This is the unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren better hope the team's biorhythms were off on Sunday afternoon at Giants Stadium.
Because the alternative is perhaps too distressful to consider.
For the second time in four games, the Seahawks were thoroughly manhandled, the New York Giants thrashing them from the very start of what turned out to be a 44-6 decision played before 79,529 fans, many of whom felt compelled to depart early for additional tailgating, which was more entertaining than this laugher.
Yes, the Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions who have won eight consecutive games.
But in dropping to 1-3 for the first time since 2002, the Seahawks did not appear to be even close to the same stratosphere as the undefeated Giants (4-0).
The outcome, Seattle's worst loss since dropping a 41-3 decision to the New York Jets in the 1997 season opener, once again raised questions about the Seahawks' inability to function properly when they travel to the East Coast, something Holmgren derisively dismissed as "bunk" earlier in the week.
But if that was not the explanation for getting outscored 78-16 in the state of New York this season – including a 34-10 loss at Buffalo in the season opener -- then it could only mean that the Seahawks have taken a significant step back in Holmgren's final season as a head coach because they no longer appear to be able to compete with the upper echelon of the NFL.
"We have to really honestly, players and coaches, look at what we're doing and how we're doing everything," Holmgren said. "Give the Giants credit, but from our standpoint today was unacceptable. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth."
With Arizona winning on Sunday, the Seahawks have fallen two games behind the leader in the NFC West, something they never imagined when this promising season began.
It gets no easier, with Holmgren's former team, the Green Bay Packers, coming to Qwest Field next week, followed by a trip to Tampa Bay (another East Coast trip) and then San Francisco, which already has defeated Seattle this season.
In the postgame locker room, players spoke of taking responsibility by looking in the mirror and making individual improvements. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu used the word embarrassed for the second time in a month. There were stunned looks in some players' eyes. But nobody, it seemed, had answers for why this team, winners of four straight division titles, has fallen so far so quickly.
"That performance? It was terrible. Terrible," Deon Grant said. "I can't really say why. But it's got to get fixed."
Not only did the Seahawks lose the game, they lost wide receiver Deion Branch again, though for how long remains to be seen.
Playing for the first time since having surgery on his left knee to repair a torn ACL, Branch injured his right heel in the first half. He went back in the game after having his foot taped and caught a total of three passes for 31 yards, but he never emerged from the locker room at halftime. He was not available to speak to reporters after the game and will be re-evaluated today in Renton.
Matt Hasselbeck also left the stadium limping after hyperextending his knee on Seattle's first offensive series but said he thinks he will be fine.
"I dodged a bullet," Hasselbeck said.
This was the first time in nine games that the Seahawks have lost to an NFC East team – and they made every bit of it count.
Their defense, which was supposed to be the strength of the team, was inept, relinquishing 342 yards in the first half, when New York took a 27-6 lead, and 523 yards altogether, the most since a game against Kansas City in 2002.
The Giants marched down the field in four plays on their first possession and scored on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Domenik Hixon, who was starting for suspended star Plaxico Burress.
After a field goal by Seattle cut the lead to 7-3, New York repeated its offensive prowess and scored on another long drive – and the rout was on. Eli Manning was 19 for 25 for 267 yards, Brandon Jacobs ran for 136 yards, Hixon had four receptions for 102 yards and the Giants had their largest margin of victory since 1972.
"I know at one point I looked at the scoreboard and saw they were averaging like 11 yards per play," Julian Peterson said. "That …makes our defense look bad."
Seattle's offense was incapable of moving the ball for most of the game, stalled time and again by a nine percent conversion rate (1 for 11) on third downs. The Seahawks gained just 13 first downs and totaled 187 yards – which the Giants earned before the end of the first quarter.
If anything, the Seahawks could take a scintilla of solace in the fact that Sunday's opponent was 0-2 at one point last season before making their historic run to the Super Bowl – and everybody was talking about them much the same way they are dismissing the Seahawks.
"There are a number of statistical analyses of teams that have started this bad and still done OK," Holmgren said. "But those don't mean much unless you improve the product."