This is the unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune:
By Frank Hughes
A Seattle Seahawks season that began so sanguinely has disintegrated into a quagmire of shock and despair, a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon the latest incarnation of their weekly ineptitude.
Missing starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and still searching for a defense that resembles the one that sent four players to the Pro Bowl last season, the Seahawks lost for the fourth time in five games.
Combined with the Arizona Cardinals' overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the Seahawks are now 2 ½ games back in the NFC West, in grave danger of relinquishing their four-year grip on the division title. With St. Louis' last-second victory over Washington, which came from the foot of former Seattle kicker Josh Brown, the Seahawks now share a spot in the cellar with the Rams.
And suddenly, with less than half the season complete, the Seahawks' goals seem to have changed from winning the division to simply winning a game.
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren was not beet-faced and angry following the game, but appeared almost resigned to his fate in what will be his last year of coaching. Where he was defiant after two losses, confidently proclaiming that his team would snap out of its funk, he now seems almost philosophical about the team's stunning transformation from NFL nobility to peasantry.
"My message to the team when I called them together is one that they have heard before from me, but it is very important that they hear me now: It is a test of sorts," Holmgren said. "We are not used to this. It's been a long time. But here we are. So how do we deal with it, as players and coaches? It is very, very important that they answer that question."
Notice that Holmgren did not reference the future, or the need to win next week in Tampa Bay, another daunting obstacle given the team's recent history of poor play on the East Coast.
Perhaps it is because he has no idea when he will get back Hasselbeck, who suffered a hyperextended knee against New York last week and could not play against the Packers, who snapped their own three-game losing streak to improve to 3-3.
Holmgren sounded cryptic in his postgame news conference, saying Hasselbeck will have to get more tests this week because his knee is not responding the way it should. He also spoke as if Seneca Wallace would get the chance to start against the Buccaneers if he was healthy enough, a clear indication he was not exactly pleased with the way Charlie Frye ran an offense that totaled just 177 yards, 93 of which came in the fourth quarter, after the outcome had been all but decided.
Qwest Field and its 68,032 inhabitants were supposed to be a repository of hope and safety for the Seahawks, the place where they retreated when they wanted to right all that was askew.
But in these unfamiliar environs, even that old chestnut no longer holds true, the team's struggles painfully apparent to the fans, many of whom streamed out of the stands well before the game was complete.
Without Hasselbeck, the offense is anemic, unable to sustain any sort of drive or consistency. Frye threw for only 83 yards, the lowest team production in the air since 2001. Because of that, the Seahawks were only 4-for-11 on third-down conversions, meaning they are five for 22 in that category in the past two games.
"It seems like that has been the hump, getting that first third down and getting some confidence and getting rolling," Frye said.
Because of the offense's ineffectiveness, it places additional pressure on a defense that already has germinated doubt regarding its ability.
It held firm through the first half, when the score was tied at 10, but it collapsed in the second half, when big plays and long drives orchestrated by Brett Favre's replacement, Aaron Rodgers, doomed them yet again.
Two plays in particular embody Seattle's season. In the second quarter, the Packers faced third and 7 from their own 37. As Green Bay lined up, Lofa Tatupu recognized the set, audibled into the perfect coverage and backed into a deep zone. Rodgers still was able to complete a 19-yard pass to Donald Driver, which ultimately led to a one-yard scoring sneak by Rodgers to tie the game at 10.
Then in the fourth quarter, Rodgers was facing a third and 5. Same reaction by Tatupu. Similar result, an eight-yard completion to Driver for a first one, one of Green Bay's 10 third-down conversions in 18 opportunities, the most obvious difference in what was still a tight game. The Packers went on to score a touchdown on that drive, giving them a 24-10 advantage.
"We know what we have to do," Tatupu said. "It's just a matter of doing it."
And yet, for whatever reason, they are not doing it. Their highly paid, big-name players are shellshocked. Their role players are bewildered. Their coaching staff is lost for answers. And their losses continue to mount.
As Tatupu was being interviewed after the game by a gaggle of reporters seeking opinions about the latest calamity, Leroy Hill ambled past Tatupu's locker wearing the top of a soldier's uniform and yelled, "We're going to turn this thing around, Lofa."
Even if they do, it may be too late.