This is an unedited version of my game story for tomorrow's paper:
By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
PITTSBURGH – The Seattle Seahawks' rebuttal to their frustrating loss in the Super Bowl almost two years ago held about as much conviction as a parenting sermon from Britney Spears.
The Seahawks were thoroughly dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers in virtually every facet of the game Sunday afternoon, dropping a 21-0 decision before 64,478 Terrible Towel-waving fans at Heinz Field.
Look at the bright side: There was absolutely no debating the reasons for the outcome of this loss, the first time the Seahawks have been shut out since 2000 and which dropped the record to 3-2.
No, from the very start the Seahawks' offense looked discombobulated and the defense eventually succumbed to the withering heat and the Steelers' powerful attack, which held the ball more than twice as long as Seattle.
If Super Bowl XL had been this lopsided, there would have been very little to discuss after the fact.
"Oh man, it has been a while since we have been shut out," Walter Jones said. "Especially with this offense, it is kind of tough to see a zero on the board. That is pretty tough to take."
Coming into the game, the Seahawks certainly thought there would be a different outcome. Not only had they established confidence from their convincing victory over San Francisco last week, but the Steelers were without nose tackle Casey Hampton, safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Hines Ward and cornerback Bryant McFadden. And then, just before the game, wide receiver Santonio Holmes pulled a hamstring that prevented him from playing.
That mattered little, as it turned out. Seattle was so ineffective on this particular day that quarterback Matt Hasselbeck ended the game standing behind coach Mike Holmgren with a baseball cap pulled over his eyes while Seneca Wallace tried desperately to avoid Pittsburgh's oncoming pass rush.
Hasselbeck had been quite efficient through the first four weeks of the season, putting together the best passer rating of his career (100.1).
But from the very start it was apparent that Hasselbeck felt awkward. Five of Seattle's first six plays were passes, but Hasselbeck missed an open Maurice Morris on a fly pattern that would have resulted in a big gain and then to Nate Burleson in the left flat, which ended the drive.
He forced several throws into double coverage and was fortunate that he didn't have three or four interceptions. For the game, Hasselbeck was 13-for-27 for 116 yards, one very costly interception and a 44.7 passer rating. It was Hasselbeck's most modest production since the Seahawks defeated Philadelphia 42-0 on Dec. 4, 2005, a game in which he spent the final portions on the sideline.
Only, he enjoyed that ending. This one? Not so much.
"They kind of embarrassed us today," Hasselbeck said.
With Deion Branch leaving the game with a foot sprain and Hasselbeck unable to find his other receivers, there was no chance that Shaun Alexander was going to snap Pittsburgh's streak of keeping 29 consecutive backs from rushing for 100 yards.
Alexander rushed eight times for 15 yards in the first half, another three times for 10 yards in the second half, his lowest production since Nov. 17, 2002, when he had only 18 yards in a 31-9 loss to Denver.
"I can't make an excuse," Alexander said, "Pittsburgh played real well."
The teams played relatively evenly through most of the first half, with punters Ryan Plackemeier and Daniel Sepulveda getting the majority of the work.
But after Lofa Tatupu sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, leaving Pittsburgh with a second and 18 at its own 35, Najeh Davenport broke tackles by Deon Grant and Kelly Jennings to rumble for 45 yards, to Seattle's 20. Three plays later, Roethlisberger hit tight end Heath Miller for a 13-yard touchdown reception, Marcus Trufant slipping as he tried to break on the ball.
"I thought it was going to be whoever caught the first big play would have a huge advantage in the game," Holmgren said. "And they did."
The Seahawks had an opportunity to get some points in the closing minutes of the half, when Hasselbeck pieced together what would be Seattle's best drive of the day.
He hit Ben Obomanu for 30 yards. He threw to Marcus Pollard to 22 more, and got an additional 15 yards when Anthony Smith was called for roughing the passer after the throw.
On Pittsburgh's 14, with 12 seconds left in the half, Hasselbeck overthrew Obomanu in the corner of the end zone.
With seven seconds left, the Seahawks elected to try once more for a touchdown. Hasselbeck threw again to Obomanu. It was intercepted at the goal line by Ike Taylor, preventing Seattle from scoring any points.
"I didn't throw a good pass," Hasselbeck said. "At the very least we should have come out of there with three points."
The second half was a lesson in power football. Pittsburgh opened the third quarter with a 17-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run by Davenport despite three holding penalties during the drive. Along the way, the Steelers converted three third downs, including a third-and-17.
Seattle gave the ball back to Pittsburgh after only three plays and 91 seconds, and the Steelers nearly repeated their previous drive, going ahead 21-0 after a 13-play, 85-yard drive concluded with Davenport's second touchdown.
By that time, the offense had lost its confidence, the defense had lost its stamina and the Seahawks had lost their second straight to Pittsburgh.
At least this one wasn't for the Lombardi Trophy.