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Much more coverage in the paper tomorrow and online, but here are the 3,000 words I filed tonight …
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
TAMPA, Fla. – The Seattle Seahawks held the football for 37 minutes Sunday during a 23-7 victory over Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium.
They might need more of the same to protect a banged-up secondary when the Dallas Cowboys visit Qwest Field for a wild-card playoff game Saturday night at 5.
The Seahawks improved their record to 9-7 at a heavy price. They lost two more cornerbacks to injury, leaving rookie Kelly Jennings and former starting strong safety Jordan Babineaux as the only corners on the roster with recent starting experience.
And yet the feeling among players was that Seattle had finally rediscovered its winning formula.
“We feel like the tide is starting to turn for us,” running back Shaun Alexander said. “We were happy to be able to win and the defense is really starting to come together and they’re playing well the last two weeks, so this is a good time for us.”
The offense sustained drives Sunday and scored points despite a few red-zone flubs. The defense forced turnovers without allowing long plays late in the game. And the special teams maintained favorable field position much of the way.
“I thought our guys played very well given the circumstances surrounding the game,” coach Mike Holmgren said.
The outcome had no bearing on Seattle’s playoff position. The Seahawks knew that coming into the game, but Holmgren wanted his starters to finish the season strong. The team had lost three consecutive games and the offense hadn’t generated consistency.
“Our record isn’t what we had hoped, to be honest with you,” Holmgren said. “But there’s something about 9-7 being a lot better that 8-8, even though it’s only one game.
“And the players feel that, and I think the organization does, so now we start our new season, as I told the players.”
Matt Hasselbeck completed 58.6 percent of his passes, slightly below the 60 percent goal set by Holmgren. But sacks (one) and interceptions (zero) were down markedly from recent games, and Hasselbeck’s passer rating (93.5) exceeded 90 for the third time in his last nine starts.
Hasselbeck’s five-yard scoring pass to D.J. Hackett gave Seattle a 17-7 lead heading into halftime.
Alexander carried 28 times for 92 yards, numbers that suffered from Holmgren’s decision to remove him from the game late, after the Bucs’ defense had worn down.
Seattle held the ball for the final 9:33, with Alexander carrying three times for 18 yards before Maurice Morris finished up. Morris gained 14 yards on the Seahawks’ final three handoffs.
“They did a good job of extending drives,” defensive end Bryce Fisher said of the offense. “I was talking to (tight end) Jerramy Stevens at half: ‘We need a couple of six- or seven-minute drives from you because that will wear them out.’ “
The Seahawks held the ball for 22 of 28 plays in the third quarter, holding the ball for nearly 13 minutes. The quarter ended during a 14-play, 65-yard drive to a 23-yard field goal for a 23-7 lead.
“We took a couple of tough losses the last three weeks and we wanted to come in and get a little momentum before the postseason,” linebacker Julian Peterson said. “It’s good to see the offense click.
“They were a little upset with the way they’ve been playing for the most part. I’d rather they hit their stride now than at the beginning of the year.”
The Seahawks scored in each quarter for the third time this season. They finished with 28 first downs, within one of the season high they set against Green Bay. They set a season high in time of possession.
The Seahawks scored rushing and passing touchdowns in the same game for the second time since Sept. 24. They carried the ball 42 times, second-most this season. They converted 57 percent of their third-down chances, ending a 10-game streak below 50 percent.
They allowed one sack after giving up 12 in the previous three games. And the defense allowed one touchdown in three red-zone chances after yielding six in eight chances over the previous three games.
While the Seahawks aren’t back to the form that carried them to the Super Bowl last season, at least they’re closer.
“Last year’s team was a lot different because we knew across the board we were going to be better athletically than the teams we played,” Fisher said. “And we knew which 11 guys were going to play snap in and snap out.
“This year, a lot of guys have had to step into roles they weren’t expecting early in the year. It’s a growing process for our team.”
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
TAMPA, Fla. – Joey Galloway caught eight passes for 118 yards and a touchdown against his former team.
He topped 1,000 yards receiving for the second consecutive season. He made a leaping grab for a 44-yard gain. But it wasn’t enough to make his Tampa Bay Buccaneers competitive during a 23-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Raymond James Stadium.
“Right now, that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me,” Galloway said of the individual stats. “The season is over and everyone is a little disappointed right now because we feel like we had the talent to win more games and we just didn’t play well enough.”
The afternoon was consistent with Galloway’s career: long on individual success, short on victories. After 12 seasons, he has 612 receptions, two winning seasons, two playoff games and no playoff victories. His teams have finished 4-12 (this season), 5-11 four times, 7-9 once, 8-8 three times, 9-7, 10-6 and 11-5.
Galloway helped the Bucs reach the playoffs last season, but a first-round loss to Washington prevented Tampa Bay from visiting Seattle in the divisional round. The 2006 Bucs suffered from quarterback problems.
“I’m very disappointed we didn’t win more games,” Galloway said. “I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to improve and come back, and hopefully try it again next year, try to reach more of our goals.”
Boulware makes amends
Seahawks strong safety Michael Boulware bounced back from a difficult week with a 32-yard fumble return in the second quarter.
“It just feels good to help my team out,” Boulware said. “I’ve been the cause of a lot of bad things, and to help out and maybe do something good feels good.”
Boulware’s coverage lapse helped San Diego throw the winning 37-yard touchdown pass last week. The Seahawks are counting on him to play better heading into the playoffs, particularly with three cornerbacks recovering from injuries.
“Playoffs is a new season and it’s the most important part,” Boulware said. “You’ve gotta clear your mind and prepare for it, but at the same time, know what you did wrong because you know the other teams are going to try to capitalize on it.”
Peterson gets 10th sack
Linebacker Julian Peterson had been stuck on nine sacks for nearly a month. He collected No. 10 with an assist from Bryce Fisher, who appeared to hold one of the Bucs’ offensive linemen.
“Bryce did a good job of containing the tackle, holding him up, and I just came off the edge,” Peterson said.
Peterson is the first Seattle player since John Randle in 2001 to finish with double-digit sacks. Randle had 11.
Alexander keeps streak alive
Shaun Alexander’s longest run Sunday covered 10 yards. That gave him 64 consecutive games with at least one run that long.
Alexander finished the season with 252 carries for 896 yards and seven touchdowns. He missed six games to injury.
Plackemeier finishes strong
Rookie punter Ryan Plackemeier finished the season with a 45-yard gross and 37.3-yard net average. He also drew a penalty for running into the punter, helping Seattle run out the clock late in the game.
Plackemeier finished the season with 15 touchbacks, but only five in the last eight games. Seattle downed 24 of his punts inside the 20, including 14 in the last eight games.
The rookie might owe the improvement to a change in his technique. He started turning the nose down on punts from midfield and closer, producing backspin designed to stop the ball short of the goal line.
“Darren Bennett brought it into the league and about 10 guys use it now,” Plackemeier said. “You can only kick it 40, 45 yards at best, so it helps you control distance. The team is covering it well. It has definitely helped my game a lot.”
Brown becomes Mr. Touchback
Kicker Josh Brown gained acclaim for kicking four game-winning field goals in the final minute this season.
He also enjoyed a career season on kickoffs. Brown had three more touchbacks Sunday, giving him 12 for the season. That matches his total for touchbacks in three previous NFL seasons.
Fans showered veteran Bucs fullback Mike Alstott with applause in what might have been his final game.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Alstott said. “I love all the fans and everybody that has supported my career and that has been behind me. Thank you. I just want to say thank you over and over again.”
The Seahawks greeted Alstott much more harshly, holding him to four yards on six carries.
“It was just a frustrating game overall, a frustrating year,” Alstott said. “I wish we would have ended it, obviously, a little bit better, like we did in the last two weeks, and it just didn’t happen.”
Alstott said he wasn’t sure if he would retire.
GAME IN REVIEW
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
Sunday – The Seahawks ended a three-game losing streak with a 23-7 victory over Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium.
Where they stand – The NFC West champions finished the regular season with a 9-7 record, their sixth winning record in eight seasons under coach Mike Holmgren.
A look ahead – NFC East runnerup Dallas (9-7) visits Qwest Field for a wild-card game Saturday at 5 p.m. on NBC.
Key play – Matt Hasselbeck’s 21-yard pass to D.J. Hackett on third-and-18 moved Seattle into position for a key second-quarter touchdown as the Seahawks built a 17-7 lead. The play came immediately after an instant-replay reversal had threatened to turn momentum against Seattle by wiping out Hasselbeck’s 32-yard scoring pass, also to Hackett.
Best play – Hackett’s diving 26-yard grab in the first quarter set up the team’s first touchdown drive. Hackett beat CB Juran Bolden off the line. Bolden probably prevented a touchdown by shoving Hackett. Instead of settling for the illegal-contact penalty, Hackett stayed with the play and dove for the ball.
Worst play – Seahawks CB Kelly Herndon suffered a broken ankle while defending a 44-yard pass from Tim Rattay to Joey Galloway. The play ended Herndon’s season while setting up the Bucs’ only touchdown.
Star of the game – Hackett. Galloway caught eight passes for 118 yards, but Hackett made difficult catches that helped his team win. He caught four passes for 63 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with a groin injury. Replays suggested he arguably should have received credit for catching the ball on the play referee Jerome Boger reversed.
Personnel notes – TE Will Heller, formerly of the Bucs, made a few effective blocks while replacing veteran FB Mack Strong in spot duty. … RG Chris Gray was inactive with a thigh injury, ending his franchise-record streak of 121 consecutive regular-season starts. Floyd Womack replaced him and appeared to wear down in the heat. … The Bucs ran effectively to the outside more than once when DE Darryl Tapp was in the game for starter Grant Wistrom. … Depth problems at cornerback led Seattle to play its base defense at times against the Bucs’ three-receiver sets. Tampa Bay stuck with its two-back, two-tight-end offense on first down until late in the game. … LB Kevin Bentley played extensively after Leroy Hill suffered a concussion. … C Robbie Tobeck was active for the first time since midseason. He did not play.
Medical report – CB Kelly Herndon suffered a broken ankle. CB Jimmy Williams suffered a knee injury of unknown severity. LB Leroy Hill suffered a concussion. None returned to the game. Herndon’s season is finished. Williams’ status was not yet known. Starting CB Marcus Trufant, who suffered an ankle injury last week, was inactive. His availability remains in doubt.
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
TAMPA, Fla. – Hot and muggy conditions masked another potential source of Tim Ruskell’s prolific perspiration Sunday.
The Seattle Seahawks’ second-year president might just as well have been pondering the team’s situation at cornerback.
And he was.
Ruskell, decked out in a suit jacket despite temperatures above 80, had much work to do following a 23-7 victory over Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium. His team lost two more cornerbacks to injury, leaving the team in a desperate situation as the playoffs approach.
“We have to be prepared to do something,” Ruskell said. “We’ll take care of that (Monday).”
The Dallas Cowboys visit Qwest Field in a wild-card game Saturday at 5 p.m.
The Seahawks were already without starting right corner Marcus Trufant heading into the Tampa Bay game. He suffered a high ankle sprain the previous week, threatening his season.
Starting left corner Kelly Herndon left the game Sunday with a broken ankle. His season is finished. Herndon’s replacement, Jimmy Williams, left the game with a knee injury of unknown severity.
Those injuries left Seattle with rookie Kelly Jennings and former starting strong safety Jordan Babineaux on the corners. Seattle remained in its base defense against three-receiver sets, but the Bucs still struggled to capitalize.
“The biggest thing was rotating us on special teams,” Babineaux said. “With the heat, that played a big part in it, too, and the fatigue. We just rotated each other around and stuck together. They put four receivers out there and we only had two corners.”
Beyond Babineaux and Jennings, newly signed Rich Gardner was the only other corner on the Seattle roster. He was not active for the game.
Jennings, Babineaux, free safety Ken Hamlin, strong safety Micheal Boulware, backup strong safety Oliver Celestin and Gardner are the only healthy defensive backs.
There was talk in the locker room that linebacker Julian Peterson might have to serve as the nickel corner against Dallas in a wild-card game Saturday at Qwest Field.
“He can play on the inside,” Babineaux said. “I believe he could.”
The Seahawks will presumably sign a veteran off the street. Mike Rumph, recently released by Washington, is one veteran available.
Babineaux has experience at corner. He started the final four games at the position last season.
“I’ve been playing the nickel and the dime and so it has helped me to continue to better my cover skills,” Babineaux said.
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
TAMPA, Fla. – Seattle Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck has a message to the countless well-wishers who approached him in recent weeks.
“That meant a lot to me,” Tobeck said Sunday following the Seahawks’ 23-7 victory over Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium.
Tobeck was active Sunday for the first time since doctors diagnosed a debilitating infection in his hip more than a month ago. The hip abscessed and Tobeck lost roughly 25 pounds. He remains close to 10 pounds underweight, but doctors cleared him to return Friday.
Tobeck had roughly 90 minutes to gather his belongings and prepare for the trip to Tampa. His wife threw together an overnight bag and rushed it to team headquarters in time for Tobeck to catch one of the team charter buses to Boeing Field.
“She did a good job packing,” Tobeck said. “I think I might try to get her to pack from now on.”
Tobeck hopes he has reason to pack his bags for another away game. Chris Spencer is the favorite to start the team’s wild-card playoff game Saturday against Dallas. Coach Mike Holmgren will make the decision after watching Tobeck practice this week.
“The whole time, I was just thinking it would just be fun to run out from the tunnel in front of the home crowd one more time,” the 36-year-old veteran said. “Every time I went to grocery store or restaurant or whatever, they came up to me saying, ‘Hey, we’re praying for you, you’re in our thoughts, we hope you get better.
“That meant a lot to me.”
Tobeck started 88 consecutive regular-season games before falling ill near midseason. Doctors suspected a flu-type ailment in the beginning. Headaches, fever and night sweats raised suspicions.
“I’d go home from practice and go to bed at 7 and I didn’t even practice – I was just standing there,” Tobeck said. “I would be exhausted. I’ve never been like that.”
Additional tests showed the infection.
“If it had went another couple days, who knows?” Tobeck said. “It scared me a lot. As a football player, I’ve always considered myself a tough guy. And that was the scary thing: It wasn’t something I could just say, ‘I’m going to fight through it and be tough about it.’
“It floored me. … It doesn’t matter what is going on in your life or what you got or who you are. Something crazy out of the blue can just take you down.”
The Seahawks were happy to have Tobeck back on the sideline, among other places.
“It was loud at snack last night,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “Our team meal has been kind of quiet. Tobeck was back, so there was a lot of laughing. The o-line sat together at the table again.
“It’s nice. For some reason, he just brings everybody together that way.”