Seahawks Implode in XL Fashion
By Guest Insider Elliot Schwartz
Well folks, Super Bowl XL is in the books. The Bus got his championship in fairy tale fashion. Bill Cowher got the monkey off his back and finally proved that he could win the big one. The Steelers organization finally got “One for the Thumb”. The Seahawks made sure of that. There were almost no phases of the game where the Seahawks did not perform poorly. On offense, they had poor game planning, dropped passes, and crucial penalties and an interception that crippled their chances. On defense, they allowed a 75 yard TD run and they bit so hard on the play that broke their back that Hines Ward was essentially growing a beard waiting for the pass from Randle-El to come down. On special teams, they had a costly penalty and two missed field goals.
It’s not like the Steelers played a perfect game, but we can excuse the fact that they had no first downs, let alone any points through the first 19 minutes of the game. We can excuse Roethlisberger for throwing the worst pass of his NFL career while up 14-3 and driving towards finishing off the Seahawks. We can do that because the Steelers won. Everything looks worse when you don’t. Here’s what went wrong for the Seahawks on Super Sunday.
Ah… where to start? How about at the beginning, shall we? First of all, I would like to say that Mike Holmgren’s game plan was atrocious. They have the best offensive line in football, and the NFL’s MVP in Shaun Alexander, yet Alexander was noticeably absent from the early game plan. He did wind up with 20 carries for 95 yards, but do you remember anytime in the game where he was controlling the action? I do. One time. I will get to that later. Now onto the Seattle mistakes.
Penalties. There weren’t lots of them, but the Seahawks did choose the worst times to get them. The first devastating penalty came on the Seahawks second drive of the game. This drive started on their own 36-yard line. In 5 plays, they had moved to the Steeler 41 yard line, and faced a 3rd down and 6. Hasslebeck dropped back and completed a laser to Darrell Jackson (who was having an MVP 1st quarter). Jackson was tackled at the Steeler 23 yard line. 1st and 10 for the Seahawks. But no! There was a flag on the field. Holding was called on right guard Chris Gray. The Seahawks then threw an incomplete pass and punted harmlessly from their own 49.
The next crippling penalty came on their very next possession. The game was still 0-0. The Seahawks were driving again. They had moved from their 49-yard line to the Steelers 16 yard line. On 1st and 10, Hasslebeck went back to pass and was flushed from the pocket. He threw a pass for Darrell Jackson into the end zone. Jackson (who was open on the play for reasons we will soon detail) caught the pass and fell to the ground to seemingly give the Seahawks a 7-0 lead. However, the referee in the end zone watching the play threw a flag. If you were a Seahawks fan watching the game, you got this bad feeling it was on Seattle because the referee did not signal touchdown, but rather timeout. Jackson was called for offensive pass interference, and the touchdown was called back. Seahawk fans are going to say that it was a ticky-tack penalty. And it was kinda ticky-tack. BUT … it had to be called. It was pass interference. He pushed off, and that push off resulted in a touchdown. How can a referee watch the play, see the push off, see that it resulted in a TD, and NOT call it?? He had to call it. Had the same play resulted in a reception bringing the ball to the Seahawk 35 yard line, it may not have been called. But in the end zone where it facilitated a touchdown, it had to be called. It was then on 1st and 20 from the 26, where Holmgren decided to run Alexander. And he inexplicably ran him twice. First on 1st and 20, and then on 2nd and 19. The two runs netted a loss of 3, and the drive culminated with a field goal from Josh Brown to give the Seahawks a 3-0 lead.
The Seahawks did not even run an offensive play before the next costly penalty. Seattle held the Steelers to a three and out on the possession after the field goal, and Peter Warrick returned a Chris Gardocki punt 34 yards to the Pittsburgh 46. Holding called on the play moved the start of the Seahawk drive to their own 35. The Seahawks managed not to commit another devastating penalty until the 4th Quarter. Unfortunately for the NFC Champs, this one really hurt them the most because of when it happened, and the circumstances surrounding it. This was supposed to be where the #1 seed in the NFC showed why they were 13-3 in the regular season, and why they were the NFC Champions. Instead, this drive showed why they failed to beat a team with a winning record on the road in 2005.
The drive started on the Seattle 2 yard line with the Seahawks trailing 14-10. After the awful interception by Roethlisberger, and the ensuing TD pass to Stevens, the Seahawks showed signs of turning the momentum on their side. This is where Shaun Alexander started to take control of the game. Holmgren started to recall that the Seahawks employ the NFL MVP and rushing champion. Inexcusably, this was the only drive all night for the Seahawks where Shaun Alexander had more than three carries. He carried five times for 28 yards on the drive. But it wasn’t just the yardage that made him effective for the Seahawks. It was the fact that each run netted good yardage. And since he was running well, the three play fakes that Hasslebeck delivered worked to freeze the linebackers of the Steelers and resulted in three completions. One was to Hannam and two were to Bobby Engram. After two Alexander runs of 6 and 5 yards, the ball sat on the Pittsburgh Steelers 19 yard line, 1st and 10. Hasslebeck then threw a strike to Jerramy Stevens. After All-World safety Troy Polamalu tackled the 6’7” tight end at the 1-yard line, it looked as though the Seahawks were about to turn the tables on the Steelers and change a 14-3 deficit into a 17-14 advantage. But it was not to be. There was a flag on the field again. And again, it was on the Seahawks. Again, it was holding. So instead of 1st and goal from the 1, it was 1st and 20 from the 29. After a sack by nose tackle Casey Hampton for 5 yards, it was 2nd and 25 from the 34. After a 7 yard run by Alexander, Hasslebeck threw his worst pass of the postseason. It was intended for Darrell Jackson, but in all honesty, the only one with a chance at the ball was Ike Taylor. And unfortunately for the Seahawks, he plays for the Steelers. For all intents and purposes, this is where the game ended for the Seahawks. With 10:46 remaining in the 4th Quarter, the game was not over yet but the Steelers wasted little time inserting the dagger.
After a first down, the Steelers lined up with Willie Parker in the backfield and Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle-El on the left side. Roethlisberger took the snap and handed off to Willie Parker who headed left. Streaking around the Steeler line in the opposite direction was Randle-El. For those who don’t know, Randle-El played QB for Indiana in college. He ran around the right side of the line, and uncorked a perfectly thrown 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward (who also played QB in college). Game over. I wont even get into the fact that the first half and the second half both ended with the Seahawks blundering time management. It certainly was not a banner day for Mike Holmgren and his coaching staff.
While penalties, dropped passes, lapses on defense and interceptions were certainly a major contributor to the downfall of the Seahawks, the game plan and play calling were more crippling in my opinion. When you have Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson on the left side of your offensive line, and you run the NFL MVP once to the left side in the first half of the most important game of the season, I have little sympathy for you. Seattle totally dominated the Steelers in the first half, but after the 2nd snap of the second half, amazingly the Steelers led 14-3. Seattle had 12 offensive possessions. There were 6 drives in which Alexander got either one or no carries, and 3 drives where he got 2 carries. And the Seahawks wonder why they scored only 10 points? Against a defense as aggressive as the Steelers, you cannot afford to become one-dimensional. And the Seahawks did just that. By allowing Hasselbeck to throw 49 times, the Seahawks put the Steelers in a great position to win the game. Ask any Seahawk fan which they would rather see in the boxscore at the end of a game. Would they rather see 35 carries for Shaun Alexander or 49 pass attempts by Matt Hasslebeck? Had someone guaranteed me that the Seahawks would attempt 49 passes before the game started, I would have bet my house on Pittsburgh. It was not as if the game were decided early on and the Seahawks threw all game in desperation. Even if you discount the 9 passes thrown in the last 2 minutes, it is still way too many pass attempts when you have Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Shaun Alexander. Could you imagine the Dallas Cowboys of the 90s ignoring Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen & Nate Newton? Or how about the Denver Broncos abandoning Terrell Davis and their great offensive line? The Cowboys and Broncos had Hall of Famers for QBs, and Dallas even had Barry Switzer at the helm of one of their championships and that never happened.
I feel badly for Seahawk fans that waited 30 years to see their team compete in the Super Bowl. However, they did get to see something noteworthy…. They saw the Kingdome relegated to being the second largest implosion in Seattle history.
Elliot Schwartz is also known among WIS circles as eschwartz67. You can usually find him making a guest appearance as the WIS Insider every couple of years or so.