ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Every unanswered question that faced the Seattle Seahawks as they headed into their regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills, every doubt and uncertainty that had been raised was greeted with an unwelcome response at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
In the first game of Mike Holmgren’s last season as coach, the Seahawks looked overmatched and overwhelmed, dropping a disheartening 34-10 decision to the Bills that exposed every weakness the Seahawks thought they could mask with either youthful exuberance or unrealistic hope.
A restructured offensive line? It continued to have difficulties either opening holes or protecting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was sacked five times.
A revamped running game? Neither Maurice Morris nor Julius Jones found any degree of success against a Bills defense that went through a distinct upgrade in the offseason, the two combining to gain a mere 76 yards.
And the passing game the Seahawks relied on last season to carry them to their fourth consecutive division title? A shell of itself – dropped passes and miscommunication contributed to Hasselbeck completing just 17 of 41 passes for 190 yards – searching for positives to build on.
Even a highly touted defense that returned all 11 starters was subject to some criticism. Sloppy tackling and missed assignments led to 338 yards by a Bills offense that, while respectable, does not rank among the best in the league.
Worst was Seattle’s special teams unit, which relinquished a punt return for a touchdown, a fake field goal for another, fumbled a kickoff return to set up a third and got poor punting from Ryan Plackemeier that gave away field position all afternoon.
It was only the second season-opening loss for Seattle in the past six years, but the 24-point deficit was the franchise’s worst since a 41-3 loss to the New York Jets to open 1997.
“Maybe we thought we were pretty good and we thought we could just go out there and play,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. “But it takes a lot more than that to win in this league.”
The Seahawks may have to move forward at least temporarily without the services of starting split end Nate Burleson or Morris. Both suffered sprained knees. Holmgren said magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests today will help determine the length of time they will miss.
The loss continued a disturbing trend in which the Seahawks (0-1) seem incapable of performing well in a game three time zones away. The Seahawks were 1-4 last season in the Eastern Time Zone, 1-1 the season before.
Though they came in two days early and changed some routines, they still were lethargic and ineffective through the early portions of the game.
Neither Rocky Bernard nor Jordan Babineaux were available for the game, suspended by the league But that will be a footnote in history for this beatdown; neither would have made the slightest difference, not with the myriad struggles that enveloped each unit.
“It is not exactly how we expected to perform today,” Hasselbeck said.
General manager Tim Ruskell was taking a calculated risk when he allowed receiver D.J. Hackett to leave in free agency, particularly when he knew that Deion Branch would miss part of this season with a knee injury. Ruskell said he had to trust his instincts that his young receivers were full of usable qualities.
But when Bobby Engram went out early in training camp with a shoulder injury, it left Seattle grasping.
Inexperience came back to haunt the Seahawks under the gray skies of upstate New York on Sunday. Starting flanker Courtney Taylor was unable to get sufficiently free or hold onto the ball. Everybody else lacked the ability to offer Hasselbeck a regular target.
Holmgren wanted to establish the passing game to open up space for the running game, but when that failed there was little to turn to.
“It might take us a while to look as smooth as we would like, but we kind of know that,” Holmgren said. “Unfortunately, you go against a good team … it’s exaggerated a little bit. Clearly our inexperience in certain areas showed.”
The Bills (1-0) took a 7-0 lead when Plackemeier’s poor punting gave Buffalo the ball at midfield late in the first quarter. Four plays later, Marshawn Lynch ran in a draw play from 21 yards.
In the second quarter, Plackemeier finally got off a good punt, but Roscoe Parrish avoided Logan Payne, darted down the right side, dashed across the middle of the field, broke a few tackles and sprinted into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Many times last season, Hasselbeck would gather his teammates in such a dire situation and lead a determined comeback.
But it does not appear as if this version of the Seahawks has that same ability. There were too many youngsters concerned more with the basics of the game than with becoming a hero.
“What I’d like to do is learn from this game,” Holmgren said. “For our young guys in particular, maybe in the long run it’ll be the best thing that could have happened to us – as strange as that sounds.”
HOLMGREN’S SEATTLE OPENERS
Sunday’s 34-10 loss against Buffalo made coach Mike Holmgren 5-5 in season openers with the Seahawks. A closer look at how the Seahawks have fared in their openers with Holmgren, who will retire at the end of the season:
YEAR OPPONENT RESULT
2008 at Bills L, 34-10
2007 Buccaneers W, 20-6
2006 at Lions W, 9-6
2005 at Jaguars L, 26-14
2004 at Saints W, 21-7
2003 Saints W, 27-10
2002 at Raiders L, 31-17
2001 at Browns W, 9-6
2000 at Dolphins L, 23-0
1999 Lions L, 28-20