Still down, but still not out

The Seahawks lost another disappointing game on Sunday – 34-18 to the Atlanta Falcons – but they remain tied for the NFC West lead.

Down, again. But still not out.

Despite another disappointing loss at Qwest Field on Sunday afternoon – this time 34-18 to the now 12-2 Atlanta Falcons – the Seahawks remain tied for first place in the NFC West. Despite their 6-8 record and the daunting task of traveling across the country on Christmas Day to play the Buccaneers in Tampa next Sunday, the Seahawks also can capture the division title by beating the St. Louis Rams at Qwest in their Jan. 2 regular-season finale.

Impossible, you say? Not in the NFC West. Not this season.

Beat the Rams in that final game – regardless of what the Rams do against the San Francisco 49ers next week, or the Seahawks against the Bucs – and they’ll return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

How can this be possible? The Seahawks would have a 4-2 record in the division, and the best the Rams could do – even with a win over the 49ers – would be 3-3. Tiebreaker to the Seahawks.

But such a discussion seems to skirt the ridiculous after yet another loss – the Seahawks’ sixth in their past eight games, and third in their past four home games.

“Ultimately, we did enough things to beat ourselves,” said strong safety Lawyer Milloy, who played three seasons for the Falcons before signing with the Seahawks last season and re-signing with them this year.

“But we’ve still got a shot. As bad as we might feel right now, awkwardly we still have a shot. And that’s all you want.”

If, as Milloy pointed out, they can take advantage of the odd situation that involves a team that could finish 7-9 winning its division and then hosting a first-round playoff game against a quality opponents – perhaps the defending Super Bowl champion Saints, a team that beat the Seahawks 34-19 in New Orleans last month.

That’s how the Seahawks looked at Sunday’s game all week – as a possible prelude to a playoff scenario.

For much of the first half, the Seahawks were up to the challenge. They scored a touchdown on their first possession for only the third time all season – a 1-yard run by Marshawn Lynch to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive. They got an interception from versatile defensive back Jordan Babineaux to setup a 38-yard field goal by Olindo Mare. They held Michael Turner, the Falcons’ 1,100-yard back, to 30 yards on 12 first-half carries.

Then, a day that started so well turned into just another where things started to go so wrong.

Linebackers David Hawthorne and Will Herring forced fumbles on back-to-back plays on Atlanta’s second possession, but the Falcons not only recovered both they got a field goal out of the series. Then, the Falcons scored on their final play of the half – on Matt Ryan’s 24-yard pass to Michael Jenkins. Then, QB Matt Hasselbeck fumbled in the end zone while being sacked on the Seahawks’ first play of the second half and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux fell on the ball for a touchdown. Then, Hasselbeck threw two third-quarter interceptions – the first set up a field goal, the second a touchdown.

Quicker than anyone could grumble, “Here we go again,” the Seahawks were on their way to losing – again.

“This was a gauge – ‘Can we do it in this game?’,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Our whole week, our preparation, our focus was to see if we could get that done. And we couldn’t do it.”

Three more Hasselbeck turnovers turned into 17 third-quarter points for the Falcons – after his five turnovers in last week’s game at San Francisco paved the way to 20 points for the 49ers.

It was enough that Carroll went to backup Charlie Whitehurst at the end of the third quarter and then seemed to leave the door cracked when asked who his starting QB would be for next week’s game in Tampa – where the now 8-4 Bucs lost to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

“We’re going to look and see what’s going on and figure it out,” Carroll said. “Matt’s been our starter all the way through. He’s put us in position at this time, and it seems to me that’s really important for us to understand.

“And there’s a lot of guys playing football, it isn’t just one guy out there. The whole team’s playing. To point it all at one guy isn’t the right thing to do. So we’ll figure it out next week and we’ll let you know.”

Whitehurst not only directed a scoring drive in the fourth quarter, he scored the TD on a 1-yard run and then put a pretty pass right on Ben Obomanu for the two-point conversion.

Hasselbeck completed 10 of 17 passes for 71 yards, with the two interceptions, for a 28.9 passer rating. Whitehurst was 8 of 16 for 83 yards, but no interceptions, for a 65.4 rating.

“Not much is going to change,” Whitehurst said when asked about Carroll not committing to a starter for next week. “Everybody goes in and works as hard as they can every week and the coaches make the decisions.

“So I don’t see it changing much.”

In between that game-opening 80-yard drive and the Whitehurst-led 88-yard drive, the Seahawks offense generated 41 yards on eight possessions.

“I would put it on decision making,” Hasselbeck said of the offensive drought. “It was like I wasn’t content with just dinking and dunking it down the field.”

The defense, meanwhile, gave up three TD passes to Ryan – a 3-yarder to running back Jason Snelling to tie the score in the first quarter; a 24-yarder to Jenkins to give the Falcons a 17-10 halftime lead; and a 5-yarder to wide receiver Roddy White to make it 34-10 late in the third quarter.

“It was just a whole bunch of stuff,” linebacker and leading tackler David Hawthorne said. “We definitely had opportunities to win this game. I felt like we were in this game. We came out and did exactly what we wanted to do – come out and fight and make it a battle.

“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”

But here the Seahawks are, still very much in the hunt for a postseason berth with two games left in the regular season.

“It’s crazy to even think that way – losing games and you still have an opportunity,” Hawthorne said. “But it’s reality.”

Milloy, for one, would like to take some positive steps toward that possible playoff berth.

“You’ve got to go into the playoffs feeling good about yourself,” Milloy said. “We’ve got two games to figure that out.”