There was a pass play intended to gain maybe 10 yards, but went for 80. There was the why-not, no-see-the-receiver pass that produced a 49-yard touchdown. There was a long run in the desert, as well as a short one in Green Bay, that helped carry Shaun Alexander where no Seahawks player had ever gone before.
In an attempt to select the best offensive play from the past decade – the most successful 10-year stretch in franchise history – Seahawks.com has come up with four nominees. Now, it’s up to you to pick the winner.
There were, of course, more than four worthy plays. The Seahawks’ offense ranked among the Top 10 in the league five times during the 2000s – including a four-year period where they were No. 7 (2002), No. 6 (2003), No. 8 (2004) and No. 2 (during the 2005 run to the Super Bowl). But the plays that were selected stood out for their significance as well as their statistical impact.
The TD pass was just one of Alexander’s NFL-record five first-half scores in the Sunday night game at Qwest Field, an onslaught that included the home team scoring 28 points in less than two minutes.
Alexander, in the fourth game of his first season as the full-time starter, also scored on runs of 2, 20, 3 and 14 yards. But the reception was special because it came on a screen pass.
The screen pass had been a staple in then-coach Mike Holmgren’s hybrid of the West Coast offense since he arrived in 1999, and only gained popularity – and notoriety – with Gil Haskell taking over as the offensive coordinator in 2000.
This time, however, it was different – before and after the snap.
What unfolded on the field went beyond anything the most meticulous coach could draw up and the most precise unit could deliver.
By the time things had finished falling into place, and the Vikings were done falling all over themselves, Alexander had taken the pass from Trent Dilfer 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage and serpentined his way to an 80-yard TD.
“It was just one those wonderful plays that you’ll put on a training reel as, this play right here, this is how you do this,” Holmgren said after the game – which just happened to be his 100th regular-season victory.
The play was the unexpected base in Alexander’s iceberg of a performance that included not only the five scores, but 231 yards rushing and receiving – in the first half, mind you – as the Seahawks turned what had been a 17-10 bout into a 45-10 rout by halftime.
The play also came with a kicker: Wide receiver Koren Robinson predicted that Alexander would score as soon as Dilfer called the play in the huddle.
Say what? “It was just a feeling,” Robinson said. “It was like, ‘If everybody does their job, it’s a touchdown right here.’ They weren’t expecting the screen, or they wouldn’t have blitzed. I called it. I said it was going to be a touchdown.”
It was, because everybody did their job. With two linebackers blitzing to open the area where Alexander would catch the pass, left guard Steve Hutchinson took out fast-closing safety Ronnie Bradford. Robinson threw a two-fer block, pushing cornerback Tyrone Carter into offside linebacker Jim Nelson. Alexander cut behind the pile of bodies created by Robinson and was gone – with the aid of downfield blocks from wide receivers Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram and tight end Jerramy Stevens.
“I think I should have gotten 10 yards,” Alexander said. “But when the two guys went down right away (on Robinson’s block), it allowed me to get up the sideline and turn it over to my receivers blocking on DBs. That usually doesn’t work out good for the other team.”
Again, this was a simple off-tackle play designed to generate a modest gain. Again, everything fell as close to perfection as possible.
Faster than you could say cutback, Alexander had, and a run-of-the-mill play became one that tied for the longest run in franchise history.
“We shoot for 4- or 5-yard gains on running plays,” Stevens said after the game – a 33-19 win that pushed the Seahawks’ record to 6-2. “But there’s always the potential that if we get everybody covered up, Shaun’s got that big-play ability.”
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck audibled to that play, which came on the first snap of the second half. Alexander also made a halftime adjustment of his own. Bothered by an upset stomach all day, Alexander went to the locker room before the first half was over to, well, relieve the problem.
What followed was like watching a long row of dominoes toppling from one end of the field at Sun Devil Stadium to the other.
As Alexander headed to his right against an over-pursuing Cardinals defense, Stevens took defensive end Antonio Smith to the turf, while fullback Mack Strong, left tackle Walter Jones and right tackle Sean Locklear, among others, walled off the rest of the defense. That’s when Alexander shifted directions and, thanks to a block from wide receiver D.J. Hackett, was gone.
“As soon as Shaun broke their angle, he had them,” said Haskell, who had watched the play develop from the coaches’ box high above the field.
The run was so clean that Alexander had time to check himself out on the big scoreboard screen en route to the end zone.
“It was really cool,” he offered. “I said, ‘I know I’m going good. OK, where are these guys at?’ I looked up on the scoreboard and it was just good timing. Lucky guess.”
Alexander also had an 88-yard TD run against the Raiders at Husky Stadium in 2001, as part of his club-record 266-yard rushing performance. But he had to overcome more to generate the one against the Cardinals, and it came during the run to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance.
A 1-yard TD run? What’s so special about that? Alexander scored 10 times on 1-yard runs that season.
This 1-yarder, which came with 13 minutes left in the first half against the Packers, was Alexander’s 28th touchdown of the season. It broke the NFL single-season record and launched Alexander toward becoming the first player in franchise history to be named league MVP.
“The whole week was weird,” Alexander said after also emerging from the 23-17 loss as the NFL’s leading rusher with a club-record 1,880 yards.
That’s because Alexander had flown to Cincinnati on Thursday night to attend his aunt’s funeral and then joined the team on Saturday for what was otherwise a meaningless game because the Seahawks already had clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning a franchise-record 13 games.
“It was like an emotional rollercoaster the whole time,” Alexander said. “Everybody was asking me, ‘How do you feel?’ I’m like, ‘Tired.’ ”
The path to his 10th – and most significant – 1-yard score came as so many others had that season: Behind the All-Pro tandem of Jones and Hutchinson on the left side. It was Hutchinson who was keeping track in the huddle of how many yards Alexander needed to clinch the rushing title, as well.
“The best thing, when I got to the last meeting (Saturday) night, was the O-line was just excited and Mack (Strong) was excited,” Alexander said. “We sat around and talked for a little bit, and they were like, ‘Man, we’re about to really accomplish something big.’ ”
And they did, on a run that was so short.
Again, you need to look beyond the obvious to understand why this TD pass was more special than the other 161 Hasselbeck threw or the other 46 Jackson caught during the decade.
Here’s a not-so-subtle hint: Hasselbeck never saw Jackson on the play. Really.
“I never did,” Hasselbeck said after his post-game news conference when asked when he saw Jackson flash open on the play – a play the QB labeled, “Playground. Very playground.”
When that comment was greeted by a look of disbelief, Hasselbeck explained that he saw Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson cheat toward the middle of the field in a two-deep alignment that was intended to prevent receivers from getting behind the safeties.
“I knew if Darrell had seen the same thing he’d been open right here,” Hasselbeck said, pointing to a spot on the palm of his hand as he “diagramed” what had happened on the play.
Jackson had indeed seen the same thing. He ran hard toward the goal line, even though he knew there was no chance of him getting the ball against that defense. At least the way it was drawn up during the week. But this was Sunday, so Hasselbeck scrambled a bit to get an open passing lane and let the ball fly. Jackson caught it and lunged toward the end zone, just breaking the plane for the score – with Wilson wrapped around his legs.
“You win some, you lose some,” Hasselbeck said with a shrug.
This one definitely was a winner. But was it the Seahawks’ best offensive play of the decade?