Sunday, October 9, 2005
The Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Missouri
It was September 21, 2003.
It was over two years ago.
It was the last time the Seattle Seahawks defeated the St. Louis Rams.
It was so long ago that in that 24-23 squeaker at Seahawks Stadium (yes, it was still named Seahawks Stadium then), two of the key plays were made by players no longer with the team: Koren Robinson (the game-winning three-yard TD catch from Matt Hasselbeck with one minute remaining) and Anthony Simmons (the interception of an attempted Marc Bulger pass to Dane Looker, which set up the game-winning drive).
Since that game, the Rams have beaten the Seahawks four consecutive times, including three times last year. Including the heartbreaking 33-27 loss at Qwest Field on October 10 of last year, when the Rams scored 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and the debilitating 27-20 loss in the January 8 wild-card playoff game.
The Rams had the Seahawks’ number, and everyone knew it.
Until today, when Seattle removed any doubt of their ability to compete with their most prominent division rival by pulling out a season-changing win. The Seahawks were able to do so without their starting two wide receivers, and with half of their starting secondary out for a great deal of this contest.
There was only one way the Seahawks could validate the theory some have put forth – that a renewed emphasis on character and toughness in the offseason will pay dividends on the field.
Beat the Rams.
If they couldn’t do that, nothing else mattered. If they could do that, everything would have changed.
A high-stakes game? You could say that…
Play Of The Day: It certainly wouldn’t take a brain surgeon to nominate the recovered Shaun McDonald punt return fumble with three minutes left in the game. The Seahawks were up six, and Mike Holmgren had just called three pass plays which resulted in two incompletions and a sack (running a total of 11 seconds off the clock). Tom Rouen punted from the Seattle 19-yard line, At the St. Louis 40, McDonald was stripped of the ball by safety Jordan Babineaux, the ball was recovered by center J.P. Darche, and the Seahawks had the ballgame.
Without that fumble? Given the recent history of this rivalry, the mind positively reels.
Runner-up: Lofa Tatupu’s interception of a Marc Bulger pass intended for Torry Holt. With eight minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Seahawks up 27-21, Bulger threw long and over the middle on 3rd and 15 from his own 19-yard line. Tatupu, playing in the nickel and regularly on third downs for the first time in his pro career, picked off the pass at the St. Louis 47 and ran to the Rams’ 44.
Handout To The Standout: Joe Jurevicius, for reaching career single-game highs in catches and yards. The magnitude of his accomplishments on this day was underlined by a simple and staggering fact – on the way to the Edward Jones Dome, the Seahawks’ team bus drove past the hospital where Jurevicius’ son, Michael William, died of a neurodegenerative disease in 2003.
There were several superlative Seahawk performances today, but I’m giving Joe J. his own trophy case for this game – he showed every bit of the toughness, savvy and ability in the clutch that made Seahawks President and General Manager Tim Ruskell sign him in the off-season. Ruskell knew well from their days in Tampa Bay that if Jurevicius could just stay healthy, he would add a new dimension to the offense. With 9 receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown in this game, Jurevicius validated every bit of faith in his ability.
Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: A large number of special-teams goofups…the annoying recurrence of the Robbie Tobeck Penalty Festival…the inexplicable pass-pass-sack playcall series late in the fourth quarter (yes, we can be happy with a win and still question the playcalling at times, thank you…)…and the truly frightening injury to Michael Boulware in the second quarter. Recent news has Boulware listed as okay, but the heart of every Seahawks fan was breaking when Boulware was placed upon a cart with a head restraint and wheeled off the field.
Offense: Down seven right from the start after the 99-yard Chris Johnson kickoff return that opened the game, Matt Hasselbeck set about the task of controlling his offense in hostile environs. He did so admirably from the start, completing 7 passes in 10 attempts for 116 yards and a TD in the first quarter alone, and 18 of 25 for 237 and 2 TDs at the half. He did all of this without Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram, his two top receivers, who were both out with injuries. Jurevicius and second-year man D.J. Hackett started in their places, and both men stepped up big-time. Hackett caught five balls for 43 yards, the first regular-season numbers of his career.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens chimed in with 3 catches for 65 yards, including a 29-yard TD reception in the first quarter, and Hasselbeck hit eight different receivers overall. Additionally notable was the brief return of the screen pass, as Shaun Alexander got three catches for 16 yards – not big numbers, but a necessary threat for opposing defenses to consider. Hasselbeck’s final numbers (27 of 38 for 316 yards, 2 TDs and no INTs) are all the more impressive, given the fact that he was starting out shorthanded.
The Rams were obviously keying on Alexander early, and it worked for a while. He ran 6 times for only 15 yards in the first quarter – but those 15 yards included a 1-yard touchdown run. By the half, he had 11 carries for 47 yards. But as Alexander is a patient runner, his coach must also show that patience. And as the Rams’ defense wore down and were forced to respect the pass in the second half, Alexander began gashing the line for consistently effective gains – especially in the fourth quarter, when he gained 52 yards on 9 carries. Given Mike Holmgren’s tendency to go pass-happy against the Rams, it was important that Shaun got his carries. Those 25 total carries for 119 yards on the ground (and most importantly, 2 touchdown runs!) gave the Seahawks the extra dimension they needed.
Defense: The Seahawks knew they’d be in a shootout today – what they certainly didn’t seem to expect was the extent to which the Rams would rely on the running game early on. Steven Jackson had 9 carries by the half and 17 total (for 77 yards) after getting only 10 carries last week in St. Louis’ disastrous implosion against the Giants. Jackson also caught 6 balls for 62 yards out of the backfield, indicating a more balanced attack predicated by Isaac Bruce’s injury absence. St. Louis was able to hit the ground running with fine down blocking – something they might have done well to stick to down the stretch.
Alas, these are the Rams, and they will only do smashmouth for so long. Marc Bulger was matching Hasselbeck bullet-for-bullet throughout the game – the difference in the end was Seattle’s more effective running game and the Bulger mistake to Tatupu. But this win did not come by stopping St. Louis’ aerial attack. Not in the least.
As expected, stopping Torry Holt was Job One…and that job was about as easy as it ever is. Holt torched Seattle’s undermanned secondary with 8 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. But after Andre Dyson’s first-quarter hamstring injury and Boulware’s second-quarter back scare, replacements Kelly Herndon, Jordan Babineaux and Marquand Manuel held up fairly solidly against the Rams’ combustible offense.
The main and most obvious issue was the amount of time Bulger had in the pocket for most of the day. The Seahawks picked up three sacks, but they were delicacies in a feast-or-famine scenario that featured far less blitzing than was seen against the Redskins last week. Where the Seahawks did get pressure was, in part, from rookie OLB Leroy Hill, who saw more time when D.D. Lewis left the game with an ankle injury. Hill has joined Tatupu as a first-year linebacker too good to bench or ignore.
Special Teams: Feast or famine, we were saying? We can talk about Seattle’s special teams. Set back by the aforementioned 99-yard opening kickoff return, the unit faced further adversity when Isaiah Kacyvenski was nailed with a holding penalty. However, Kacyvenski redeemed himself on Seattle’s first punt, a Rouen boomer from the Seattle 40, when he bombed returner Terry Fair at the St. Louis 6-yard line.
This began a trend of disadvantageous field position for the Rams – they began five different drives from behind their own 20, and only scored on one of these drives – the 7-play, 82-yard TD journey which began late in the first quarter and ended three minutes later with a 25-yard TD pass from Bulger to Kevin Curtis. That score tied the game at 14, a sure indication of the importance field position played in this contest.
And in the end, any warts exhibited by the Seahawks in this game – from any player or unit - were not nearly enough to scuttle a gutsy, thrilling performance.
Summary: It was supposed to be different this year. That’s what we were told, weren’t we? With the departure of the Whitsitt regime and the christening of Ruskell, Inc., the focus would turn from undisciplined front-line talent with precious little depth to the intangible abilities that determine and define the NFL’s upper echelon.
In truth, we wouldn’t really know the effects of the Seahawks’ new paradigm until we saw the results of this game. Though there are still ghosts in the machine, this Seahawk team has taken a crucial, enormously important, step toward a brighter, better future.
This may have been the most important Week Five game in the history of this franchise – and it finally found the Seahawks on the right side of the equation.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.