Only five regular-season games have intervened since their last visit, but the Atlanta Falcons who visit CenturyLink Field will not recognize the Seattle Seahawks they face today.
For Seahawks fans, that’s probably a good thing.
It was Dec. 19, 2010 when the Falcons came in and dumped the struggling Seahawks 34-18 in a game that convincingly proved the need for a vast remodeling of the roster.
Ten Seattle starters (average age 30.4) from that day are gone, and their replacements (average age 25.2) contribute to the youth movement that gives the Seahawks the youngest starting 22 in the NFL.
“On the offensive side of the ball, it doesn’t have the same (look) at all in terms of personnel,” Falcons’ coach Mike Smith said. “It starts (with) a new quarterback, a new wide receiver ... the offensive line has been reworked – there’s only one player that we faced last year.”
The Falcons may have helped push long-time Hawk quarterback Matt Hasselbeck out of town.
Playing with a broken wrist and dubious offensive line, Hasselbeck reached bottom in that game, but it was after a steady decline that included 13 turnovers in a four-game stretch.
The game was tied at 10-10 before three Hasselbeck turnovers contributed to the Falcons scoring 24 straight points.
He was sacked in the end zone and lost a fumble for a Falcons’ score, and then threw two interceptions to hand over the ball to Atlanta on three consecutive possessions in the third period.
His passer rating was an atrocious 28.9, and amid fan chants of “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie,” Hasselbeck was relieved by backup Charlie Whitehurst. Although Hasselbeck came back strong in the postseason, and Seahawks’ management made initial contract offers to him, that loss proved to be his final regular season home start as a Seahawk.
Much of the responsibility for Hasselbeck’s bruised body and slumping body of work was the play of the linemen entrusted with his care. Aside from first-round rookie Russell Okung at left tackle, that line was filled with four guys now gone: Chester Pitts, Chris Spencer, Mike Gibson and Sean Locklear.
Pitts and Gibson are no longer playing; Locklear is with the Redskins but hasn’t played, and Spencer gained a starting position for the Bears because of injury.
Although Smith noted only the major changes on offense, there are five defensive starters gone, too, with another on the bench, and the change has created a much different look on that side.
Lofa Tatupu, Lawyer Milloy, Colin Cole, Junior Siavii and Kelly Jennings were released, and Aaron Curry benched. That defense saw Atlanta make nine third-down conversions while mustering only one sack of quarterback Matt Ryan.
“Last year was last year, and we did our share of the blunders that you do when you lose football games,” Hawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday when asked about the loss to the Falcons. “It almost always follows the football. If you turn the ball over or give it up, you put yourself in situations where you can’t win. So this will be extremely important this week that we take care of the ball and give ourselves the opportunity to be in this in the fourth quarter to see if we can finish it.”
People are divided in their early impressions of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, but I would be surprised if he finishes this game with a passer rating of 28.9. The young offensive line has struggled greatly at times, but I would not expect it to be less effective than last December’s.
Youth undoubtedly makes any team vulnerable to mistakes, but also carries prospects for improvement.
The Falcons are favored, but have to fly across the country and play in a wild stadium. They face Green Bay next week and might be tempted to look forward, especially when remembering the final score in last year’s win in Seattle.
All of which could make them ripe for a Seahawk upset. As you look down the schedule, wins will be hard to come by for them.
But in some ways the number of games the Hawks win this season may be less important in the long run than how much these young guys improve along the way.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 Dave.email@example.com