Notebook: Facing Playoff Intensity


Posted Dec 26, 2006


The Seahawks seemed to play with more emotion Sunday than they had in some recent games. Perhaps the AFC-leading Chargers gave the Seahawks extra incentive. Whatever the reason, Seattle will need more of the same heading into the playoffs.

"We battled hard," coach Mike Holmgren said following the 20-17 defeat at Qwest Field. "I was much more impressed with how we played than the last couple weeks."

Seattle led the Chargers, 17-13, in the final minute. A blown coverage allowed San Diego to score the winning touchdown with 29 seconds remaining. Players took the loss hard even though Holmgren found some silver linings.

"There is no question that we're very upset about losing the game," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "There are guys that were crying in the locker room. People are really upset because we put a lot of energy and effort into this, and we have a lot of pride and I feel we have a lot of character."

That character hasn't always shone through on the field. The team was happiest Sunday about getting its ground game going against a solid San Diego defense. Running back Shaun Alexander finished with 140 yards on 31 carries. He scored on touchdown runs of 33 and nine yards.

"This is the healthiest that both Matt and I have been, and this is the first time the line understood their roles," Alexander said. "I think you saw our team. We fought tooth and nail. The weeks before, I don't think we were a good team. I think that we didn't act like a good team. I think that any team could have beaten us."

Seattle's defense has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks despite a few lapses. Young quarterbacks Alex Smith (49ers) and Philip Rivers (Chargers) struggled for long stretches before making plays late in games. At some point Seattle will need its own passing game to make things easier on its defense, particularly late in games.

The question now is whether Seattle can get things going in time to make another playoff push. The team has already clinched its third consecutive NFC West championship. A first-round home game awaits.

"I'm happy in some respects," Hasselbeck said, "because I feel at times that we were starting to play our brand of football.

"We're just not playing our best. It will come ... I hope it will come in time."

NOTES, QUOTES

--SS Michael Boulware broke down in the locker room after the Seahawks' 20-17 defeat Sunday. His error had allowed the Chargers to score the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left.
Coaches, teammates and even front-office people stopped by his locker to offer words of encouragement. Boulware composed himself and took responsibility for his error while answering reporters' questions.

He has endured a difficult season that saw coaches bench him after six games because Boulware kept giving up big pass plays. Boulware was back in the starting lineup Sunday. "I'd have to say this is probably ... the hardest situation I've ever been through in my life," Boulware said. "But it's definitely not going to kill me. I'm going to learn from it. I'm going to bounce back."

--Qwest Field has a reputation as the toughest place in the NFL for visiting teams to play. Opponents have more false starts there than in any other stadium since the start of the 2005 season.
"It is a really, really tough to play in this stadium," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I always thought that Arrowhead was the toughest, but this place might be as tough as any I have been in. The sound just cascades down from the second level."

The Chargers were flagged for four false-start penalties. LaDainian Tomlinson egged on the crowd early in the game, but he quickly stopped once he heard how loud the place could get.
"It was so loud at times it was hard to even hear in the huddle," Tomlinson said.

Even the Chargers' defensive players had problems. "We were on the sidelines trying to get defensive plays and corrections and we couldn't hear each other talking," LB Shawne Merriman said. "We could only imagine the offense out there trying to make audibles and make things happen, but they couldn't because of the crowd."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--P Ryan Plackemeier had a 72-yard punt Sunday, coming within one yard of Rick Tuten's franchise record. Plackemeier has stepped up his game in the second half of the season.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck was far from perfect Sunday, but he can't catch the passes he throws. Four drops by Deion Branch contributed to the team's inability to get Hasselbeck into a rhythm. Hasselbeck also found himself under heavy pressure, taking six sacks.

--RB Shaun Alexander appeared to turn a corner Sunday in his return from a foot injury. He had racked up more yardage against Green Bay weeks earlier, but snowy conditions made that performance more difficult to judge. Rushing for 140 yards against the Chargers was more impressive. Alexander said he felt better than he has since suffering the injury early in the season.

--WR Bobby Engram participated in roughly 25 snaps Sunday, about five times as many as he got the previous week. Engram is returning from a thyroid condition. He seemed to play well Sunday.

--DT Rocky Bernard played an outstanding game Sunday against the Chargers. He continues to fight through a foot injury, but he had extra down time before the San Diego game. The time helped him regain some of the form that made him a productive player in the past.

REPORT CARD VS. CHARGERS

PASSING OFFENSE: F --
WR Deion Branch dropped six passes. Seattle allowed six sacks. QB Matt Hasselbeck tossed two interceptions. Mike Holmgren's offense can't function very well with those numbers.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- No complaints here. RB Shaun Alexander ran hard and ran well against the Chargers. He had impressive touchdown runs of 33 and 9 yards as part of his 140-yard total. Seattle joined Denver as the only teams to top 150 yards rushing against the Chargers this season.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- Two plays ruined a near-perfect day of pass defense by Seattle. Both resulted in touchdowns. SS Michael Boulware blew the coverage on the Chargers' 37-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining. Allowing such a play was inexcusable in that situation given that San Diego needed a touchdown, not a field goal. All Boulware had to do was defend the end zone.

RUSH DEFENSE: C --
Seattle became the third team this season to keep LaDainian Tomlinson out of the end zone. The Seahawks allowed Tomlinson to break free for a 62-yard run in the second quarter. They were fortunate to have a facemask penalty wipe out what would have been a 48-yard touchdown run by Tomlinson in the third quarter. Other than those lapses, the Seahawks kept Tomlinson in check.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- A questionable holding call wiped out Nate Burleson's 96-yard kick return for a touchdown. Seattle had a few additional penalties on special teams and Burleson used poor judgment in when to field punts. On the up side, P Ryan Plackemeier came within a yard of the franchise record with a 72-yard punt.

COACHING: B -- The Seahawks were ready to play. They stuck with the running game and it paid off. Holmgren and the offensive staff put receivers in position to make big plays. It wasn't their fault that Deion Branch dropped four passes. Holmgren also successfully challenged a crucial ruling that would have given San Diego possession in Seattle territory had the play stood. The defensive plan made sense, but coaches paid a heavy price for leaving Boulware on the field when the Chargers basically had to score a long touchdown pass to win the game. Boulware has been a liability in pass coverage all season.



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