It was a math refresher for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Oct. 10, when they learned the hard way that a record of three and a half wins and half a loss is rounded not to 4-0 but 3-1. Seldom have the locals dominated a good team the way the Hawks did the St. Louis Rams during the first half. But the Rams took over late in the game, amazing everybody but themselves, to pull even as time expired and then won in overtime 33-27. The loss didn't merely mean Seattle needs to wait at least another season to try to achieve that elusive 4-0 start. Much worse are a pair of obvious realities: One is that the club (8-0 at home last year) isn't invulnerable at Qwest Field anymore; the other is that the well-reported maturation of a team many project for the Super Bowl this season hasn't yet happened.
After the first half, a Rams triumph seemed about as likely as George W. Bush winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Even with six minutes left, the Hawks were leading their one serious division rival by a commanding 17 points. Memories, however, might have revealed that a Hawk win wasn't exactly in the bag. One needed only to hark back an hour and a half, when Seattle receivers started dropping balls (seven in all), stalling drives, and no doubt engendering yet less confidence from the National Football League's most forgiving quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck. Koren Robinson flubbed three, possibly because he insists on wearing a dark, translucent visor to help him see better. To paraphrase Dickens, isn't that kind of like trying to cure a headache with a guillotine?
But let's hark back even farther, to last year's certain victory in Baltimore that instead became the most frustrating Hawks loss of the regular season. The Rams game, a near duplicate, was worse than the Baltimore beating because it happened in front of a rabid home crowd certain of victory. How could anybody not be certain after the first 30 minutes Sunday? It's hard to overstate how strong the Hawks were during the first half. Coach Mike Holmgren indicated that even he seemed astonished by the ease with which his minions made it 24-7. He also seemed to foresee the possibility of a second-half disaster, telling a TV commentator before the third-quarter kickoff that he just wanted to get to the end of the game—to run out the clock, in the vernacular. Consequently, the second-half game plan became the proverbial playing to not lose instead of playing to win.
One good way to lose a comfortable lead, as we observed, is simply to quit playing offense the entire third quarter. Miss some easy opportunities and fail to convert on third down late in a game. With less than two minutes left in regulation, the Rams had long since burned their time-out allocation. With third down and 5 yards to go, with the clock running, all Seattle needed was that one first down to assure the victory. But it didn't happen, and thousands of Hawk partisans, many of them Halloween-ready in costumes that Oakland Raider fans would envy, shuffled to the parking lots in disbelief. The Rams had struck fast for 17 points in about five minutes. Rams QB Mark Bulger looked like a John Elway fourth-quarter highlight film—blurring memories of Seattle's early three interceptions (two by Ken Lucas), to say nothing of Shaun Alexander's stats (150 yards in 23 carries) and some superb grabs by Jerramy Stevens and Darrell Jackson. Hawk confidence was so obvious during the first half that the most audacious play (among many) came when Seattle faced third and 11 and a patent passing situation. Instead, Hasselbeck handed it off—to the fullback, yet—and Mack Strong rumbled for a 12-yard gain.
When all the world still thought Seattle would win, the hope and hype had the Hawks going into Foxboro, Mass., 4-0 on Sunday, Oct. 17, against a New England Patriots team that has won 19 straight games. It was going to be something like a vice-presidential-debate version of the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, a 3-1 Hawks club suddenly has 3-2 written all over it. Beating New England back there would amount to one of the major victories in the history of the franchise. Indeed, if the Hawks win, I'll eat Koren Robinson's translucent visor. (And if it would do any good, I might even eat it if they lose.)
One doesn't envy the tasks of the coaching staff this week. Holmgren, after the game, spoke of "two good teams battling it out," noting that obviously "we won the first half and they won the second." The Hawks still have to keep playing hard, "even though we're ahead" in such games, he said. As for the immediate future: "You can go into a shell or be honest about it, admit mistakes and fix it." Maybe somebody could arrange for Holmy to have a little chat with a certain G.W. "Mission Accomplished" Bush in that regard.