It was just a garbage-time play near the end of a garbage-like Seahawks performance. Their lone goal was to do something they had failed to do for most of this game — compete. That’s coach Pete Carroll’s mantra, and that fighting spirit has made the Seahawks laudable this season despite their ever-surfacing flaws. But they didn’t know it would lead them to a gruesomely symbolic moment.
The score was 40-14 with two minutes remaining, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was still in the game despite five turnovers, and the offense was still searching for positives, and that’s when it happened. Hasselbeck drilled a 2-yard pass to wide receiver Deon Butler. Touchdown. A positive, at last. Something sweet atop a bitter effort. And then everyone looked at Butler’s leg.
Teammate Ruvell Martin was the first to see it. “You could see there was a bump coming out of his sock,” he said, referring to a bone in Butler’s leg. “I just gave him my hand, said a prayer and waited for the trainers.”
It was a broken leg so nasty that Seahawks running back Leon Washington, who suffered a compound fracture last year, cried after visiting with Butler postgame. For a Seahawks team clinging to unexpected playoff hopes, the injury is more significant than the loss of yet another receiver. The misfortune reflects where the Seahawks (6-7) stand with just three games left.
They’re valiant, but not victorious. They’re admirable, but inadequate. They’re brave, but broken.
In this game, they just looked done. Spent. Too many injuries. Too few masks to disguise their shortcomings. This is the time to sprint to the finish, but they’re crawling, feeble and flustered, exposed and exhausted.
The Seahawks lost 40-21 to San Francisco on Sunday. Yes, the same 49ers they beat 31-6 in the season opener. The knee-jerk conclusion is to say the Seahawks dogged it, to say they were ill-prepared and turned in an unprofessional performance. But while their effort could’ve been better, particularly when it came to tackling and Hasselbeck’s decision-making, it was more discouraging to think this wasn’t an aberration.
If not for an explosive nine-minute stretch in the third quarter against Carolina the previous week, this loss would’ve been the Seahawks’ sixth in seven games. As it is, they’ve lost five of seven, and those two victories came against a mess (Arizona) and a hazmat situation (Carolina). In those five losses, they lost by an average of 23.2 points. Their closest loss in this stretch — or all season, for that matter — was a 34-19 defeat at New Orleans.
“When we lose, we lose in grand fashion,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “And that’s not good.”
They’re simply not a good team. They’re a playoff contender by default, by the exemption of playing in a division of losing teams, by the fact they’re just solid enough to run close to the pack. They’re a rebuilding team that used new energy, an improved attitude and a revamped roster to start 4-2. Since then, they’ve tumbled back to reality.
Even if the Seahawks had been on their game Sunday, it’s hard to imagine them beating the 49ers. As bad as San Francisco (5-8) has looked this season — from its 0-5 start, to its shuffling of the Smiths at quarterback, to its coach’s pursuit of a locker-room rat — the 49ers are the better team right now. And that’s without running back Frank Gore.
Their defense is clearly better than Seattle’s struggling unit. Both offenses are a train wreck, but San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis is the best individual talent, the 49ers’ offensive line is more consistent, and the Niners have more weapons. The Seahawks have the edge only in quarterback play. But on this day, Hasselbeck played one of worst games of his career, and opposing QB Alex Smith exploited the bumbling Seahawks.
Hasselbeck committed five turnovers, four of them interceptions. His giveaways led to 20 of San Francisco’s points. The Seahawks lost by 19. He also threw an end-zone pick that kept Seattle from making a field goal or scoring a touchdown.
“I feel bad,” Hasselbeck said. “I feel for the guys that got hurt who laid it all on the line. It’s tough when the quarterback turns the ball over as many times as I did. I feel bad about that, but I’m going to get that right. I’m going to get that fixed and just keep moving on.”
It’s easy to proclaim but much more difficult to achieve, especially considering the state of the Seahawks’ wide receivers. Butler is out. Starters Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu, both of whom didn’t play Sunday, are on the mend. And chain-moving specialist Brandon Stokley left the game early with a hamstring injury. The Seahawks are down to Martin, who caught a touchdown pass; and Golden Tate, the Maple Bar Caper who has just 17 receptions this season.
Regardless of who’s catching passes, Hasselbeck must perform better these final three games. He is this offense’s best hope. And Mr. Best Hope has 10 turnovers in his last three games. Which ought to tell you something about the Seahawks’ desperate state.
“We’re clawing,” Hasselbeck said. “We’re scratching. We’re trying to get healthy, trying to get healthy, trying to score.”
You can applaud the determination of a team seemingly in over its head. But too often, like on Butler’s injury, the results make you want to look away.