This is the unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune.
By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
This was precisely the way the Seattle Seahawks wanted to begin the second half of this sporadic season, a dominant performance that resulted in a 24-0 victory over the hapless San Francisco 49ers that they hope establishes a tenor for yet another run to the playoffs.
In front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren made good on his promise to become a truer facsimile of a West Coast offense, allowing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to take advantage of his deep cadre of receivers early and often.
The Seahawks took a 10-0 first-quarter lead, allowed their defense to beat up on the Niners' inept offense and cruised to a sweep of their division rival, returning the favor that was exacted on them last season. Seattle outscored the Niners 47-3 in the two wins.
The Seahawks remained in first place in the NFC West with the victory, which improved their record to 5-4, a game ahead of Arizona, which defeated Detroit on Sunday. The Seahawks host Chicago on Sunday in a rematch of the divisional playoff game last January that knocked Seattle from the postseason.
"We gave a couple of games away this season so we are in the predicament of not having a great record in terms of the rest of the NFC," Hasselbeck said. "It is really big to get the win."
The Seahawks won for only the second time in five games despite being beleaguered by injuries, most notably missing starting running back Shaun Alexander. The 2005 MVP suffered a sprained knee against Cleveland last week and was unable to play after failing to show Holmgren during the week that he had recovered enough.
Maurice Morris started for Alexander – and this victory now raises the spectre of a running back controversy at the same time that Chicago is enduring a quarterback controversy.
Morris ran for 87 yards on 28 carries as well as a six-yard touchdown in the second quarter, a feat that Alexander has not been able to accomplish since the second week of the season.
Alexander has not eclipsed Morris' rushing total since the third week of the season – and in fact the combination of any two of his last four games would not equal Morris' output on this night.
"We spread the ball all across the field, and I think it kind of softened up the defense as far as letting us do some positive things," Morris said.
Morris also had three receptions for 16 yards, something that is not one of Alexander's strengths, though he did fumble the ball once, a postgame lament.
The Seahawks also were without wide receiver Deion Branch and linebackers Leroy Hill and Will Herring, but that mattered little against a San Francisco team (2-7) that has lost seven in a row and has not scored more than one touchdown during any of those losses.
Seattle's defense, shredded by Cleveland last week, held the Niners to 173 total yards, 45 of which came on a meaningless Hail Mary fling at the end of the first half.
The defense also recorded three sacks and forced two fumbles, one by Jordan Babineaux on a safety blitz and one by defensive end Patrick Kerney on a play in which he was unscathed en route to Smith.
With that kind of performance, the Seahawks didn't need Hasselbeck to be exceptional. Yet he was very good in a reprised role that included for the first time this season the shotgun formation, throwing for 278 yards and two touchdowns while going 27-for-40 from the field.
Had the game been even remotely competitive, he certainly would have had more attempts. One interception dropped his passer rating to 93.5, but he was efficient for most of the evening, connecting with eight different receivers.
"We made a little shift of emphasis, if you will, and the guys were excited about it," Holmgren said. "They executed it well. The players did a nice job."
Earlier in the day, as heavy winds whipped through the Puget Sound area enough to knock power from some communities, Hasselbeck said he was concerned about Holmgren's philosophical switch.
But the weather abated by kickoff, allowing Holmgren to call for a pass on 10 of Seattle's first 11 plays and 16 of its first 19.
"If things continue like that, I think you are going to see a lot of receivers on the sidelines with smiles on their faces," said Nate Burleson, who had four catches for 51 yards.
The Seahawks eased to San Francisco's 13 on their first possession, where they faced third and 7. Hasselbeck threw a little quick hitter to tight end Will Heller, who came up a few yards short.
But Hasselbeck had been flattened by linebacker Parys Haralson, who was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit. It gave Seattle an automatic first down.
Three plays later, Hasselbeck found Heller in the back corner of the end zone, the third touchdown reception by the unheralded player this season. Josh Brown's extra point gave Seattle a 7-0 lead.
On San Francisco's next possession, Kerney was unblocked for what he said was the first time in nine years, slapped the ball from Smith and watched as Rocky Bernard recovered the fumble.
It led to a 20-yard field goal by Brown, a 10-0 lead and, ultimately, an important and decisive win at a time that Seattle badly needed one.
"This was a high point to come out and beat them on Monday night," Rob Sims said. "It feels good to still be leading the division."