The good news: In the grand scheme of things, this game didnt mean anything, and the Seattle Seahawks are still just one win away from a division title.
The bad news: In losing 38-15 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle put all its worst characteristics on display.
The loss eliminated any weight behind the two primary arguments that have taken Pete Carroll and his squad through the 2010 season the Hey, at least we might host a playoff game take, and the Hey, at least weve taken this franchise out of the last two years of doldrums idea. Those two concepts have held value, but the Buccaneers team the Seahawks lost to on Sunday afternoon already has nine wins, two more than Carrolls team could possibly amass this season. This despite their status as the youngest team in the league, the need to come back from a 3-13 season in 2009, and a tougher schedule mandated by their place in the NFC South home of the reigning Super Bowl champions (the New Orleans Saints) and the NFCs best team in 2010 (the Atlanta Falcons).
All the 6-9 Seahawks have to do to host a playoff game is beat the 7-8 St. Louis Rams at home next Sunday night (the contest, such as it is, has been flexed to prime time), and the tiebreaker system will put them in a postseason they clearly dont deserve. Meanwhile, the Bucs have to watch Monday Night Football against the Saints and Falcons, hoping that the right kind of help could see them sneak into the postseason through the back door.
There has never been a better argument for a playoff seeding system. Because it was very clear early on that the Seahawks didnt belong in the same stadium as the Buccaneers. And while its possible that Tampa Bay was playing extra hard to prove that point, its also true that they didnt need to exert themselves too much the Seahawks were all too willing to play the role of accessory in their own beatdown.
Interestingly enough and for the second straight week Seattle established a positive drive on offense, only to have that momentum taken away. Just as the Seahawks drove downfield with all the efficiency anybody could ask for against the Falcons last Sunday, Matt Hasselbeck led his team on an 11-play, 66-yard drive late in the first quarter after an opening three-and-out. But Hasselbeck hurt his hip on the touchdown that put the Seahawks up, 7-0, and Charlie Whitehurst got more time in the mix for entirely different reasons. Last week, Whitehurst drove the team a little bit when Hasselbeck regressed. Now, with Hasselbecks absence from the game a fait accompli, Carroll asked Whitehurst to shoulder the load and Whitehurst failed miserably.
In a game that went further and further away from them, the normally pass-happy Seahawks could muster just 90 total yards in the air, and Hasselbeck was responsible for 24 yards of that total on just four attempts. Whitehurst, who once again looked overmatched in ways that would be worrisome from a rookie, managed just 66 passing yards on 18 attempts. This game seemed to forward the truth that more and more people are starting to understand; that whoever Seattles next franchise quarterback may be, hes not on the current roster.
According to former NFL quarterback and KCPQ-TV analyst Hugh Millen, the Seahawks 22 passing attempts consisted of six in which the ball was thrown behind the line of scrimmage, 14 in which the ball traveled less than five yards from the line of scrimmage, and just two passes where the ball went more than 10 yards in the air. And from the time Hasselbeck was hurt through the end of the third quarter (essentially when the game stopped being competitive), the Seahawks amassed 38 yards on 18 plays with two first downs.
After the game, Carroll said that Hasselbeck experienced an odd muscle pull in his hip, and that he may not practice at all this week. Hasselbeck said that he first took a helmet to that hip in Week 3 against the San Diego Chargers, and that the area has been a matter of concern ever since.
It had been kind of bothering me off and on, just a little bit, nothing major all season, Hasselbeck said after the game. I tweaked it a little bit against Arizona at their place, a little bit against Carolina. So, it was never really that bad. Today it just got real tight on me, pulled back, and I came into the training room to try and get it right, tried to get it to a point where I could run. I was unable to do it.
Well have to see how that works out, Carroll said of Hasselbeck’s injury. Well give him all week to sit on it, and then well see how it works out. Right now were going to get Charlie ready to go, and put together a game plan that gives us a chance to win in Qwest when we go home.”
The quarterback will get an MRI on Monday.
With no productive threat to pass from Seattle, the Buccaneers defense was able to being an eighth man in the box, blitzing whenever they felt like it, and harassing Whitehurst into ultra-conservative reads when the calls didnt go that way from offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.
Still, the real problem for the Seahawks came from a defense that looked to be turning a corner against the Falcons last week, with decent coverage and excellent short-area tackling. That defense was a distant memory, as Seattles execrable pass coverage allowed second-year Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman to tie a franchise record with five touchdown passes. Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley obviously had a fixation on Tampa Bays ability to make plays out of the running game, frequently turning their 4-3 defensive fronts into 5-2 by bringing linebacker Aaron Curry up to the edge of the line.
Unfortunately, there were multiple problems with that approach as much as Carroll and Bates talked through the week about how Tampa Bays multiple defensive fronts presented specific challenges, such fronts frequently leave defensive backs on short-area islands, exposing them to the whims of hyper-accurate quarterbacks. But in this game, only the Seahawks suffered that defensive fate. Marcus Trufant looked particularly vulnerable on crosses and slants, bringing to mind the player who suffered through a back injury in 2009 that probably should have shut him down for the season. But according to Trufant, his performance against the Bucs was not injury-impeded.
Im feeling pretty good, he said. Theres nothing thats really affecting me. I just didnt really have a good day today, and thats what it came down to. Certain plays, certain situations when I need to make the big play, the other guy was able to make it, so Ive got to step up.
Seattles performance against the run was even more problematic, because the source of the leakage against the Bucs was that old bugaboo, the five-technique end position vacated due to injury by Red Bryant and Junior Siavii, and played less effectively by Kentwan Balmer. Rookie running back LeGarrette Blount, an undrafted castoff of the Tennessee Titans, absolutely embarrassed Seattle with a career-high 164 yards on just 18 carries. Blount really had his way with Seattles defense in the second half, gaining 144 of those yards with only 12 tries. The 53-yard Blount run with 10:13 left in the game went through a seam created by Balmers inability to shake a block by tight end Kellen Winslow, which typified the day.
Having won just two of their last nine games, and having become the poster children for an NFL re-seeding proposal in which division winners would have to prove their excellence with a better record to get home playoff games, the Seahawks suddenly look just as vulnerable as the 2009 team that spat out Tim Ruskell and got Jim Mora fired.
They only have one more chance to prove that this game was the exception, and not the rule. Recent results indicate that, as the great philosopher Dennis Green once said, “they are who we thought they were.”