After Friday's practice, and still in the glow of his team's 23-20 Sunday night win over the Denver Broncos, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren gave game balls to three players (receivers Nate Burleson and Darrell Jackson, and kicker Josh Brown) and a turkey to defensive tackle Russell Davis.
Yep. See, Davis had fallen for the oldest sports prank since Icy Hot in the jockstrap – the practice of sending rookies to a local market with the promise of free holiday turkeys. Of course, the "fowl" nature of the prank is that the free turkeys are nowhere to be found, and the market staff rather perplexed by the whole thing. Occasionally, veterans will fall for the line, and Davis, the former Bear and Cardinal in his eighth season, did so. “It was such an official letter, I just assumed it was real,” Davis told the team's official site about a poultry-pushing team missive. “Nobody said anything. I guess since I’m a veteran they didn’t think I would fall for it.”
Burleson's game ball came with another special surprise – on Thursday, he was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November. Burleson had 14 punt returns for 193 yards and an NFC-best 13.8-yard return average, including a 90-yard touchdown, and added five kick returns for 129 yards and a 25.8-yard return average during the month.
In a divisional showdown against St. Louis on November 12, Burleson averaged 31.7 yards per punt return, including a 90-yard touchdown, the second-longest in franchise history and the lone punt-return touchdown in the NFC during November.
In addition to his punt returns, Burleson returned five kickoffs for 129 yards (25.8 average), including a 45-yard return, in the Monday night contest against Green Bay in the Qwest Field snow.
For Holmgren, recognition of such accomplishments is always very important. "To acknowledge that in front of his peers, absolutely I want to do that," he said. "I think it is a great thing and he earned it. Even our game balls, they are hard to come by, we make it a little difficult to earn one of those and so I want to make a big deal of it. To me it is a big deal. We do that with anybody that has won one of those NFC awards. It wasn’t unique to Nate. Josh Brown had an award a couple weeks ago and if it happens, we will say it in front of the team.”
Still, with the Arizona Cardinals on the docket for Sunday, it's time to look ahead as well. The Seahawks can clinch their second straight NFC West championship, and the message to the players from their coach was simple – one goal at a time. “We haven’t really, people are talking about a lot of things, but we really haven’t reached our first goal yet," Holmgren said, when asked about what he told the team. "There are four games to go in the regular season, and we stay focused on the game at hand and then don’t worry about other things. Let's just play this game and then we will reevaluate after this game and after the next game and so on and so forth. There is too much speculation on where we are and where we’re headed and all that.
"I just want to think about how we have to play on Sunday.”
Will that message be repeated through the rest of the week? “It would be Saturday, Sunday, yeah, I think you talk about it and make sure that they know.”
As for the Cards, who will be hosting the Seahawks in their new hyper-engineered stadium in Glendale, a 3-9 record apparently belies a newly-reformed offense. For the first time all season, running back Edgerrin James gained over 100 yards in a game last week, and many pundits would have you believe that this is an indication that Dennis Green's might run the table - or at least play spoiler for a while. Never mind that James' performance came against the St. Louis Rams, whose run defense is 29th in the NFL in Football Outsiders' Defensive DVOA rankings.
Of course, Seattle's defense ranks 24th in that telling statistic, and a multitude of missed tackles points to the possibility of a repeat performance for James, if the Seahawks aren't careful. When asked about Arizona's supposedly reborn offensive line, Holmgren pointed to the team's overall performance. “Well, they have played better in the last few weeks," he said. "I think their whole team has played better. Every time we play them, it is a tough ballgame so we are not expecting anything less than that. They have big guys in the offensive line and I have said this before, continuity in the offensive line is huge. They have had to juggle some people around because of injury, not unlike our own situation, and then you’re not quite as comfortable with everything, and it takes its toll.”
Conversely, Arizona's run defense ranks 15th in DVOA against the run and 25th against the pass, intriguing numbers for a team playing from behind most of the time. Having a consistent fullback is important, and Mack Strong's ankle sprain (he was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report) has had Holmgren fitting tight end Will Heller into that position in practice at times, as he did during parts of the Denver game.
Still, having Strong in game form is important. “It’s good," Holmgren said about Strong's prognosis. "Hopefully he feels okay tomorrow. He practiced today and he said he felt okay during practice. He is one of our warriors and he makes a big difference when we have him.”
Heller has done well in a pinch, but Holmgren also said that the position really isn't transferable. "We try and do the same things, but Will is a tight end, he is not a fullback. He is kind of helping us get through a rough spot here, and he’s been doing it for about four weeks," Holmgren said. "He is such a good special teams player that we had to figure out another way to use him and he’s jumped in there and he does a pretty good job at full back really, but he is a tight end. He is a big, tall guy and it is tough to get leverage sometimes.”
Right tackle Sean Locklear, out for a month with an ankle sprain after sitting out a week with a league-mandated suspension, will return to the lineup on Sunday. Backup Tom Ashworth has done a reasonable job in Locklear's place, but the three-year veteran is a key part of Seattle's offensive line, and Holmgren will certainly welcome him back.
The final fourth of the 2006 season is upon us, and upon the Seahawks. Mike Holmgren has let his team know – (It's a one-month season now for playoff position, hopefully a home playoff game, maybe the 2-seed...)
Slow down. One goal at a time. Cardinals first, turkeys later.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.