A Brief History Of The Seahawks & Packers In The Playoffs

In 2002, the Seahawks were banished to the NFC, as the league realigned.  The less remembered about this year, the better, but it was an important transition year in the franchise’s history.

We opened Seahawks Stadium that year.  While we finished 7-9 and in third place behind the 49ers and Rams, 2002 was the year Matt Hasselbeck ascended to the starting quarterback position full time.  This would be the last good year for the 49ers in a while (they lost in the Divisional Round to the eventual champions in Tampa), then they fired Steve Mariucci and promptly went in the tank.

This leads us into the 2003 season, where the Rams finished 12-4 and had the 2-seed in the NFC.  The Seahawks returned to the playoffs for the first time since Holmgren’s first year coaching the team, in 1999.  Unlike that 1999 squad (led by Jon Kitna, and still in need of some retooling), the 2003 Seahawks really felt like the start of something big.  We weren’t THERE yet, but we were getting there.

Our 10-6 record granted us the 5-seed and a chance to go into Green Bay to play Brett Favre and the Packers.  No one gave us much of a chance, and quite frankly, I couldn’t blame them.  Who’s going to go into Lambeau in the playoffs and dethrone the Packers?  Certainly not the youngish Seahawks!

Then, something weird happened.  The Seahawks hung tough.  We came out of halftime down 13-6 and ripped off two touchdown drives to take a 20-13 lead going into the fourth quarter.  The Packers would subsequently match us again with two long touchdown drives to take a 27-20 lead with a little over two minutes left in the game.  All appeared to be lost, but Matt Hasselbeck promptly led us back down to tie the game at 27.  We left a little too much time on the clock, but Green Bay missed a field goal at the buzzer to put the game into overtime.

If you’re even remotely aware of the Seahawks and their 21st century shenanigans, you know this game as the “We Want The Ball And We’re Going To Score” game.  If you’re not aware, after the Seahawks won the coin flip in overtime, this is what Matt Hasselbeck said to the referee, which was caught on his microphone and broadcast to the world.  For the record, I don’t hold that against Hasselbeck one iota.  In fact, it’s probably the most bad-ass thing he’s ever done and would have gone down with Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee as one of the greatest boastful moments in NFL history.

Everyone remembers how the game ends, but I bet not many remember that the interception returned for a touchdown to seal Green Bay’s victory was NOT on the very first possession of overtime.  Indeed, the Seahawks and the Packers both went 3 & Out to kick things off.  Then, on the third drive, the Seahawks moved the ball near midfield and saw themselves trapped in a 3rd & 11.  For SOME reason, Mike Holmgren opted to go with five wide receivers, even though that was never our game.  For SOME reason, Matt Hasselbeck opted to target our #5 receiver, Alex Bannister, who was the guy nearest the sideline, all the way across the field.

And, with the combination of those two decisions, our fate was sealed by Al Harris, who jumped the route and went 52 yards for the touchdown.  It was the first time a playoff game had been decided by a defensive touchdown in overtime.

What do we take away from this game?  For starters, if you were ever a believer in “momentum” in football, this game should knock some sense into you.  Going into overtime, the Seahawks had all the momentum, and yet somehow they ended up losing 33-27.

Second, the Seahawks SHOULD have won that game.  We were the better team on that day, but for a couple plays that didn’t go our way.  Still, when you get two possessions in overtime, how hard is it to score points against that Packers defense?

I’ll always wonder how things might have been different for this franchise.  For all intents and purposes, 2003 was the beginning of our championship window under Mike Holmgren.  From 2003 thru 2007, we had five playoff appearances, but could only muster one shot at the Super Bowl.  That’s what we call a damn shame.

***

In the following season, the Seahawks would break over the hump and win their very first NFC West title at 9-7.  As you can probably assume, with that record, the Seahawks were the 4-seed in the NFC.  What you might forget is that the Rams had the 5-seed with an 8-8 record!  Which, yeah, means that there were two teams in the NFC that year in the playoffs with .500 records, but that’s neither here nor there.  The Seahawks lost both regular season games against the Rams, then promptly got stomped again at home.  The Rams drove for a late score, and when the Seahawks tried to tie it before the end of regulation, a fourth down pass in the endzone went through Bobby Engram’s hands.

Also, not for nothing, but both 8-8 teams (the Vikings being the other one) won their Wild Card matchups before getting killed in the Divisional Round.

Anyway, in 2005, the Seahawks had their Super Bowl run.  In 2006, we won our division again at 9-7, beat the Cowboys in the Tony Romo field goal bobble game, then lost another heartbreaker in overtime against the Chicago Bears.

Which, conveniently enough, leads us to our 2007 run.  Our final run in the Holmgren Championship Window.  This team finished 10-6 and once again first in the NFC West.  This granted us a 3-seed and a home game against the Washington Redskins.  This was a close one into the fourth quarter – and indeed the Redskins took a 14-13 lead about midway through the final period before the Seahawks took control to win 35-14, with 22 unanswered points.

That brought us to Green Bay, that year’s #2 seed.  For the life of me, I can’t remember where I was watching this game, but I can tell you once again I didn’t have high hopes.  The Packers were rock solid that year and the Seahawks were old and on borrowed time.  Then, the Packers coughed the ball up twice early in the game and the Seahawks charged out to a 14-0 lead.

COULD THIS REALLY BE HAPPENING?

As it turns out, no.  No, it could not be really happening.  Before the first quarter came to a close, the Packers had tied the score en route to scoring six touchdowns on six consecutive drives.  The Seahawks sprinkled in a couple of field goals, but ended up losing 42-20.  It was, without question, the most demoralizing defeat I’ve ever been witness to.  Mind you, this is a different sort of demoralizing than Super Bowl XL, or some of the other heartbreakers I wrote about above.  This was knowing, without question, that there was no stopping the other team from doing exactly what it wanted to do, whenever it wanted to do it.

Ryan Grant ran for over 200 yards and 3 TDs, Brett Favre threw for another 3 TDs, and we couldn’t do a God damn thing on either side of the ball.  Shaun Alexander had 20 yards on 9 carries; Matt Hasselbeck was held to 194 yards on 19/33 passing.  It was miserable.  From the moment the Packers tied it at 14, the game was one long, painful blood-letting.

And that was that.  The Seahawks would go 4-12 the following year, and the course was set in motion for what this team has become.  Two of our five best Holmgren years were submarined by the Green Bay Packers.  And here we are, meeting again.

Except, this time, WE’RE at home.  WE’RE the higher-seeded team.  WE’RE, quite frankly, the better team.

I’ve learned a lot about myself as a sports fan over the years.  One thing I’ve learned is that I MUCH prefer rooting for a dominating defense over a dominating offense.  A big part of that comes from that last defeat to the Packers at the close of the 2007 season.  One thing’s for certain:  this year, the Packers won’t get anywhere CLOSE to scoring on six consecutive drives.

A Companion Post: Who Might Want Beastmode Besides Seattle?

One thing I failed to explore in the previous post is:  what’s the market look like for a guy like Marshawn Lynch?

Yes, the Franchise Tag is a good cost-cutting tool when trying to re-sign a player.  But, a complete and utter lack of teams desiring to sign an over-priced running back is probably the best thing the Seahawks could ask for.

Of course, on Lynch’s side, you’ve got the age-old adage:  it only takes one.

So, let’s just go around the league.  For starters, you can count out the NFC East.  Dallas has any number of quality young backs already locked in (including super-stud DeMarco Murray who is sure to be a fantasy god for years to come).  The Giants appear to be set with Bradshaw and whoever else behind him.  The Redskins have a nice little stable of young backs.  And the Eagles have Shady McCoy (and, I imagine, not a whole lot of cap room to boot).

In the NFC North, I’m banking my life-savings (and one of my fantasy keepers) on the fact that they will retain Matt Forte.  Minnesota obviously has one of the very best backs in the league.  The Detroit Lions, however, could be interesting.  All they’ve got on their roster right now is Jahvid Best, and he’s a fucking injury waiting to happen!  It’s certainly NOT a good sign that he ended his season with concussions last year.  And, you’d have to think that for a young team trying to cultivate this bad-ass attitude, a guy like Beastmode would slide right in nicely.  Even MORE interesting are the Green Bay Packers.  You’ve got a team with an all-world quarterback, with a shitload of receivers, and with absolutely no running game to speak of whatsoever.  Ryan Grant is a free agent who has played his last game with the green and gold; James Starks is good, but he’s no Beastmode.  I gotta think Lynch might be just the piece to put the right balance into that explosive offense.

The NFC South will be no competition.  Atlanta still has a lot of money tied up in Michael Turner.  New Orleans drafted the top running back last season (and they have other money tied up in three or four other guys); plus, theirs is not an offense that would make any sense for a guy like Lynch.  Carolina still has three running backs (including the guy who takes snaps from the center).  And Tampa is a young team that will never in a million years put in the money it would take to get Lynch.

As for the other teams in the NFC West:  San Francisco has Gore, St. Louis has Jackson, and Arizona has Wells.  They all seem pretty committed to their guys.

You know who scares me more than any other team in the NFL?  The New England Patriots.  Think about it, they were THIS close to winning it all this past season!  What were they missing?  What are they ALWAYS missing?  A balanced offensive attack!  Let’s face it, Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger.  Yes, I know the Patriots like to skimp on their running backs (just as they like to bank draft picks for future drafts), but at one point or another, they’re going to have to cash in before it’s too late.  That crack about Tom Brady not getting any younger:  the same can be said for him not getting any BETTER.  Tom Brady is as good as he’s ever going to be; it’s all downhill from here.  One of these seasons, his skills are going to erode.  He’s not going to see the open receiver soon enough, he’s going to force more and more balls into coverage, he’s going to take more and more hits from ferocious defenses looking to take out the guy while he’s on top.  The Pats could sure as shit use a guy like Lynch to take off some of the load.

And, don’t look now, but Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are both free agents.  They’re not going to hand the ball off to Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen 30 times a game!  Why WOULDN’T they make a huge push to get Lynch and start dominating the Time of Possession in every game?  What’s the downside here?

Elsewhere in the AFC East, the Dolphins are tied up with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, the Jets seem pretty happy with Shonn Greene and whatever young buck they’re going to slide behind him.  And, of course, the Bills have Jackson and Spiller (plus, duh, they’re the team that traded Lynch in the first place).

In the AFC North, you know damn well Baltimore is re-signing Ray Rice, so forget about it.  The Steelers would be an AWESOME fit for a guy like Beastmode, but they’re still stuck with Mendenhall (plus, they NEVER fork over money on free agents).  Cincy won’t fork over the money it’ll take either.  And the Browns – in spite of his sub-par season – will most likely re-sign Hillis (plus, they’ve got a stable of young backs they could easily throw into the mix should Hillis go elsewhere).

The AFC South has three teams that are simply non-starters.  Houston has not one but TWO massively effective running backs (Foster, who’s a fantasy god; and Tate who – as a backup – nearly ran for 1,000 yards).  The Titans have Chris Johnson and his massively insane contract.  And the Jags have one of the better all-around guys in MJD.

The Indianapolis Colts, however, are a God damned wild card and I just don’t like it!  Now, for starters, if they opt to keep Peyton Manning, then you can just skip to the next paragraph right now, because they won’t have two cents to rub together.  But, let’s say they let him and his $28 million walk:  suddenly, they’re in play!  They will have a rookie quarterback starting from Game 1.  They don’t have a single running back worth a good God damn on their team.  And, the organization will have to do something for its fans to make up for the fact that they just let go of a Hall of Famer (especially if he goes to another team and starts kicking ass again).  I wouldn’t put it past the Colts to do something drastic; mark my words.

In the AFC West, we’re talking about teams who are all pretty much set.  The Chiefs will be looking for Jamaal Charles to bounce back from an early-season season-ending injury in 2011.  The Broncos still have Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno.  And the Raiders will still have McFadden; if they re-sign Michael Bush, then all the more reason for them to NOT sign Lynch.

So, aside from the Seahawks, we’re talking about four potential teams:  Detroit, Green Bay, New England, and Indianapolis.  All have ample reasons to sign a back like Lynch; all have ample reasons to not do a damn thing.  There will be other, cheaper options out there (Hillis, Bush, Mike Tolbert, Cedric Benson, Tashard Choice, Justin Forsett, Ryan Grant) for teams like New England and Detroit to snap up, if they so choose to go the tightwad route.  Really, it’s tough to know exactly WHICH of these four teams would be the most likely, considering I don’t know what their cap situations are like.  If I were Green Bay or New England, though, I’d think long and hard.  Both teams were DAMN close this past season.  Both teams had very similar, pass-first types of offenses.  And both teams lost to the same team (the Giants) which could have been avoided had they had a running game.

Something to think about as these Beastmode negotiations continue.