All you need to know about the state of the Seattle Seahawks right now is that after quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw four passes caught by Tampa Bay defenders on Sunday, head coach Jim Mora passed the buck.
Hasselbeck’s dog-day afternoon can be simply explained. He tried too hard to make things happen with the offense, which resulted in nothing much happening – again – with the offense. Hasselbeck obviously has had better games; it would be more accurate to point out he’s had a game as bad as Sunday’s only once, five years ago, when the Cardinals picked him off four times in Arizona.
“It’s something I have to fix,” said Hasselbeck. “That’s what I’ll do. I have to be better for my teammates. I feel like I let a lot of people down today. It’s my fault, it’s on me, and I’ll improve.”
Hasselbeck’s field-leader mentality found him volunteering responsibility for the 24-7 defeat, even though the clunker was a collaborative effort that included everything from an unplayable snap on a Seahawks field-goal attempt to the defense’s apparent failure to recognize that action had resumed after Seattle called time out to prepare for a Tampa Bay two-point conversion.
When a time out is called to put a defense in place – and the defense essentially stands still as the quarterback trots into the end zone – it’s a sign the coaches are failing to communicate with the players.
But unlike his quarterback, the head coach was reluctant to assume accountability.
“We were a four-win team last year,” Mora said. “Let’s not lose track of that, folks. We were a four-win team last year …
“We’re at a stage of trying to build something that was broken, and it’s not easy.”
The implication of having inherited a flawed team echoed a tone Mora took last Wednesday, when he spoke of the Seahawks’ reputation in recent years as a group disinclined to fight back once it has been punched. And though he emphasized his reflections weren’t intended to be critical of former head coach Mike Holmgren, how else were we supposed to interpret Mora’s point?
The Seahawks, Mora was saying, have been seen around the league as emotional lightweights who can be bullied. Well, the Seahawks were coached by Holmgren for 10 years. Between 1999 and 2002, the assembly of their roster was overseen by Holmgren. Logical deduction: Mike Holmgren didn’t recognize the virtue of toughness on a football field.
Just because Mora doesn’t care to connect the dots is no reason the rest of us can’t.
Mora’s rant on Sunday – “we’re at a stage of trying to build something that was broken, and it’s not easy” – didn’t specifically target Holmgren or former general manager Tim Ruskell. But, again, Mora was dodging responsibility for this season – six defeats by margins of 17 points or more – with his suggestion that the guy in the driver’s seat was given the keys to a lemon.
“We have what we have,” he said. “We are what we are right now, and we’re going to continue to work and try to improve. That’s really all I can say right now.”
No it wasn’t. Mora had only just begun to talk.
“How’d you like Kelly Jennings long snapping?” he asked, referring to an improbable substitution the Seahawks were forced to make in the fourth quarter, when Jennings, a tiny (by NFL standards) cornerback, was called upon to replace the injured long-snapper Kevin Houser.
“Goodness sakes,” Mora continued, “it is an exasperation to believe that we could actually be at the point where our backup right corner is long snapping for us. I say to myself, ‘How did this happen?’ Our backup long snapper is Kelly Jennings. You can draw your own conclusions from that statement right there.”
Fair enough. My conclusion is that it’s the third week in December, and if the head coach was worried about a having to summon a backup cornerback as his injury-replacement long snapper, the third week in December is a little late to go public with that concern.
“You try to develop guys, but quite frankly, he’s our best option,” said Mora. “I was very reluctant to punt again because I didn’t want them to just tee off on him. You know, he’s 172 pounds dripping wet. Not your prototypical long snapper in the National Football League. God forbid if we would have had to try a field goal.”
God forbid if the pitfalls of inserting a 172-pound cornerback into the middle of the line were just occurring to Jim Mora. If Jennings is your best option, but you’re so worried the other team will tee off on him that the possibility of a field-goal attempt is almost unthinkable, then here’s an idea: Have another option.
It’s easy to be critical of Mora, but it’s just as easy to root for his success. He’s courteous and approachable; even after the Seahawks reached their season nadir by losing to a team that showed up in Qwest Field with a 1-12 record, Mora’s demeanor was utterly professional.
And when it comes to a coach straying from status-quo observations and speaking with candor, Mora presents the most original sound bites in Seattle since George Karl was breaking down the Sonics.
But Mora’s insinuation that the five-win Seahawks of 2009 somehow are related to the four-win Seahawks of 2008 is ill-advised. Last year had nothing to do with the hopeless Bucs outscoring the Hawks, 21-0, in the second half. Last year had nothing to do with the embarrassing defeats at Dallas (38-17), at Minnesota (35-9) and at Houston (34-7).
The Seahawks were beaten in every phase on Sunday, and yet afterward, it was the quarterback who took all the blame and the head coach who pointed elsewhere.
Shouldn’t it be the other way around?