Prior to Sunday (Dec. 19), the closest the Seattle Seahawks had come recently to a perfect “drive” was on Dec. 5, when Lofa Tatupu picked a Carolina Panthers pass and hustled 26 yards for a touchdown.
Then came quarter one against the Atlanta Falcons. The Hawks took a knee on the opening kickoff at Qwest Field then used up half the period with 12 plays taking them the 80 yards for the score. The drive featured six first downs and five-for-five passing by Matt Hasselbeck. In the imperfect world of football (the National Football League’s NFC West division is the epicenter of that “Bizarro” world), you couldn’t get much closer to perfection unless you somehow kept possession for an entire half and scored.
Unfortunately, the Falcons proceeded to use up the rest of the first quarter and part of the second on a less-than-perfect scoring drive that left the game knotted at 7.
Each team had something critical going for it. Seattle had considerable incentive with a half-game divisional lead over a suddenly 6-8 St. Louis team. Atlanta, already having qualified for the playoffs, had a lot more. It had — has — a much better football team and that’s what made the difference in the 34-18 Atlanta flattening of the home club.
Somehow this season of morbid fascination fans have had with the National Football Conference West Division will have to end soon but nobody knows how. It probably won’t finish until Jan. 2, when Seattle hosts the Rams, both teams possibly 6-9 at that point.
Meanwhile the comical futility of the division’s participants seems impossible to avoid. I found this out Thursday (Dec. 16) when, wandering into a beachside lean-to bar in a Mexican fishing village where residents are so nonchalant that they don’t care whether clocks are set to Central or Mountain Time, I was confronted with a satellite feed of the San Francisco-San Diego game. I watched. So did a few other customers and a barkeep. We couldn’t take our eyes off of it, especially after one patron observed with glaze-eyed amazement: “You realize, of course, even if the ‘Niners lose this one, they still could get to the playoffs.”
They did and, at 5-9, they could. This is somewhat astonishing given that the 49ers as of Oct. 30 were 1-6.
But hereabouts, of course, our concern is with the Seahawks, who would go to the playoffs by winning their final two. Many can be pardoned for believing this won’t happen. The likelihood of a Seattle win at Tampa Bay next week is about that of Sarah Palin going into seclusion through 2012. Less improbably, the Hawks would prevail over St. Louis and have the last laugh in a league long in favor of achieving parity.
Making the playoffs at 7-9 would be more parody than parity. It also would be something approaching cruelty for Hasselbeck, who resembles less an NFL quarterback than a prize-fighter after 15 rounds of nine counts. He’s the league’s equivalent of the appendage-deprived Black Knight from Monty Python. The previous week on the road against the 49ers, playing yet again with a virtually useless left hand, the former pro-bowler would have been better off pursuing the pro bowling tour.
Against Atlanta, No. 8 looked during the epic opening drive as though he’d worked through the ineptness of the Dec. 12 debacle in San Francisco. Then Captain Matt went back into turnover mode and the Falcons, perhaps the early Super Bowl faves, made the most of it. What had been 10-10 and (theoretically) winnable suddenly was 34-10 late in the third quarter and Charlie Whitehurst was working behind center.
Will Whitehurst start the next two games? Coach Pete Carroll, overseeing a club that has won just two (against teams with a combined mark of 6-22) of its past eight, has some decidin’ to do.
After the game the mentor said: “I wanted to see what Charlie can do” and “Charlie did an okay job.”
“There’s no decision about the quarterback situation,” Carroll said, vowing to evaluate his options during the days to come.
What remains funny in a perverse sense is that there isn’t anything the league can do about the can’t-do NFC West division. St. Louis is supposed to be showing promise with rookie QB sensation Sam Bradford but the latter hasn't been sensational lately. Arizona is 4-10 and possibly even worse than its record. San Francisco started the year 0-5. The 21-35 division has scored 1,042 points and given up 1,342. None of the franchises looks good enough to get to 8-8 next year without a lot of personnel improvements.
If Seattle “wins” the division at 7-9 (six teams have gone to the playoffs with 8-8 records), one wonders what Hawk execs will do when the banner is revealed to fans next season. Maybe the public comment could be: “Sure, we’re the only losing team to make the playoffs, but during that first possession Dec. 19 against Atlanta we put together one nearly perfect drive against the eventual Super Bowl champ.”