This is the unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune:
By Frank Hughes
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Every single unanswered question that faced the Seattle Seahawks as they headed into their regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills, every doubt and every uncertainty that was raised was greeted with a negative response at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday afternoon.
In the first game of Mike Holmgren's last season, the Seahawks looked overmatched and overwhelmed, dropping a disheartening 34-10 decision to the Bills that exposed every weakness the Seahawks believed they could mask with either youthful exuberance or unrealistic hope.
A restructured offensive line? It continued to have difficulties either opening holes or protecting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was sacked five times.
A revamped running game? Neither Maurice Morris nor Julius Jones found any degree of success against a Bills defense that was given distinct upgrades in the offseason, the two combining to gain a mere 76 yards.
And the passing game, on which the Seahawks relied last season to carry it to its fourth consecutive division title? A shell of itself, dropped passes and miscommunication leaving Hasselbeck to complete just 17 of 41 passes for 190 yards – and leaving one to wonder on what positives they have to build.
Even a highly touted defense that returned all 11 starters was subject to some criticism, sloppy tackling and missed assignments leading to 338 yards by a Bills offense that while respectable certainly does not rank among the best in the league.
Worst of all, though, was Seattle's special teams, which relinquished a punt return for a touchdown, a fake field goal for another touchdown, fumbled a kickoff return to set up a third touchdown and got poor punting from Ryan Plackemeier that gave away field position all afternoon.
It was only the second season-opening loss for Seattle in the past six years, but the 24-point deficit was the worst since they dropped a 41-3 decision to the New York Jets in 1997.
"Maybe we thought we were pretty good and we thought we could just go out there and play," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "But it takes a lot more than that to win in this league."
The Seahawks may have to move forward at least temporarily without the services of starting split end Nate Burleson or Morris. Both suffered sprained knees. Holmgren said MRIs today will determine the length of time they will miss.
This loss continued a disturbing trend in which the Seahawks (0-1) seem incapable of performing well in a game three time zones away. Though they came in two days early and changed some routines, they still were lethargic and ineffective through the early portions of the game.
Neither Rocky Bernard nor Jordan Babineaux were present for this game, suspended by the league for their respective transgressions. But that will be only a footnote in history for this beatdown; neither would have made the slightest difference, not with the myriad struggles that enveloped each unit.
"It is not exactly how we expected to perform today," Hasselbeck said.
General manager Tim Ruskell was taking a calculated risk when he allowed receiver D.J. Hackett to leave in free agency, particularly when he knew that Deion Branch would miss part of the season with a knee injury. Ruskell said he had to trust his instincts that his young receivers were full of usable qualities.
But when Bobby Engram went out early in training camp with a shoulder injury, it left Seattle grasping for experienced talent.
That came back to haunt them under the gray skies of upstate New York Sunday, starting flanker Courtney Taylor unable to get sufficiently free or hold onto the ball, everybody else lacking the ability to offer Hasselbeck a regular target.
Holmgren wanted to establish the passing game to open up things for the running game, but when that failed to happen there was little else to which Holmgren could turn.
"It might take us a while to look as smooth as we would like, but we kind of know that," Holmgren said. "Unfortunately, you go against a good team … it's exaggerated a little bit. Clearly our inexperience in certain areas showed."
The Bills (1-0) took a 7-0 lead when Plackemeier's poor punting in wet weather gave Buffalo the ball at midfield late in the first quarter. Four plays later, Marshawn Lynch ran in a draw play from 21 yards.
In the second quarter, Plackemeier finally got off a good punt, but Roscoe Parrish avoided Logan Payne, darted down the right side, dashed across the middle of the field, broke a few tackles and sprinted into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown and 14-0 lead.
Many times last season, that was the time when Hasselbeck would gather his teammates and mount a determined comeback.
But it does not appear as if this version of the Seahawks currently has that same ability. There were too many youngsters concerned more with the basics of the game than with becoming a hero.
"What I'd like to do is learn from this game," Holmgren said. "For our young guys in particular, maybe in the long run it'll be the best thing that could have happened to us – as strange as that sounds."