This is an unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune:
By Frank Hughes
The optimism that was established in San Francisco last week and fed the starved Seattle Seahawks for seven days gave way to reality on Sunday afternoon at Qwest Field.
That's when the team formerly known as the NFC West champions saw their hope diminish to a mere trickle with a rather unsettling 26-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle's third home loss in four games this year, something that was virtually unthinkable only 12 months ago.
But if the Seahawks have not already realized their fate, the 68,055 on hand certainly did. With Arizona's 34-13 road victory over the St. Louis Rams, the Seahawks (2-6) are now three games behind their desert rivals (5-3) with only eight left to play.
Barring fortune intervening in dramatic fashion, that hardly seems like enough time left to salvage their reign, which consisted of four straight division titles and five consecutive trips to the postseason.
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Afterward, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren rang a bell of resignation, telling his coaching staff and players he was not quitting on them despite the obvious.
"We have half the season left," Holmgren said, "and I assured them that I will be there for them, to do what I can do until the last play of the last game of this year. I asked everyone to go along with me on that."
Other than a 90-yard pass play to Koren Robinson for a touchdown on Seattle's first offensive play of the game, the Seahawks were thoroughly dominated for the second straight time by an NFC East team.
Their offense was ineffective and overmatched. A solid first quarter notwithstanding, their defense was unable to cope with the experience of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who missed the last two times the teams played, both Seattle victories.
And the special teams bordered on embarrassment, given that it twice failed to have 11 men on the field for punt coverage and was forced to call a timeout to rectify the situation.
All things considered, this was a poor impersonation of a Holmgren-coached team, their deficiencies unable to be masked any longer and the negativity bleeding into all areas.
"There were a couple of times today where … if I was sitting in the stands I would ask what the heck are they doing," Holmgren said. "That leaves a bad taste in my mouth."
Once again, the Seahawks were badly affected by injuries. They knew they would be without starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kerney, but they were hoping to have middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and fullback Leonard Weaver.
But Holmgren was told that Tatupu could further damage his strained groin if he played. So he didn't. And Weaver, who had two long touchdown receptions against San Francisco last week, still had a lingering foot injury that kept him sidelined.
Still, it was the absence of Kerney and Hasselbeck that hurt the Seahawks the most – and they are not sure if and when they will get those players back.
The defense started the game extremely well, the line getting pressure on McNabb, who missed his first six attempts. They forced the Eagles into three consecutive three-and-outs to start the game. They looked lively and rejuvenated.
But then McNabb began to get into a rhythm, and the pass rush completely disappeared. In the second quarter, McNabb completed all 10 of his passes, including touchdown throws to Reggie Brown to tie the game at 7 and to offensive tackle Todd Herremans from one yard out to take a 14-7 lead into halftime – more than enough, as it turned out, to win the game.
By the end, McNabb had completed 28 of 49 passes for 349 yards, 131 of which went to tight end Brent Celek. David Akers' four field goals completed the scoring.
"You look back on the first quarter and things were just kind of off," McNabb said. "We were able to settle down and get things going and get a bead on what they were trying to do in certain situations."
Meanwhile, the offense was as unproductive as it was in Tampa Bay two weeks ago, other than Robinson's touchdown, the longest play in franchise history, which briefly quenched the fans' thirst for an upset.
But thereafter, the offense was feeble. For the second straight week, the running game was missing, 22 carries producing 86 yards. Wallace was only 13 for 29 for 169 yards, though he did have several receivers drop passes. Penalties didn't help, and neither did the 4-for-15 stagnation on third down conversions.
A perfect microcosm of the Seahawks' woes was on display at the end of the half. With less than two minutes remaining, they were trying to drive for at least a field goal attempt. On second and 10, Holmgren called a draw that went for only two yards.
Before the play, he told Wallace to spike the ball, assuming they would get a first down. They didn't, but Wallace spiked the ball anyway on third down, meaning they were facing fourth and eight on their own 45. They couldn't go for it and were forced to punt because they gave away a play.
Holmgren took the blame, saying it was a miscommunication. Wallace did not have the sense to adjust. And by the time anybody realized what was happening, it was too late.
Just like their season.