Glendale, Ariz. – Let the rebuilding begin in earnest for the Seattle Seahawks.
Faced with the uphill challenge of beating NFC West Division rival Arizona on its home field to hang on to a sliver of hope for the playoffs, the Seahawks fought gamely but ultimately were overpowered by a more talented team, losing 31-20 at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
With the loss, the Seahawks drop to 3-6 on the season and a full three games behind division leader Arizona (6-3). Essentially, the Seahawks are four games behind the Cardinals because Arizona swept the two-game season series against Seattle for a second straight season.
After a 4-12 campaign last season, the Seahawks appear headed for a second consecutive year out of the playoffs, which hasn’t happened for this franchise since the 2001-02 seasons.
Seattle’s four straight NFC West titles are clearly in the rear-view mirror, as the Cardinals proved again that the pendulum of power in the division has swung south to the desert.
The Cardinals have won six of the last seven against Seattle. The Seahawks have not won in Arizona since a 33-19 victory on Nov. 6, 2005, and are 0-4 in University of Phoenix Stadium.
Faced with those overwhelming statistics, Seahawks coach Jim Mora admitted the Cardinals are the better team right now, but also said his team’s goals, which included returning to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, remain the same.
“We’re not counting ourselves out of anything at this point,” Mora said. “We’re not readjusting our goals, other than the fact that we’ve got to continue to try and get better.
“I see growth on this football team. And I thought coming into this year that we would see growth, once we got some continuity. And now we’ve had some continuity and I think it showed up today offensively. We were able to move the ball against a very good defense.”
Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who completed 26 of 52 passes for 315 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, echoed Mora’s sentiments.
“I would expect that you wouldn’t notice anything different about our team because of the standings,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve got to do, but it is tough.”
With all five projected starters on the offensive line together for the first time this season, Seattle’s offense moved the ball with regularity against a physical Arizona defense, helping the Seahawks grab an early 14-0 lead.
The Seahawks exploited a surprisingly effective running game. In the first meeting against Arizona this season, a month ago in Seattle, the Seahawks rushed for a franchise-record low 14 yards.
Even with starter Julius Jones going out early with a broken rib, the Seahawks churned out 164 yards on 24 carries for a robust average of 6.8 yards per carry.
Backup Justin Forsett was the catalyst, finishing with 123 yards on 17 carries.
Forsett got Seattle on the board first, capping a six play, 99-yard drive with an 11-yard scamper for a score.
Forsett’s touchdown was set up by a 53-yard strike from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The duo hooked up nine times for 165 yards, showing an improved rapport.
Seattle made it 14-0 midway through the second half, with Hasselbeck finding tight end John Carlson on a third-and-1 play from Arizona’s 31.
The Cardinals quickly struck back, with quarterback Kurt Warner hitting Steve Breaston for a 28-yard score that cut the lead to 14-7.
The teams then traded field goals, and Seattle went into halftime ahead 17-10.
The Cardinals, who came into the game 1-3 at home this season, seemed to play with greater urgency in the second half.
Arizona took the opening kickoff and marched 82 yards on 13 plays, tying the game when bruiser Chris “Beanie” Wells bulled his way up the gut for a 10-yard touchdown run.
Seattle answered early in the fourth quarter with Olindo Mare’s 20-yard field goal. Houshmandzadeh had a chance for a touchdown on first down from the 12, but couldn’t grab the ball in the end zone.
He did, however, earn a pass interference call on Arizona cornerback Bryant McFadden, giving Seattle a first down at the 1. But when the Seahawks failed to punch it in they settled for a field goal.
The Seahawks could not match Arizona’s scoring prowess, finishing 1-of-4 in the red zone, while the Cardinals finished 3-of-5 inside the red zone.
“With the kind of offense they have, you’ve got to score touchdowns when you can,” Hasselbeck said. “And we didn’t do that.”
The Cardinals scored touchdowns on their next two drives to take a 31-20 lead.
Seattle moved the ball into Arizona territory two more times.but Hasselbeck was intercepted to end both drives – once by Antrel Rolle on Cardinals’ 17, and another by Adrian Wilson near the goal line on an attempted shovel pass – and Arizona simply ran out the clock.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437