Scan the Qwest Field crowd at any Seattle Seahawks game and you’ll see fans holding signs with various messages.
Most are clever. Many are cruel.
During Sunday’s 24-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a boy held up a hastily made sign with a penetrating message.
It read: “All I want for X-mas is an offensive line.”
For the first half, there seemed to be hope. But after the second half, it appears he may have to wait until next December.
The Seahawks debuted a revamped offensive line that featured rookie Max Unger at center, former center Chris Spencer sharing right guard with Mike Gibson – who was picked up from the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad – and renewed hope they could protect quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The changes came following a disappointing performance last week against Houston, after which coach Jim Mora called out the offensive line.
“I’m not happy at all with the way our offensive line is playing,” Mora said after that loss.
He made good on his promise to make changes by moving Unger from guard to center, Spencer to guard and Gibson to the active roster. Mora then made headlines by asking for dirt bags.
“I’m talking about within the confines of those six seconds between the snap and the whistle, is a dirt bag,” Mora said Wednesday.
So, did he find dirt bags, or at least some productivity from the offensive line on Sunday?
“I sure felt good about it early, through the first half,” Mora said. “When you look at the numbers we put up, running the football and taking care of the quarterback, that’s what we were looking for.”
Unger, playing every snap at center, looked competent. There were no fumbled exchanges and snaps to Hasselbeck in shotgun formation were crisp.
“It was fine,” Unger said of his comfort level. “It shouldn’t be really that big of a deal.”
Unger played center at Oregon, so the position isn’t new to him. As for his performance, he wouldn’t critique it until he had a chance to watch game film.
“It’s pretty tough to watch film when you lose a game like that,” he said. “I don’t know. I’ll see tomorrow.”
Teammates were quick to praise Unger and Spencer.
“I think they both handled it very well,” left guard Rob Sims said. “I think they helped us in the long run the way they handled it last week. It’s been a tough week for all of five of us up front.”
Sims wouldn’t get specific about how the line played.
“You can’t say you played well because you have to watch film, but I feel like we played hard,” Sims said.
Running back Justin Forsett pointed to the 234 yards of total offense in the first half (118 rushing, 116 passing) and zero sacks allowed as a good sign.
“They did a great job,” he said. “They came in with a lot of fire, opened up some holes and reacted pretty quickly in the game.”
Gibson replaced Spencer for the second quarter. He was an aggressive run-blocker, possibly showing Mora the kind of “dirt bag” mind-set he wanted.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been able to get on the field and when I did it was really nice,” Gibson said. “I just had to get that first hit out of the way, and that was a lot of fun. I haven’t been able to hit somebody like that in a long time.”
With two games to go, the offensive line remains under scrutiny.
Early-season injuries to Spencer, Sean Locklear, Sims and Brandon Frye, along with the loss of perennial Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones, afforded the unit some leeway in performance. But now, with all but Jones back and healthy, Mora and his staff expect better execution and protection. The first half Sunday was a good step, but the second half was perhaps a setback.
With Dec. 25 approaching, that boy with the sign may not get his complete holiday wish, but maybe he’ll get part of it.