Hurt Hawks’ Turnaround Is A Puzzle

The Seahawks have played for their dignity for more than a month now.

And they’ve actually played surprisingly well. Certainly better than anyone could have expected, given the way the Seahawks started this season.

“The last five games of the year I really changed the challenge to the team,” coach Mike Holmgren said. “How they’ve responded is very encouraging to me. It really is.”

The effort is proof of the professionalism of the players, and consecutive victories speak to both the coaching and depth of a team as the backups have proven to be more than just a bunch of mismatched parts who end up in the junk drawer.

But Seattle’s improvement over the past few weeks is also downright puzzling, because the Seahawks are playing their best football at precisely the time in which they are missing some of their very best players.

Matt Hasselbeck, Patrick Kerney and Walter Jones — three of Seattle’s six Pro Bowl starters last season — haven’t played this month. Neither has linebacker Leroy Hill. The Seahawks are missing all five projected starters along the offensive line, and yet they’ve been certifiably competent and surprisingly competitive for the better part of a month.

“I don’t have a real great answer for that,” Holmgren said.

So the riddle remains. Something the Seahawks are going to have to sort out before next season.

They certainly are not better off without Hasselbeck, who last year passed his team into the playoffs, and Jones was having a Pro Bowl season up until he played on Thanksgiving in Dallas with a knee so sore he had an injection before the game.

But the improvement Seattle has shown over the second half of the season, and specifically in the past three games, is enough to make you wonder whether the Seahawks are seeing some of their future right now, especially along the offensive line, which hasn’t allowed a sack for six quarters and counting.

Could we see options for the future right now?

“That’s a good question,” Holmgren said. “Perhaps. But that’ll be a decision that someone else makes.”

Steve Vallos has started the past four games at center, and Ray Willis has proved himself to be an overbearing physical presence at right tackle.

The offense has been helped by a more stable situation at wide receiver with Deion Branch, Bobby Engram and Koren Robinson serving as the frontline trio. Holmgren also settled on Maurice Morris as the top running back and cut Julius Jones’ opportunities.

The team hasn’t won more games, but it has been in more tight games, which counts as progress when you consider how the season began. Seattle was 2-6 after eight games, with five of those losses by 10 points or more. The Seahawks are 2-5 since, but only one of those defeats was by double digits.

This despite the fact that Seattle has lost one starting offensive lineman after another over the past month. Guard Mike Wahle, center Chris Spencer and tackles Jones and Sean Locklear all wound up on injured reserve.

Throw in the fact that Hasselbeck played in only three of the last 11 games, and the Seahawks still managed to hold a fourth-quarter lead against the Patriots and beat the Jets, who still had everything to play for, needing consecutive victories to assure themselves a playoff berth.

Seattle is on its first winning streak of the season. Granted, it’s only two games, but it does count as a streak and has provided at least a little ammunition for a would-have, should-have, could-have scenario for how Seattle’s season could have turned out differently. If the Seahawks had just found a way to hold on against New England or had they just managed to muster up that final drive against Arizona, maybe things could have been different, but that’s getting carried away. There’s a reason this football team is 4-11.

The question that’s worth asking, though, is why has it won its past two games and been so competitive in others at precisely the time so many frontline players have gotten hurt?