The Game had been over for half an hour when the New Orleans Saints kicked it off to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Oct. 14, at about 5:15 p.m. at Qwest Field. The New England Patriots had scarred the previously unblemished Dallas Cowboys, winning The Game 48-27 and extending their record of excellence to 6-0.
Little remained but to observe The Lame: Schlocks vs. 'Aints as NBC's national-TV Sunday-night feature. One hesitates to suggest that the best team won. New Orleans proved to be the least bad, which may now apply to any Seattle opponent. The formerly winless Saints dominated an out-of-excuses C-minus-Hawks contingent by a 28-17 margin that could have been wider. Hawk coach - this is coaching? - Mike Holmgren was in his typical pink-cheeked pique after a second straight loss, though he sensibly neglected to assign much blame, perhaps realizing that the blame belongs to the whole organization.
This is a club that kept the suddenly inept Shaun Alexander (35 yards on 14 carries after 25 in 11 last week) but passed on all-planet guard Steve Hutchinson. The devout Alexander still has a prayer, but that's about all he has. The Hawks have an aged offensive line and an optimistic stumblebum for a running game. They also have indifferent starters on both sides of the ball. For the second straight week, the Hawks quit playing as soon as they fell behind.
That didn't take long. New deep-snapper Boone Stutz hiked a one-hopper to the punter to end Seattle's first possession, the Saints grabbing the loose ball and scoring. The Hawks got off two successful punts the rest of the first quarter; it was the only success they had. By half time the Saints were up 21-10. New Orleans played the second-half clock almost as masterfully as the Steelers had the previous week. The Hawks tried to mount a charge in the middle of the fourth quarter, but by then they were down by 18 and time favored the Saints.
Some 68,000 had consigned themselves to witnessing this thing live under mild-for-October skies at Qwest Field. The lucky ones at home could multi-task: wrap a sandwich for Monday or pluck some middle ground out of a furrowed uni-brow, peeking in horror toward the TV screen now and then to see whether 0-4 New Orleans had finished off the hapless Hawks.
When it happened, Seattle stood at 3-3, still tied for a division lead and facing St. Louis at home Oct. 21. Given the condition of this Hawk club, it's difficult to imagine which would be more challenging: playing at home against an 0-6 Rams team that placed 32nd in the 32-team Sports Illustrated power rankings, right below Paraguay, or taking the week of Oct. 28 off, as scheduled.
Coming into the game, the Saints' "power" ranking was 30, which is about what Seattle's should now be if you only count offense. Forced to pass in the absence of a running threat, Matt Hasselbeck had a season-high 362 yards on 26-for-43, two touchdowns passing, but much of it was during the frenetic, futile attempt to catch the containment-minded Saints late. Scoring remains Seattle's main problem. When New Orleans led 21-0, it represented for Seattle 42 unanswered points during a two-week stretch, the worst drought of a Holmgren-"coached" team.
It's starting to appear doubtful that Holmy will be around next season. Indeed, after the latest disaster, he looked as if he wouldn't mind planting his ample self into the bed of Mike Hargrove's red pickup and riding with the give-it-up Mariners mentor into the sunrise of early retirement. Given the Hawks front office, a choice for a Holmgren replacement probably would be as uninspired as anything else partisans have seen from the team this year.
One wonders whether anybody from the franchise noted that a lot of fans left early, perhaps preferring a shot at Desperate Housewives to the desperation displayed on the field. The Hawks, at least in theory, should actually beat the Rams at home next Sunday, but only because losing to St. Louis (73 points in six games) would be like getting beat at badminton by Stevie Wonder.
One hesitates, though, to imagine what would happen if this edition of a once-formidable Hawk franchise had to play the Patriots or Cowboys this season. It won't happen, of course, because that would mean getting deep into the playoffs. Given the condition of divisional competition (3-3 Arizona is down to its third-string quarterback; the 2-3 49ers and winless Rams are using their back-ups), Seattle may become the first team to win a bracket "championship" with a 6-10 record before losing in the first playoff game 79-0 - at home, yet.