running back Marshawn Lynch, a player who still gets yards despite the array against him. Not since the Super Bowl season of 2005 has the Seahawks offense been able to say, regarding a single player or play, “Here we come, and there’s little you can do about it.”
Granted, it didn’t happen often Sunday, mostly because of all the injuries and the newness in the lineup. But the fact that it happened at all, particularly against a division rival with a stout defense, is a point of progress.
In the past three games, the Seahawks have just three touchdowns from scrimmage, and only 10 for the season. Yet they lead the NFC West with a 4-2 record due only in part to a soft schedule. They have a creditable defense and an opportunistic group of special-teamers that includes kicker Olindo Mare, who is nine-for-nine in field goals in the last three games, including a club-record-tying five Sunday.
Those sorts of results aren’t championship material, but the NFL doesn’t give out the Lombardi Trophy before Halloween. After more than 220 roster transactions since February, it’s amazing that most Seahawks know the way to the stadium, much less perform respectably in it.
But before Seahawks fans get carried away, it must be said that the decision of Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt to start an undrafted rookie at quarterback was the kind of gift that Santa can never get in his sleigh.
Hall was so unprepared for his first road start that it was hard to believe that his predecessor, veteran Derek Anderson, could have been worse. Particularly after Anderson replaced the injured Hall in the third quarter and led an eight-play drive of 70 yards that produced the Cardinals’ only touchdown.
After missing on 12 of 16 pass attempts, including a pick, for 36 yards and a quarterback rating of 13.5, Hall ended his day in the first possession of the second half by being sacked, fumbling, suffering a blow to the head and turning the ball over to the Seahawks at the Arizona 11-yard line.
“I was a little woozy,” he said of the clobbering by Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons. “I got a little nauseous, or whatever. But I’ll be OK.”
It was a brutal outcome for a newbie, but the pity dispenser along the Seahawks sidelines wasn’t working.
The Seahawks lost four consecutive games to the Cardinals, a stretch in which they often were embarrassingly low on manpower. Now, with players such as Williams and Lynch, guys who appear done with carrying old baggage and eager for a fresh start under Carroll, they have a lineup that includes difference-makers.
It won’t come together without further stumbles. But each time they succeed makes for another step away from two wretched seasons and another opportunity to lower the arch in the eyebrows regarding the unorthodox guy from USC.
Both of them.