This is the unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune:
By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
The Seattle Seahawks' 27-6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon at Qwest Field meant very little for practical purposes.
But it meant everything for their psyche.
Against a Baltimore team decimated by injuries, the Seahawks rediscovered a run game that had been noticeably absent for much of the season, a point of contention that has forced coach Mike Holmgren to repeatedly throw up his hands in exasperation and proclaim, "What can you say?"
That Seattle's season-best success came against the league's second-ranked run defense only added emphasis to the pride that the offensive line felt in its best game in what seems like years.
By halftime, the Seahawks amassed 77 yards, which is what Baltimore's defense usually allows an opponent on an average day. By the end, with Holmgren more intent on running out the clock rather than running up the score, the Seahawks had totaled 144 yards on 36 carries, the most they have rushed for since they amassed 139 yards in their season opener.
"I talked to them on Friday and conveyed the fact that I haven't lost confidence or faith in their ability," Holmgren said. "It was a little bit of a challenge. They came out and I think they did a pretty good job."
With Tampa Bay's loss to San Francisco, the Seahawks locked up the third seed in the NFC. With Minnesota losing to Washington Sunday night, it has not yet been determined who the Seahawks' first-round opponent will be.
But first, the Seahawks complete their season with a meaningless game next Sunday in Atlanta, assistant coach Jim Mora Jr. and defensive end Patrick Kerney returning to their previous place of employ before successfully integrating into Seattle's defense, which gave up a late 79-yard touchdown pass that prevented its second shutout of the season.
Holmgren – who gave the players today and Christmas Day off – said he had not yet decided how to handle the Falcons game but said he is leaning toward treating it like a normal game rather than resting certain players.
"Obviously nobody wants to get hurt," Lofa Tatupu said. "But you can't take a down off. That's usually when it happens. You are idling down and someone clips your leg or you call on your shoulder wrong. So you can't have that in your mindset."
The victory – Seattle's sixth in seven games -- was the polar opposite of last week's loss to Carolina, when the entire team seemed flaccid. Embarrassed by that performance, the Seahawks (10-5) completed their regular-season home schedule with a 7-1 record and guaranteed their fifth 10-win season in franchise history.
"I was not happy with the way we played last week," Holmgren said. "And the players weren't. I liked the way we bounced back."
Kerney added one sack to his league-leading total, giving him 14.5 for the season. Houston's Mario Williams also had a sack against Indianapolis on Sunday, keeping him within half a sack of Kerney. Kansas City's Jared Allen also has 13.5.
If Kerney – who also had two forced fumbles, five for the season -- maintains the league high, he will be only the second Seahawks player to win the sack title. Michael Sinclair led the NFL with 16.5 sacks in 1998.
Wide receiver Bobby Engram continued his stellar season, catching five balls for 69 yards. He now has the single-season franchise record with 90 receptions, breaking Darrell Jackson's record of 88. It also is a career best for Engram, who last week eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time.
"It all came together," Engram said. "It was great to set a personal record. It feels really good."
With 27 attempts, Matt Hasselbeck passed Dave Krieg to become the team's single season leader. He also set a career high in touchdown passes, two flings to Nate Burleson – which opened the scoring -- and Shaun Alexander giving him 27 for the year. He needs only 23 yards to break his own record of 3,841 passing yards in a season.
Alexander's touchdown in the second quarter – which gave the Seahawks a 21-0 lead -- came on a screen pass so it did not count as his 100th rushing touchdown, something only seven other men in the history of the league has accomplished. It was Alexander's first touchdown reception since Dec. 24, 2005.
He gets one final opportunity at a rushing touchdown in Atlanta, a distinct possibility if the run game is as efficient as it was against Baltimore.
Of course, the Seahawks were aided a great deal by the absence of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, whose finger injury kept him from the game, a consistent theme for the Ravens (4-11) this season.
Seattle started the game in the no-huddle offense, which seemed to throw off the Ravens a bit. Because of that offensive set, Alexander did not even get into the game until more than half the first quarter had elapsed.
His fourth run, though, he broke off a 19-yarder to the right side. Later, he ran for 17 yards, and 73 overall. Maurice Morris mixed in some jaunts to change the pace for 40 yards. The offensive line pushed Baltimore stout tackles off the ball regularly.
And suddenly the Seahawks resembled the team Holmgren envisioned them to be from the very beginning, a balanced offense punctuating the entire package.
"It's our goal to be playing on fire when it really counts," Alexander said. "Winning this game was important for us – and getting our offense to do a couple of things right. Some of the boys played well."