The Seattle Seahawks caravan pulling coach Mike Holmgren toward retirement has careened onto the side of the road, tires wobbly, injured bodies littering the surrounding environs.
And the Seahawks have not even completed 15 percent of the trek.
Seattle’s 33-30 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers on a brilliant Sunday afternoon at Qwest Field certainly left a sense of impending doom after the Seahawks dropped the first two games of the season for the first time since 2002.
When San Francisco kicker Joe Nedney redeemed his missed 41-yarder at the end of regulation with a 40-yarder on the only possession of overtime, it seemed to strip the Seahawks of the dominant aura they had built over the past four seasons.
They no longer possessed that undeniable swagger of self-confidence, relinquishing an early 14-0 lead, losing at home to a team they swept last season, had defeated eight of the prior 10 times they played and was using a journeyman quarterback.
They no longer looked like the most dominant team in the NFC West, dropping two games behind the undefeated Arizona Cardinals, falling into the basement with the St. Louis Rams, next week’s opponent – who no longer are a guaranteed panacea.
And they certainly don’t convey the air of supremacy required to make Holmgren’s final coaching season a memorable one, at least not in a positive sense.
“I’m surprised,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I’m surprised, stunned, angry.”
Of course, some of this dreariness is not of their own doing, unfortunate circumstances coalescing in a dizzying spate of injuries.
Already short-handed at the wide receiver position, the Seahawks learned just before the game that backup quarterback Seneca Wallace had pulled a calf muscle and was unable to participate.
It was a significant occurrence because Holmgren had planned to use Wallace extensively in the game plan, employing him at split end, rotating him in with starter Logan Payne.
As it turned out, the Seahawks did not have Payne’s services for long either. On the first play of Seattle’s second series, Payne caught a pass, was hit low by former Washington Huskies cornerback Dashon Goldson and suffered a torn ligament in his knee, lost for the game and perhaps for the season. He joins Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and Ben Obomanu as receivers sidelined by injuries.
“It was just a bad thing all around,” Payne said afterward, standing on crutches and wearing a bulky knee brace. “It seems like we have the injury bug – to say the least.”
That left the Seahawks with only three wide receivers, including newly signed Billy McMullen, who just last week was sitting on his couch at home in Richmond, Va., watching the Washington Redskins. Holmgren had not even planned on using McMullen and rookie Michael Bumpus, who was activated from the practice squad on Saturday.
The injuries drastically curtailed the range of plays Holmgren could call – he couldn’t employ his four-receiver sets – and seemed to shake Hasselbeck’s assertiveness with his throws. The 10-year vet appeared uncomfortable with so many new and unproven targets.
But there were other parts of the game that left the Seahawks with no excuses.
For instance, the interception Hasselbeck threw that was popped into the air by Walt Harris, picked off by Patrick Willis and returned 86 yards for a touchdown that tied the score at 20.
Or the interception Hasselbeck threw on Seattle’s ensuing possession. It led to a Frank Gore touchdown that gave San Francisco (1-1) a 27-20 lead.
Or the fumble McMullen lost in the second quarter as he fought to get into the end zone after a catch. It cost the Seahawks at least a field goal and possibly a touchdown.
There were the 10 penalties assessed on the Seahawks for 75 yards, including one pass interference call in the end zone on Kelly Jennings that negated an interception by Deon Grant.
Perhaps most telling, however, was that Seattle’s defense relinquished 365 yards to San Francisco, one of the most anemic offenses in the NFL last season.
Despite getting sacked eight times, J.T. O’Sullivan completed 20 of 32 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown, posting a 106.4 passer rating.
Did we mention that O’Sullivan was making only his second career start? Yet he became the first San Francisco quarterback in four years to throw for more than 300 yards.
“We gave up some plays that we normally don’t give up,” said cornerback Marcus Trufant, wearing a cast to protect a broken bone in his left hand suffered last week in practice.
Perhaps most disconcerting was that the defense could not assert itself when it most needed to. After Nedney missed at the end of regulation, the Niners won the coin toss and took the ball.
San Francisco proceeded to piece together a nine-play drive that took the Niners from their 20 to Seattle’s 23. The biggest play was O’Sullivan’s 33-yard pass to Isaac Bruce on third-and-7, beating Josh Wilson.
Given a second chance, Nedney split the uprights – and in the process raised more than a few immediate concerns about the viability of Seattle’s season.
“I’m not comparing us to the New York Giants, but they did start 0-2 last year, didn’t they?” Lofa Tatupu asked rhetorically. “We have hard workers and we know we will come in tomorrow and get down to it. This is unacceptable.”