Friday, December 31, 2010

Prime time!

If you're not psyched about this Sunday's game, you're not a Seahawks diehard.

Every serious fan feels disappointed about how this season has gone for Seattle. It is understandable to feel betrayed by the bad personnel decisions, the poor coaching, and the lack of effort on the field that has led the team to its anemic 6-9 record.

We all wish the season had gone better.

However, the fact remains:

On Sunday night, the Seahawks get to play a home game in prime time for the division title.

Some faint-hearted fans are not on board.

Incredibly, a Seattle Times poll found that a majority of readers want the Seahawks to lose this game. Evidently, a majority of Times poll respondents are gutless losers.

Yes, there is some shame in being the first team in NFL history to win a division with a losing record.

But there is more shame in letting St. Louis complete a season sweep of the Seahawks.

There is even more shame in allowing our most hated division rivals to beat us in our own house in front of a prime time national audience.

There is still more shame in permitting a rookie quarterback to lead the Rams to the NFC West title at our expense.

Yes, if we lose, we will move down into a more favorable draft position. So what?

First of all, only losers even think about throwing a game, for any reason.

Second, high draft picks aren't really an advantage. The only thing you get from picking early is the right to overpay overrated players like Aaron Curry. That sounds flippant, but it is in fact borne out by academic research. According to rigorous economic analysis, late-round picks yield the best value. Check it out:

Third, even if we have a great draft in 2011, most of the players on our team will be holdovers from this year's Seahawks squad. (I don't see Carroll and Schneider turning over half the roster again. It's one thing to dump leftovers from the Holmgren and Mora era. It's quite another to discard players you recruited.)

This raises a question: Do we want next year's Seahawks roster to be dominated by players who learned how to quit, who refused to seize their last chance, whose only victory after October came against Carolina, the one-win whipping boys of the NFL?

Or do we want the core of next year's team to be veterans of a squad that rallied from adversity and got it together when it really mattered?

There is a huge difference between 7-9 and 6-10.

A 6-10 record means we could fall to third place in the division, if San Francisco dispatches Arizona. 6-10 is a wasted year. 6-10 means our season is over.

On the other hand, 7-9 means we refused to throw a home game. 7-9 would show that when our backs were against the wall, we decided to man up and take the division title. 7-9 means the Seahawks stay alive, that our season continues into the playoffs. Anything can happen in the postseason.

Best of all, 7-9 means we can hoist a division championship banner to the rafters of Seahawks Stadium, where it would hang in perpetuity.

Seattle spent 25 years in the AFC West, and won only two division titles, in 1988 and 1999. That's an 8% rate of success.

This season marks our tenth year in the NFC West. Recently, we won four consecutive titles (2004-2007). If we win on Sunday, we will have compiled a 50% success rate in the division. To me, that's worth something.

Good teams make the playoffs routinely. We have a chance to win our fifth division title in seven years. Let's do it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Knox & Largent make the cut

I've written before about the guilty pleasure of watching the various list programs produced by NFL Films. Taking a cue from VH1 and other cable channels, the NFL Network has discovered that nostalgia shows provide a cheap and inexhaustible source of irresistable programming.

The formula is simple:

1) Poll some unnamed experts (i.e., NFL Network employees) to compile the list;

2) Dig up some familiar footage from the NFL Films archives; and

3) Film some interviews with retired players and coaches, and with sports media personalities, wherein they sound off about the list. It is neither necessary nor desirable that these "authorities" know what they're talking about, only that they be provocative or entertaining when they speak.

Of course, the formula works like a charm. Resistance is futile. I can't stop DVRing these shows. Even my indifferent-to-football fiancee finds watching NFL Top Ten preferable to viewing an actual game. Or Psych. Or The Colbert Report.

In earlier posts, I've complained about Seahawks getting snubbed on these list shows. Specifically, I protested Dave Krieg's exclusion from "Top 10 Backup Quarterbacks," and the failure by NFL Films to include any Seahawks on The Top 100: The NFL's Greatest Players.

I've also acknowledged NFL Top Ten when they have given appropriate recognition to Seattle players, like when Jim Zorn ranked among "Top Ten Lefty Quarterbacks," and when Krieg made the list of "Top Ten Quarterbacks of the '80s."

Today, I want to discuss two more Seahawks who made the cut on two other installments of NFL Top Ten.

Incidentally, this is far from breaking news. Although I only saw these episodes recently, both originally
aired in July 2009.

The great Chuck Knox ranked among the "Top Ten Coaches Who Never Won a Championship." Here's the list:

10. Jim Mora (the elder)
9. Jeff Fisher
8. Don Coryell
7. Andy Reid
6. Chuck Knox
5. Dan Reeves
4. Mary Schottenheimer
3. George Allen
2. Marv Levy
1. Bud Grant

The program gave Knox props for turning around the Los Angeles Rams, the Buffalo Bills, and the Seattle Seahawks. Predictably, the talking heads knock him for "Ground Chuck" conservatism, without acknowledging his bombs away Air Knox offense of 1984, nor the groundbreaking courage that led him to defy Los Angeles fans and make James Harris the modern NFL's first black starting quarterback in 1974. Knox liked to run the ball, but he was no gutless mossback.

Similarly, the commentators criticize Knox for his teams' many playoff meltdowns. However, Knox twice took formerly losing teams to the playoffs in his first year as head coach. Under those conditions, just getting there is an achievement.

Knox might have coached Seattle to a Super Bowl if the front office had not made such poor personnel decisions. (For example, wasting several first-round picks on fruitless efforts to replace Pro Bowl quarterback Dave Krieg, even as the offensive line deteriorated.)

Steve Largent calls Knox "the best coach I ever played for."

Speaking of Largent, the Hall of Fame wide receiver, though snubbed on The Top 100, did win recognition on "Top Ten Greatest Hands." Here's the list:

10. Marvin Harrison
9. Lynn Swann
8. Sterling Sharpe
7. Jerry Rice
6. Kellen Winslow
5. Fred Biletnikoff
4. Larry Fitzgerald
3. Steve Largent
2. Raymond Berry
1. Cris Carter

Note that the show did not purport to rank the greatest receivers in NFL history, focusing instead on the quality of good hands. This explains Rice ranking only 7th.

Initially, I was surprised to see Cris Carter top the "greatest hands" list, but the footage makes the case for him very well. (I missed a lot of football in the '90s, as I spent most of the decade in the Deep South without NFL Sunday Ticket, subject to the programming decisions of local broadcast affiliates. So I didn't see many Vikings games. Or Seahawks games, for that matter. In retrospect, it was a good era of Seattle football to miss.)

But we're here to talk about Seahawks.

Of course, I'm pleased with Largent's high ranking on the list. He did have great hands. But his hands weren't his best attribute as a receiver. Like Ray Berry, Largent had an unstoppable work ethic, and he developed those great hands through hard work.

However, it doesn't matter how well you can catch if you can't get open. (Unfortunately, Seattle's current stable of wideouts illustrates the truth of this proposition.)

In the "Greatest Hands" program, Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson marvels at how often Largent managed to get wide open, despite having only average speed.

The program does not explain why this was so.

And that's a shame, because Largent's ability to lose defenders was his greatest trait as a receiver. Like his great hands, Largent's ability to get open resulted from hard work and preparation.

He studied film, noted his opponents' weaknesses, and learned how to set them up for failure on game day.

Then, to capitalize fully upon that mental advantage, he gained a physical edge: through conditioning, Largent developed incredibly powerful ankles and calves, which allowed him to make cuts sharper than the defenders of his era could manage.

And that's how Largent won the space he needed to let his great hands operate.

I wish more of today's Seahawks would emulate that work ethic.

Free falling

Sunday's loss confirmed our worst fears about this season's Seahawks team.

We knew they were poorly coached.

We knew our roster lacked talent.

We feared that the players lacked heart, that their will to compete was as weak as it had been during the Seattle's late-season slides of 2008 and 2009.

And now we know.

Tampa Bay has one of the league's worst rushing defenses. We should have been able to run the ball against them. We tried to run more than 25 times, and netted a mere 90 yards.

Our awful O-Line still can't find the slightest hint of daylight for our running backs, but our players got little help from offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who continues to forfeit any element of surprise through relentless playcalling predictability.

Sure, the playbook shrinks a little when your backup quarterback enters the game. Perhaps Carroll told Bates to save the good stuff for next week, upon learning that the game had no meaning for the team's postseason prospects. But even with a restricted palette, an offensive coordinator can choose to help the defense by giving them what they expect in every given situation, or he can keep the defense off balance by calling plays for which they are not ready.

One welcome exception came early in the game on a third and short when Bates split Hasselbeck wide and had fullback Michael Robinson step under center, take a direct snap, and run for a first down.

But when Hasselbeck left the game, Bates seemed to have lost all playcalling creativity.

Our starting quarterback's early exit gave us an opportunity to see what Charlie Whitehurst could do.

Jesus of Clemson did not impress.

I tire of the excuse that the backup quarterback doesn't get enough reps in practice. As a middle and high school coach, I always made sure my second-string QB was ready to go. I'm not sure why some pro coaches can't seem to manage this, despite being more capable and better compensated than I ever was.

Whitehurst's mobility would be an asset if he were wise enough to throw the ball away when he escapes the pocket and no one is open.

This is a useful skill, because most of the time when we want to pass, none of our receivers can get open. That's what happens when you jettison last year's best three wideouts (Burleson, Housh, Branch) and replace them with a bunch of inexperienced kids.

As bad as our offense was, our defense was even worse, surrendering more than 200 yards on the ground, and letting Josh Freeman throw for five touchdowns.

Most of Freeman's scoring passes came at the expense of Marcus Trufant, normally our best cornerback, and once a Pro Bowler. Has Tru quit? Are nagging injuries compromising his performance? Does anyone else miss Josh Wilson as much as I do?

When Bucs running back LaGarrette Blount hurdled veteran safety Lawyer Milloy, I found myself wondering...

At what point did Seattle jump the shark this season?

Didn't the Seahawks see the film of Blount hurdling Kerry Rhodes against Arizona earlier this year? Why didn't that sobering footage inform Milloy's tackling technique?

Why did Milloy drop his head? Doesn't he know you're supposed to see what you hit, both for reasons of safety and secure tackling?

Is it time for Milloy to retire?

Would Deon Grant have made that tackle?

Why did our team squander so badly their last chance to achieve a respectable record?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Bucs stop here

Like the Seahawks, the Buccaneers started the season strong and are now limping toward the finish line.

Seattle peaked early, beginning 4-2 before entering a 2-6 nosedive punctuated by numerous humiliating blowouts.

Tampa Bay demonstrated greater staying power, reaching 7-3 by late November. Over the last month, the the Bucs have been 1-3, though they have been competitive in every recent loss, unlike Seattle.

Their nadir came last week, when the Bucs lost at home in overtime to Detroit. There's nothing wrong to losing to the Lions--they are much better than their record indicates--but there is definitely something wrong with letting the Lions beat you at home. Detroit entered last week's game riding the longest road losing streak in NFL history: 26 games! That's more than 3 full seasons of road futility! Since October 2007, simply showing up had proven sufficient to defend one's house against the hapless Lions.

But Tampa Bay couldn't manage that last week.

There is a moral to this story. The Bucs have been a great road team this year (5-2), but they are merely average at home (3-4).

So, the Seahawks have a shot today, as two fading teams face one another today to determine, Who wants it less?

Of course, no one likes to lose at home. Tampa Bay let an inferior team sneak up on them last week, so they should be on high alert today. Motivation should not be a problem, as the Bucs remain in playoff contention. Moreover, today is their last home game of the season, and this matchup is certainly more winnable than their road finale next week against the mighty Saints.

Recent weeks have offered little reason to hope that Seattle is on the verge of getting anything together. We've been playing like a team that doesn't want its January vacation plans disrupted by the inconvenience of a division title and a playoff game.

Always ready with some snake oil sunshine, Coach Carroll claimed, "This is as healthy as we've been in a long time." I guess he's not counting the players lost for the season on injured reserve. Our defense hasn't approached competence since we lost Red Bryant in Oakland, and our D-Line got weaker again last week when Junior Siavii joined him on injured reserve. Also out for the season is Deon Butler, one of the less unreliable components of our depleted and enfeebled receiving corps.

I fear that St. Louis will render the game meaningless by beating San Francisco this morning. If the Rams win, Seattle could choke today and still claim a tarnished division crown by beating St. Louis at home next week. Of course, at 7-9, the Seahawks would be the losingest division champions in league history. The only way to avoid that fate (or an even more ignominious 6-10 finish) is to win today.

This is gut check time for Seattle's players and coaches.

One way or another, the Bucs stop here. Tampa Bay could stop its late-season slide and stay alive for the playoffs by burying us today. Or the Seahawks could take control of their own destiny, eliminate the Bucs from playoff contention, salvage some dignity, and regain some swagger.

I hope, but I do not believe.

Go, Seahawks!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hasselbeck again

Based on what I have seen on recent Sundays, I would start Charlie Whitehurst in Tampa Bay tomorrow if I were coaching the Seahawks.

However, Coach Carroll is giving another start to Hasselbeck. Matt has been a choke machine and a turnover factory over the last several weeks. He makes bad decisions when he's playing from behind. He tries to do too much, to take the whole offense on his shoulders.

To his credit, Caroll recognizes that it takes teamwork to lose the way Seattle has lost since October. Since starting 4-2, the Seahawks have gone 2-6.

Hasselbeck generally plays well when the Seahawks are still in games, when we hold a lead or trail by just one score. But when we play from far behind--after our defense surrenders too many points, and after our running game stalls--that's when Hasselbeck really starts sucking.

But he has help. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates continues to set up Matt for failure. Defensive backs play the odds, and when Bates keeps it predictable (too many deep passes, too many vanilla routes underneath), that makes it easy for opposing corners and safeties to grab interceptions.

Carroll and his staff know their quarterbacks better than we do. They see them in practice. They know what Hasselbeck and Whitehurst can do. They know how much of the playbook each quarterback has mastered.

So, I don't question Carroll's decision to keep Hasselbeck in the game.

He says that Matt gives us the best chance to win.

Carroll should want to win even more than the fans do. If Seattle loses out and finishes 6-10, his first year will have been a failure by every reasonable measure. If Paul Allen were going to be satisfied with such a modest rate of improvement, he would have kept Jim Mora. (Carroll won't get fired for losing out, but it would put him on the hot seat next year.)

On the other hand, if Seattle wins out and makes the playoffs, then it would make the decision to hire Carroll look wise. Moreover, it would implicitly vindicate the many, many questionable personnel decisions made by Schneider and Carroll.

Speaking of personnel decisions, the team needs to decide whether to re-sign Hasselbeck. Perhaps giving Matt another start will help Carroll decide.

If I were trying to decide the future of our quarterbacks, I would feel like I had enough information about Hasselbeck. I would want to know more about how Whitehurst performs in game situations.

If I were Carroll and Schneider, I would offer Matt a contract right now. His stock has never been lower, so I'd seize the opportunity to lock him down at bargain rates, offering him a modest long-term contract loaded with performance incentives. Even if Hasselbeck becomes Hasselbackup, he'd be one of the best backups in the league, so it would be a good investment.

Anyway, I'm OK with Matt starting this week.

However, if I were coaching the Seahawks, I would be quicker with the hook. I would have benched Hasselbeck sooner in San Francisco and swifter against Atlanta. I don't subscribe to the school of coaching that says, "Quarterbacks are different; you don't treat them like other players."

Quarterbacks aren't different. They're football players. When any football player doesn't perform, he needs to ride the pine for a while so someone else can get a shot. Getting benched makes a real competitor hungry to re-enter the game. If a quarterback's fragile ego can't handle competition, he doesn't belong in organized football. If anything, quarterbacks should be more mentally tough than other football players, not less so. Because they're supposed to be leaders.

Matt Hasselbeck is a leader, and a competitor. I hope he rises to the occasion, and I hope the Seahawks fight tomorrow. Beating Tampa Bay is the only way to stay in playoff contention with dignity, with any prospect of finishing at .500.

Kiss the ground

Man, it's good to be back in the Seattle area.

Green landscapes, grey skies, drizzling rain. I love it. Even our strip malls look better than the eyesores seen elsewhere.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Seattle competed for the first third of the game.
Our first offensive drive was a thing of beauty, a creative mix of well-executed runs and passes, culminating in a touchdown by Marshawn Lynch.
After that, Jeremy Bates lost his mojo and lapsed into his customary predictability.
Our defense fought hard, but stopped Atlanta only twice when it mattered: once when Jordan Babineaux intercepted Matt Ryan, and again when we forced a punt in the third quarter.
Ryan dissected our secondary. We lost cornerback Marcus Trufant to injury early on. Again. I love Tru, but maybe he’s too fragile to be a reliable NFL corner.
Matt Hasselbeck continues to promote the starting prospects of backup Charlie Whitehurst. Rolling out in his own end zone, Hasselbeck would have been wise simply to throw away the ball when he saw a Falcons defensive end bearing down on him. Instead, the one-handed wonder took a strip sack. Touchdown, Atlanta. The Fox analysts blamed Hasselbeck’s injured hand. I blame the quarterback’s poor judgment, which seems to worsen every week
Matt followed up by throwing two picks.
Whitehurst looked good in relief. He threw well, made good decisions, and used his mobility to good effect. He deserves the start next week.
Our offensive line made some strides. Down 24 points, Bates wisely called several handoffs, knowing that victory was impossible, but that this new O-Line combination would benefit from the reps.
Russell Okung was a disappointment, committing two false starts and surrendering a sack.
What happened to the kid who shut down Julius Peppers in Chicago?
At the end of the first half, with the game still in reach, Leon Washington declined to take a kickoff out of the end zone, instead opting for a touchback. And then our offense took a knee rather than run a play. In both cases, I'm sure it's what the coaches advised.
Always compete?

A modest proposal

I see Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez catching a lot of balls today.

We don't cover tight ends well. We tend to rely on linebackers and safeties to guard them, and that doesn't fly against good tight ends, much less great ones like T-Go.

So, our coaches have a choice:

1. Continue with business as usual, and watch Lofa, Heater, Curry, and Babs fail repeatedly.

2. Put a corner on Gonzalez today. A corner who can tackle. If we still had Josh Wilson, we could have put Trufant on Gonzalez, and still had starting-caliber corners on Atlanta's wideouts. But we'll need Trufant to cover Roddy White.

Just compete, maybe?

"Just win, baby!" is the slogan of Oakland owner and zombie mafioso Al Davis. His pithy phrase has helped inspire the Raiders to manifest unexpected competence this season.

For the Seahawks, a realistic analog might be, "Just compete, maybe?"

This year, when Seattle loses, we lose by a lot. In every defeat, we have lost by more than two touchdowns. Our defense serves up fortyburgers to opposing offenses with the promptness and regularity of a short order chef at a greasy spoon. Often, with an assist from a bald, turnover-prone prep cook.

You have to walk before you can run, so expecting the Seahawks to defeat Atlanta today is, to put it politely, unrealistic. At 11-2, the Falcons soar into town as one of the league's hottest teams, riding a nine-game winning streak.

Strictly speaking, Atlanta does not need to win this week. This is their last road game before finishing the regular season with a two-game home stand. Winning today would help them stay one game ahead of New Orleans, but the Falcons can eliminate their division rivals at home next week, and then finish the regular season with a cathartic crushing of Carolina.

But Atlanta is a solid team that competes every week. They won't phone in this one.

Seattle snuck up on one good team this season, but that was a long time ago, on the road in Chicago.

To compete today, the Seahawks will need to mount a complete team effort against a team with no obvious weaknesses.

Fortunately, starting wideouts Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu return to the lineup today. Hopefully, they have recovered fully and are ready to contribute.

We field yet another new offensive line combination today. Chester Pitts has healed up and is ready to reclaim the left guard position. This bumps Mike Gibson to right guard, sidelining Stacy Andrews. Since Andrews typically commits at least one false start per game, the net effect is likely to be a five yard gain for the Seattle offense.

Maybe this front five will manage to establish the run and protect Hasselbeck.

Maybe Matt can quit turnovers cold turkey.

Maybe our defense will finally get it together.

Maybe we can avoid another humiliating home blowout.

I hope, but I do not believe.


Since the retirement of #71 two weeks ago, I've been thinking about numbers.

Of course, #71 rose to the rafters to honor Canton-bound Walter Jones, the greatest player in franchise history. However, Bryan Millard also wore that number with distinction back in the '80s. The greatest offensive lineman in team history before Big Walt, Millard protected Dave Krieg and opened holes for Curt Warner. (I wrote most of the Wikipedia article on Millard. Check it out.)

Rookie left tackle Russell Okung, drafted to replace Jones, has shown real promise. I loved that Okung wears #76. He wore that number at Oklahoma State, but for Seahawks fans, #76 is good mojo because it was worn by Steve Hutchinson, another future Hall of Famer, and the second greatest offensive lineman in team history, after Big Walt. We can only hope that Okung's career will be so glorious that we will one day

Similarly, I like how Mike Williams has represented this year with Dave Krieg's #17.

Moreover, although he's just a kicker, I think the habitual clutchness of Olindo Mare pays appropriate honor to Jim Zorn's #10.

Back from the dead

I apologize to my regular readers for my weeklong absence. After last week's humiliating loss in San Francisco, I was too shattered to blog. I figured I would feel well enough to analyze the game by Monday, but the spiraling demands of an extraordinarily busy week at work prevented me from writing until now. Which is just as well, because I still wince whenever I even think about the debacle of last Sunday.

It was one of the costliest losses of the year. A victory would have kept Seattle on track to compete for the division title. It would have made a winning record possible and a .500 record likely.

Instead, Seattle lost, allowing St. Louis to maintain pole position in the division, and letting lowly San Francisco stay in the hunt for the NFC West crown. We probably condemned ourselves to a third consecutive year with a losing record, so in the unlikely event that we do manage to take the division, we will be the league's laughingstock as the only playoff team in history with a sub-.500 record.

Beating the 49ers would have demonstrated that the Seahawks were ready to finish strong, that we were determined to compete every week, that we had put that extended midseason slump behind us.

Instead, Seattle solidified its identity as an inconsistent team that either wins unconvincingly, or gets blown out.

We were outcoached and outplayed in San Francisco. Mike Singletary's decision to start Alex Smith under center proved wise. Normally, Smith scares no one, but our feeble defense made him look like Joe Montana. Really, any NFL quarterback can look like a Hall of Famer if the defense is too courteous to sack and pressure him, too gracious to cover his receivers, and too generous to stuff the run.

In Week One, Seattle comprehensively shut down the 49er offense. Last Sunday, our defense could not stop them.

What accounts for the difference?

If there has one thing we have learned this year, it is that we have no depth on defense. Apparently, losing Red Bryant to injury has essentially crippled our ability to stop the run.

But the big story in San Francisco was that we were outcoached. The 49ers kept fielding a three tight end scheme for which we had no answer. From that formation, they could run or throw with equal facility, because their tight ends are complete athletes, as adept at blocking as they are at catching balls.

Great coaches can adapt on the fly and find ways to counter opposing schemes that they did not initially anticipate. Unfortunately, the Seahawks do not have great defensive coaches. After we surrendered so many points in 2009, Carroll's decision to retain defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was mystifying. Given that Carroll himself is a defensive coach, the continued weakness of our defense is unforgivable.

At least in terms of individual statistics, Leon Washington is the biggest beneficiary of our bad defense. The more points we surrender, the more opportunities he has to return kickoffs. If our defense can surrender a few more fortyburgers, he will own the NFL season and career records for return touchdowns.

We failed to execute on offense. Our O-Line still can't block. On several occasions, we tried the power right play, which had been money so many times against Carolina, only to discover that the right side of our line can't manhandle a competent defense.

Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, whom I often malign on this blog, actually called a pretty good game. When San Francisco took away the run, Bates came up with a varied mix of inspired play selections that kept the ball moving until Hasselbeck turned it over. As we fell farther behind, Bates became more aggressive. Sometimes too aggressive. (Throwing a fade on fourth and short? Again? Really?)

Hasselbeck had a bad game. To be fair, one interception wasn't his fault--the ball hit the wideout in the hands, but the receiver bobbled it to the defenders. I would have benched him after the third interception, but I was impressed at Matt's ability to settle down and play better after that.

Hasselbeck can't do it alone. Few NFL quarterbacks can carry a team that can't run the ball in a game where his two starting wideouts are sidelined by injuries.

Bringing this blog back from the dead wasn't hard; I just needed a few hours of free time.

Bringing my beloved team back from the dead will prove a much tougher task for our coaches and players.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thank you, Coach Singletary

At first glance, 4-8 San Francisco might seem like a bad team.
However, since their disastrous 0-5 start, they are 4-3 overall and 3-1 at home.
Seattle started 4-2. Since then, we are 2-4 overall. Our season road record is also a poor 2-4.
In their three home victories, the 49ers vanquished teams that beat the Seahawks this season: Oakland, Denver and St. Louis.
And that’s why we’re 5-point underdogs today.
Which version of the Seahawks will show up today? The road warriors who surprised Chicago and manhandled Arizona? The scrappy squad who competed in New Orleans, but fell short? Or the sad sacks who laid down for Denver, St. Louis, and Oakland?
Last week, both teams played a single solid half of football.
Seattle let the worst team in the league dominate them at home throughout the first half, and then rallied to defeat the Panthers.
San Francisco’s experience was a mirror image of Seattle’s—identical, but reversed. Playing in Green Bay, the 49ers stayed even with one of the league’s best teams for the first half. Coach Singletary’s squad looked so good (and the rest of the NFC West looks so bad) that starry-eyed Fox analysts began to bill the game as a preview of a possible playoff matchup. But after halftime, San Francisco stopped playing hard to get and simply submitted to the Packers.
Fortunately, the recipe for beating San Francisco resembles the formula that ultimately yielded victory over Carolina.
Like the Panthers, the 49ers have a good running game, but bad quarterbacks. Frank Gore is out for the season with a broken hip, but Brian Westbrook was once one of the league’s best backs. If he can manage a return to Philadelphia form and fly like an Eagle again, we could be in trouble. In any case, Seahawks diehards know that the run game is more about the front five than it is about the guy lugging the rock, and San Francisco has a pretty good O-Line.
So, Seattle needs to stack the box, stuff the run, and dare their quarterback to throw.
Fortunately, the hulking Colin Cole returns today to bolster our reeling run defense.
Forcing San Francisco to throw the ball is particularly attractive today, because Coach Singletary made a momentous decision this week that is mysterious to 49er fans, courteous to Seattle, and tantamount to career suicide: he has decided to give the start to Alex Smith, whom the Seahawks sacked, intercepted, pressured and punished in Week One. Smith is 1-5 as a starter this year. Thank you, Coach Singletary.
Seattle proved last week that we can move the ball through the air, even without our starting wideouts. We may have to do so again today, as neither Mike Williams nor Ben Obomanu are locks to return from injury. Hasselbeck’s challenge is to stop throwing picks.
If our offensive line can pick up where it left off last week, we might manage to run the ball successfully. For the first time this season, we will field the same front five for a third consecutive game, so chemistry seems possible.
Much depends on offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who seems to struggle with playcalling early in games. Can he break out of the predictable calls that make it so easy for defenses to shut down our first several drives of every game? (Is anyone else nostalgic for how Holmgren used to script the first twentysome offensive plays? I miss the creative mix of well-rehearsed plays, executed with tempo and precision. I also miss scoring in the first quarter.)
When you’ve painted yourself into a corner the way Seattle has this year, every divisional game is a must-win. Although our records are identical, St. Louis owns the lead in the NFC West by virtue of their victory over us in September. We could pull even in head-to-head competition by beating the Rams at home in our last regular season game.
But if we hope to be playing for the division crown in Week 17, we need to win this one. We must keep pace with the Rams’ overall record, and this game is far more winnable than our next two contests against NFC South heavyweights Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
So, the season is on the line. Again.
Go, Seahawks!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Short memories: A brief history of “bad divisions”

I’ll admit that I was a little intrigued to see which duo Fox would deputize to call the game between Seattle and Carolina. I knew that a matchup between the worst team in the NFL and a small-market host with a losing record would surely draw the network’s F-team.
So, now we know: the low men on the Fox NFL totem pole are Ross Tucker and Chris Rose. Now, before I take them to task for something, I do need to give credit where credit is due.
First, thanks to Fox for displaying unexpected reverence toward Walter Jones by televising the ceremony commemorating the retirement of #71.
Second, Tucker and Rose, even if they get stuck with the worst game of the week, are still good at what they do. You don’t get to call NFL games for a major network if you aren’t competent. (If, like me, you follow the fortunes of a college football team that hasn’t cracked the top 25 in years, you know what it’s like to endure three hours of bad narration and analysis.)
Overall, the duo did a nice job with the game. However, at one point, they said something that revealed a startling ignorance of league history. (To be fair, in the course of a three-hour broadcast, it is quite natural to say several dumb things.)
They said that no one had ever seen a division as bad as this year’s NFC West.
I guess they weren’t following the NFL in 2008, when no team in the AFC West posted a winning record. San Diego won the division with an 8-8 record.
That same year, the Arizona Cardinals barely managed a winning record (9-7), distinguishing themselves over the rest of the NFC West by default. (They fared better in the playoffs, winding up as NFC champions and before losing Super Bowl XLIII.)
Perhaps Tucker & Rose weren’t paying attention in 2007 when Tampa Bay managed not to lose the NFC South with a 9-7 record.
Apparently, it escaped their notice that Seattle emerged atop the NFC West with a 9-7 record in 2006 and 2004.
Maybe they forgot that the Jets emerged atop the AFC East with a 9-7 record in 2002.
And that just covers all of the cases since the divisional realignment of 2002. Underwhelming division winners were rarer before, when all (or most) divisions had five teams, but it still happened sometimes.
In the decade before the realignment, it happened twice. The Seahawks won the AFC West in 1999 with a 9-7 record. In the previous year, Oakland had won the division at 8-8.
So, teams with average records won six divisions since 2002, but only two in the previous decade (1992-2001).
Clearly, four-team divisions are one culprit, but the overrepresentation of western divisions in the annals of mediocrity suggests that something else might be at work.
Historically, West Coast teams have struggled to compete in away games played in eastern time zones. Perhaps this fact has put occidental divisions at a consistent disadvantage.
I have suggested before that the NFL needs to adopt a scheduling system that pits each division’s teams against its regional interconference counterparts every year. This would place every division on equal footing every year, instead of putting western divisions at a significant disadvantage three out of every four years.
One happy side effect would be reduced travel costs and decreased greenhouse emissions, as teams would log less mileage in any given year.
Moreover, the reschedule would encourage the development of meaningful regional rivalries (Tampa Bay vs. Jacksonville & Miami, Houston vs. Dallas, San Francisco vs. San Diego & Oakland, etc.), and revive the rivalry between Seattle and the AFC West.
A final point: a division won by a team with an average-looking record isn't necessarily a bad or weak division.
Usually, when a division gets won by a 9-7 or 8-8 team, it’s because it's full of bad teams that can’t win outside the division. Obviously, that is the case with the NFC West this year, and in many recent years.
However, sometimes teams with unimpressive records win tough divisions. In these cases, the teams do fine outside the division, but the war of attrition within the division wears them down, so they all wind up knotted near .500. That happened when the Bengals won the AFC Central in 1990, when the Jets won the AFC East in 2002, and when Seattle won the AFC West in 1988 and 1999.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Who are these guys?

Perhaps the next time we retire the jersey of a Canton-bound Seahawk, we should hold the ceremony before kickoff. Seattle played poorly in every phase of the game Sunday, until the two-minute warning near the end of the first half, when the jersey of Walter Jones rose to the rafters. After that, the Seahawks started scoring, and our defense shut out Carolina. Perhaps if it had been a pregame ceremony, we might have seen our team play the entire game with conviction.

It is tempting to imagine that Seattle simply had to get one more half of bad football out of their system before they could get down to business and figure out how to win again. One would like to think that Sunday's comeback marked the beginning of something big, that the team has turned the corner, that the momentum generated in the second half last Sunday will carry over into this week's game against San Francisco, and perhaps beyond.

But before we get too carried away, let's remember that the comeback came at the expense of Carolina, the league's worst team. If you're going to spot anyone a 14-point lead, it should be the cellar dwellers of the NFL. No one else gives you so good a chance to mount a comeback. The Panthers are accustomed to quitting and losing. Once Seattle took control of the game, you could see the dejection in the faces and body language of Carolina's players. As always, this was most evident in the case of the most accomplished Panther, wide receiver Steve Smith, who spent much of the second half sitting on the pine, pouting while Seattle's offense chewed up the clock and ran up the score until our lead was secure. To their credit, Carolina rallied and put together a good drive near the end of the game, though our defense kept them out of the end zone.

There were some genuinely hopeful signs.

After spotting Carolina 14 points, our defense came together and pitched a shutout for the rest of the game. Suddenly, we could reliably stuff the run, pressure the quarterback, and cover receivers.

Our own reserve receivers stepped up and made some plays in the absence of our starting wideouts and tight end.

Our offensive line looked good in the second half, particularly the much-maligned right side. Marshawn Lynch made several good runs on the power right play, yards made possible because Sean Locklear reliably sealed his man inside.

My favorite play of the game was Lynch's third touchdown. Seattle lined up as if to run the power right play again. Before the snap, Hasselbeck read Carolina's defense, called an audible, and realigned the running backs in the I-formation. Unsure what was happening, the Panthers stayed put. In any case, the quick snap gave the defense little time to react. Instead of running right, Lynch took the handoff up the middle, where Matt's presnap read had detected some softness. Center Chris Spencer created a gaping hole there, driving the defensive tackle inside, passing him off to teammate Mike Gibson, and then running downfield to take out a linebacker. Fullback Michael Robinson nailed his block, springing Marshawn into space. But it's the NFL, so space collapses quickly. Several fleet defenders converged on the running back, but Lynch eluded some and ran through the rest en route to paydirt.

That one play encapsulates the promise of the Seahawk offense.

Audibles that turn into run touchdowns don't register in a quarterback's stats, but when we evaluate Hasselbeck's performance, we need to factor in his field leadership. Only a savvy veteran quarterback gives you that edge.

We have good running backs. When our blockers execute and give them room, our runners will make plays.

The most encouraging thing about our ability to run in the second half was that the Carolina defense generally knew we intended to run, but they still couldn't stop us. For the first time in years, we were able to field a credible ground game under those conditions. Of course, we did it against the worst team in the league at a point in the contest where they seemed to be giving up. Only time will tell whether this was a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come.

Some people are still asking, 'Who are these guys?' By now we should know.

A quick review of the season reminds us that these Seahawks are heartbreakers.

After dominating San Francisco in the home opener, we let humble Denver defeat us.

We survived mighty San Diego, only to let lamblike St. Louis school us.

We surprised Chicago on the road, and then thumped Arizona at home. But then got blown out in Oakland, and let the New York Giants humiliate us in our house.

Coming off those blowouts, we went to Arizona and looked solid again. We competed on the road against New Orleans (but lost), and then laid down meekly for Kansas City.

And you know what happened last week.

So, who are these guys?

The Seahawks are a rebuilding team. We have talent, but not much depth, so injuries impair us more than most teams. We are inconsistent. Most weeks, we compete. Sometimes, we quit. Sometimes, our coaches call the right mix of offensive plays, and sometimes they essentially forfeit the game with a lack of creativity. When they're in a groove, our defensive coaches dial up the right pressure packages and coverage schemes, but when they're not, we don't seem to have a defense at all.

Our coaches seem strong on inspiration--which works well when the game proceeds according to plan--but weak when it comes to instilling discipline and perseverance in tough times. To their credit, the coaches seem to be learning, and as the roster churn has begun to die down, there are signs that the team is gelling.

And, by the grace of playing in the NFC West, we might make the playoffs. In any other division, we'd be playing for pride alone at this point.
The best bet seems to be that these Seahawks will continue to frustrate we hapless diehards for the rest of the season.

But--in true diehard fashion--I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that the Seattle team we saw in the second half shows up on Sunday in San Francisco.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Carroll's pregame pep talk: A Seahawks Diehard exclusive

CARROLL: Okay, team. We know the Panthers aren't very good. In fact, at 1-10, they're the worst team in the league. That's not much of a challenge, even for us.

Now, the easy thing to do would be to dominate them for 60 minutes, to pound them into the turf, shut out their offense, and let ours run up the score on them. You know, post a fortyburger on 'em or something.

But we're not going to do that. It wouldn't be sporting, it wouldn't entertain the fans, and it wouldn't be the character-building experience this team needs. [Expressions of pained stupefication seize the faces of the assembled PLAYERS.]

You know how I say, "Always compete"? Well, I want you to forget about that during the first half today. For the first thirty minutes of the game, we're going to let Carolina have their way with us. [The team erupts with ejaculations of outrage. CARROLL holds up his hand, and they fall quiet.]

Hear me out. We're gonna handicap this one. We're gonna lay an egg out there in the first half to set ourselves up for a big comeback in the second half.

Everyone has a part to play in this. Jeremy, as our offensive coordinator, you have one of the most important roles. I need you to call the most unimaginitive game imaginable in the first half. Idiot stuff. You've shown a flair for this in the past. Everyone knows we like to give it to Marshawn on first down, and our line isn't good enough to open holes on a defense that expects the run. So I want you to give it to Lynch on every first down, so we won't gain any yards. In fact, give it to him on every down on most drives. You know, run-run-run-punt. Marshawn: keep it in Least Mode, okay? Jeremy, if you get tempted to throw the ball, avoid safe comeback routes. Instead, call a bunch of low-percentage bombs. The long pass worked well a few weeks ago when no one expected it, but now everyone's covering it, so throwing deep is a good way to turn over the ball and give Carolina a fighting chance.

HASSELBECK: Excuse me, coach, but I don't want to throw any more interceptions. I've already thrown so many. This is a contract year for me. I feel like you're trying to deflate my market value.

CARROLL: [A sly smile creeps across his face.] Don't be silly, Matt. We wouldn't do that to you. I need you to be a team player here. We need to spot Carolina two picks. If you can't get it done in the first half, finish up in the second. Two interceptions, that's all I ask. [HASSELBECK buries his face in his hands, dejected.]

Now, about the receiving corps. We've got too many weapons. It's not really fair to the Panthers. Right now, we're only missing John Carlson, who I hear used to be a pretty good tight end before I got here. So, I need our starting wide receivers Mike and Ben to leave the game early with injuries. That will whittle us down to three backup wideouts and two backup tight ends. That will make Carolina competitive.

Okay, defense. You know I love you, but I really need you to lay down in the first half. Let Carolina's O-Line blast you off the line of scrimmage, let their backs run wild, make like you can't tackle. Act like you can't cover their receivers. Pretend that you can't pressure the passer. We're gonna Jimmy Clausen look like Johnny Unitas, but only for the first half.

HAWTHORNE: Coach, I can't do it. I never take plays off.

CARROLL: That's okay, Heater. I know. Fortunately, Aaron Curry and our entire defensive line can disappear at will. And most of our defensive backs don't really "cover" receivers, or try to pick off passes. They think their job is just to tackle receivers after they catch the ball. Believe me, if the rest of the unit lays down like I want them to, your extraordinary individual efforts won't matter. [HAWTHORNE hangs his head.]

I'm not gonna forget about special teams. Leon, you're the man on this one. On kick returns, when their gunner is bearing down on you like a guided missile, perfectly timed to decleat you as soon as you grab the ball, I need you to forget how to call for a fair catch. Give them a free shot on you.

WASHINGTON: Coach, that's dangerous.

CARROLL: Man up, Leon. What's the worst that could happen?

WASHINGTON: Um. last year I got hit and suffered a compound fracture. They said I might never play again. The rehab was the most difficult and painful thing I've ever been through. I'm lucky to be here.

CARROLL: [Sternly.] That's right, and if you want to stay here, you need to do what I say. No one's place on this team is safe. Look how many players I've waived this year!

[Softening.] Look, after you take one big shot, you can call as many fair catches as you want. Deal? [Incredulous and unresponsive, WASHINGTON just stares at CARROLL.]

We're not done, Leon. Listen: At some point, on a kickoff, bobble the ball out of the end zone and pretend for a minute that you don't know that you have to return the kick, that you're ineligible for a touchback at that point. That way, we can start a drive on our own five instead of taking unfair advantage by starting from our own twenty.

Finally, Leon, if you do break a big return, I need you to avoid scoring a touchdown at all costs. Here's an idea: Start showboating early. Do the Deon thing, or hold up your finger to say you're #1. That'll slow you down enough that even a punter might be able to catch you. Oh, and don't high-step, because then they won't be able to ankle-tackle you.

WASHINGTON: C'mon coach, I'm in play for the all-time record on return touchdowns, and you want me just to give one up like that? People will make fun of me on the postgame shows and on the Internet.

CARROLL: Are you "all in," Leon?

WASHINGTON: [Bows head.] Yes, sir.

CARROLL: Good, because special teams are unpredictable. You might need to extend your suckage into the second half to get it all done.

SPENCER: Coach, we're retiring Big Walt's number today. I know you never coached him, so maybe you don't understand this, but I feel like your game plan is disrespectful to him. Shouldn't we honor the greatest player in team history by putting together a complete game today?

CARROLL: I hear what you're saying, Chris. But think how much more it will mean to him if we wait to play well until after his jersey is retired, with two minutes left in the first half. As soon as the ceremony's over, I give you guys permission to score. But don't get carried away. Field goals only. No touchdowns until the second half. Deal?

SPENCER: [Shakes his head.] I still don't get it.

CARROLL: That's why you're just a player and I'm the coach.

[Looking around, CARROLL reads the universally defeated body language of the assembled PLAYERS.] Excellent. Right now, you guys look like losers. That is precisely the attitude you need to stink up Seahawks Stadium for a whole half.

But look at the bright side:

In the second half, I'm gonna let Jeremy get into a real playcalling groove.

I will permit our offensive line to provide good pass protection and open some running lanes. Marshawn will go into Beast Mode, grind out some tough yards, and maybe even score a few touchdowns. I'll let Justin tear off a few long runs.

Matt: We'll call some safer passes. If you want, you can move around in and out of the pocket to buy time. You can make some presnap reads and call a few inspired audibles.

Stokley, you're gonna do what you do in the slot and make some clutch third-down catches.

Golden, you're going to catch a few balls, too, and show some grit and elusiveness in getting some tough yards after the catch.

Cameron, you're going to make people wonder why we still list Carlson as our #1 tight end.

Defense: We'll show we know how to stop a one-dimensional offense. We'll stack the box and stuff the run. We'll let crowd noise and a withering pass rush rattle their rookie quarterbacks. Our defensive backs will dabble in coverage. And something tells me that Lofa is overdue for a pick six.

Here's the thing: after playing so poorly throughout the first half, our comeback will seem that much more impressive. [Flashes that winning smile.]

All right, let's get a break here!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Benumb their wills

For a franchise reeling after losing four of their last five, hosting the worst team in the league could be just what the doctor ordered for Seattle.

Of course, at this point, the Seahawks can't take anyone lightly. Last week looked winnable, as Kansas City came to town riding a four-game road losing streak. Instead of piling on and extending that streak, we let them get healthy against us and humiliate us in our own house.

At 1-10, the Panthers might seem like patsies, but they're not. Sure, they've lost more games than Seattle, and have yet to win on the road, but Carolina has stayed competitive in every away game. (They have suffered two recent home blowouts, just like the Seahawks.)

The Panthers are not toothless. Like the great cat in Rilke's poem, they represent caged power yearning for freedom. Our challenge is to keep them imprisoned behind bars of futility, their wills benumbed.

Carolina's defense is not bad.

That is fortunate, because our offense can't match up against a good defense right now.

Without Mike Williams in the lineup last week, we couldn't throw the ball effectively. (Anyone miss Housh or Burleson, yet?) Williams is questionable today, but if there is any opponent we should be able to handle without him, it's Carolina.

And passing is the strength of our offense, compared to our snaillike ground game. Seattle has the league's lamest rushing "attack."

The problem, of course, is our offensive line: oft-injured, ever-changing, never-gelling, frequently smelling up the joint with their poor run blocking. Everyone had hoped that Russell Okung's return to the lineup two weeks ago would revive the unit's fortunes, but our ground game has remained stubbornly anemic.

Perhaps offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who too often lapses into stultifying predictability, can find an effective play-calling groove against the Panthers.

Despite horrendous quarterback play, Carolina's offense still moves the ball on the ground very effectively.

Unfortunately, run defense has emerged as Achilles' heel of our team. Early in the season, Seattle allowed among the fewest rushing yards in the league. Everything changed when Red Bryant and Colin Cole succumbed to injury against Oakland. To put it delicately, their substitutes have not risen to the occasion. In recent weeks, we have fielded the league's feeblest run defense.

Today's game gives our defense a chance to focus on remedying a fatal weakness in a relatively forgiving context. We should be able to stack the box, stuff the run, and pressure a rookie quarterback unaccustomed to the sonic hell that is Seahawks Stadium. There has never been a better week to dare an opponent to test our secondary. If Jimmy Clausen tries to beat us through the air, our corners and safeties should feast on interceptions.

But only if we put together a complete game.

At this point, every game is a must-win if we intend to make the playoffs.

The consequence for our failure against Kansas City last week was falling into a first place tie with St. Louis.

Meanwhile, San Francisco lurks just one game back. As I write this, the 49ers are hanging tough in Green Bay against a very good Packers team.

Seattle needs a confidence-building victory in a big way. The season is on the line.

Win one for Walt

During today’s game, the Seahawks will retire #71, the number of Walter Jones, the greatest player in team history.
Television viewers will probably miss the ceremony, which will take place during the two-minute warning at the end of the first half. Lacking a proper sense of reverence, Fox will likely cut away for commercials at that time.
A titanic left tackle with nimble feet and impeccable technique, Jones gave Seattle quarterbacks a dozen seasons of serene assurance that no blitzes would blindside them, because Big Walt had their back. As a run blocker, he opened holes that helped an aging Ricky Watters post three consecutive 1,200-yard seasons, and then enabled Shaun Alexander to average 1,500 yards in the first five years of this century.
Walt matched his unparalleled power and athleticism with great sportsmanship. Had he been a cruel man, Jones could have hurt people. Instead, the gentle giant played with great economy, employing the minimal force necessary to move his opponents where he wanted them. He knew he would defeat the men who lined up against him; he simply didn’t feel the need to add injury or insult by knocking them down when there was no reason to do so. A quiet man, he never engaged in smack talk. Instead, when an opponent nearly beat him, Big Walt would compliment them on their effort. Jones knew he didn’t need to intimidate anyone. He didn’t need a psychological edge. His physical advantages—strength built by pushing SUVs in the offseason, footwork honed by pickup basketball games—were more than enough.
A remarkably kind man, Walt was a true gentleman in a sport that too often lauds bullies and praises cheap shot artists as “tough.”
Thanks in large part to Jones, Seattle won four straight divisional titles from 2004 through 2007. Not coincidentally, that run came to an end when the great lineman’s knees started to give out.
How dominant was Walt in his prime? His peers voted him to the Pro Bowl nine times. Journalists named him to the All-Pro team seven times.
But even those stark facts fail to capture the magnitude of his achievement.
John Madden (in 2004) and The Sporting News (in 2006) declared that Jones was the best player in the NFL. Not the best lineman. The best player. Better than Tom Brady or any other quarterback. Better than LaDainian Tomlinson or any other runner. Better than any receiver, linebacker, lineman, or defensive back.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated (who has less love for the O-Line) ranked Jones the 10th best player in the league in 2007; Walt was the highest offensive lineman on his list. King called him “a latter-day Munoz,” a reincarnation of the ex-Bengal generally regarded as the greatest offensive lineman in the history of the game.
 By 2005, Jones comprised the cornerstone of the league’s most dominant offensive line. That formidable unit allowed Alexander to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, and propelled the Seahawks to the NFC Championship and Super Bowl XL.
Seattle fell short in that game, but not because of Jones. For most of the contest, Big Walt was pitted against Pittsburgh’s All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter, a talented pass rusher who had finished the regular season with 10.5 sacks. In the Super Bowl, Porter’s primary assignment was to line up against Jones, pressure Matt Hasselbeck, and stuff Shaun Alexander. Instead, as he customarily did against every opponent, Big Walt dominated Porter, essentially erasing him from the game’s stat book. Porter finished the Super Bowl with zero sacks and only two tackles, a poor showing for a Pro Bowl linebacker on the game’s greatest stage. Unable to make an impact through his play, Porter—a notorious trash talker—tried to make a difference with his mouth, by taunting Jones, Hasselbeck and other Seahawks. Of course, Walt did not respond, and when Matt started smack-talking Porter in return, Jones made him stop. Not content merely to protect Hasselbeck physically, Big Walt refused to let the linebacker get inside his quarterback’s head.
Despite his strong individual performance, the Seahawks lost Super Bowl XL, done in by poor officiating and by the uninspired performance of some of his teammates.
Big Walt will always be a winner, but he will never wear a Super Bowl ring.
Most of the players on our roster today never took the field with Jones. But those who did know how important it is that we pay humble tribute to the greatest Seahawk by winning today.
Seattle made it to Super Bowl XL by beating the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. Both teams come to today's contest under humbler circumstances, but it is fitting that we commemorate the team's greatest player on a day when we face the opponent against whom the team achieved its greatest victory.
Let us send #71 into glorious retirement with a win today.
Go, Seahawks! Win one for Walt!