This is an unedited version of my game story that will appear in tomorrow's News Tribune:
ST. LOUIS – Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren stepped to the podium at his news conference following the Seahawks' 23-20 victory over the St. Louis Rams Sunday afternoon, tried to think of what to say and came up with … nothing.
"I don't know what to say," Holmgren quipped, smiling sheepishly. "It's been a long time."
Indeed, because Olindo Mare hit a 27-yard field goal as time expired, this was the first time in seven weeks that Holmgren could emerge from the locker room to discuss a victory, the six straight defeats confirming that his final season as the Seahawks' coach was going to be an abject failure.
But that fact did not prevent Holmgren from continuing to push, nudge and motivate his team to stay professional in these final weeks. Put in the hard work, he told his players, and you will eventually reap the reward.
For too long, as defeat after defeat piled up, those words seemed hollow. But once Mare's kick sailed through the uprights, providing the Seahawks with their eighth consecutive win over their division rival (2-12), there was a palpable sense of relief throughout a locker room that nearly forgot how to smile.
"I have a lot of games under my belt, and I have been in some big ones and some small ones, but this one is about as sweet as any one I can think of," safety Brian Russell said. "It sounds crazy. But this team needed one. We have been working our butts off through so many different situations. And today is sweet."
In the first half, it seemed as if the Seahawks, who improved to 3-11, would replicate the ineptitude it has displayed throughout much of this season.
It gave up 243 yards in the first two quarters, a 30-minute span in which the defense looked completely disinterested. The offense generated only 76 yards and had the ball for only 9:46. And the offensive line that played so well against New England last week was a sieve against St. Louis, which constantly pressured quarterback Seneca Wallace.
In fact, it was a sack near the end of the half that inspired Seattle's reversal of attitude. With 45 seconds left, Wallace was hit hard from behind and had the wind knocked out of him. As he left the field, he screamed a stream of admonishments at his teammates, who, he said, were not playing hard enough.
"Sometimes you need to do that as a quarterback," Wallace said. "Sometimes we do come out flat. I just wanted to make sure that we didn't come out flat and that everybody was fighting, trying to win games."
Holmgren said he started second-guessing his play call that put Wallace in position to get sacked and possibly injured, which only served to make his halftime speech that much more flammable.
"There were some choice words in there," Russell said. "But he basically said, 'What are you guys doing out there? You are a better team than this.'"
With a dual set of tongue-lashings, the Seahawks put forth more effort and were more efficient in the second half.
Their defense, which gave up 81 first-half yards to running back Steven Jackson, allowed only 10 in the second half. It limited St. Louis' offense to 99 yards. And it got a three-and-out when the Rams got the ball back with less than three minutes to go, the score tied at 20 and the chance to win the game.
It was forced to punt to the Seahawks, who got back the ball with 2:10 left. This same situation has presented itself three times in the past four weeks. Twice Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted, and Wallace fumbled away the final opportunity against New England last week.
This two-minute offense, however, was successful. Holmgren called two straight running plays for Maurice Morris, and on third down and four Wallace audibled out of a pass to a run for fullback Leonard Weaver. He picked up eight on the play for a first down.
One play later, Deion Branch turned cornerback Oshiomogho Atogwe inside out on a corner pattern and picked up 45 yards to the Rams' 9, setting up Mare's chip shot, his first game-winner this season.
"This has been an interesting year, to say the least," wide receiver Bobby Engram said. "But I said all along that we got a bunch of guys in this locker room that won't quit.
"It hasn't been any tougher on anybody then the guys in this locker room. It feels good to come out and see the fruits of our labor in terms of finishing a game and going home with a win."