- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

NFL Notebook

When Mike Holmgren left Green Bay for Seattle in 1999, the Pacific Northwest figured it soon would have its first championship team since the 1979 SuperSonics. After all, Holmgren had guided the Packers to a Super Bowl triumph, two NFC championships and three division titles in seven years while never having a losing season.

However, after winning a division title with a 9-7 record in his first season in Seattle, Holmgren couldn’t repeat even that modest success the next three years. So the coach who had a street named for him in Green Bay was on the hot seat in December 2002 with the Seahawks at 4-9.

Fortunately for Holmgren and Seattle, that’s just when former Packers backup Matt Hasselbeck established himself as a top quarterback. Hasselbeck, who had averaged just 205 yards during his previous 19 starts, passed for an average of 350 yards in the final three games of 2002 and has remained just as hot since.

Hasselbeck set a franchise mark with 3,841 yards in leading Seattle back to the playoffs last season, and now the Pro Bowl passer has the 3-0 Seahawks atop the NFC West and riding a team-record 10-game home winning streak heading into Sunday’s showdown with defending division champion St. Louis (2-2).

Hasselbeck is blessed with potent weapons in running back Shaun Alexander, a fellow free agent-to-be, and receiver Darrell Jackson, but Seattle is the most serious threat to preseason favorite Philadelphia in the NFC mostly because of a vastly improved defense.

Ranked 28th in 2002 (last against the run) and 19th last year in its first season under coordinator Ray Rhodes, the Seahawks have the NFL’s best defense (third against the run). Seattle held New Orleans to a touchdown, Tampa Bay to two field goals and dealt San Francisco its first shutout in 25 years.

With six new starters — not including former Philadelphia Pro Bowl cornerback Bobby Taylor who surprisingly hasn’t cracked the lineup — the Seahawks have forced 10 turnovers and recorded 10 sacks even though top linebacker Chad Brown (who averages seven sacks) has been hurt all season. Eight of those 10 sacks have come from linemen, a total the group needed nine games to reach last year.

“The D-line sets the table for everybody else,” Holmgren said. “We’re rotating a lot of guys, we’re getting big plays, we’re getting pretty good pressure on the quarterback, we’re getting fumbles, we’re getting interceptions — and I think it all starts up front.”

Seattle has the daunting task of trying to beat Super Bowl champion New England on the road next week, but the rematch with St. Louis is the only game in the following six weeks against an opponent that’s currently without a losing record. If the defense can come close to maintaining its level of play and the Seahawks continue their newfound winning ways on the road, there might be a rematch with the Patriots come Super Bowl week.

Border-crosser — When Gary Anderson came out of retirement at 45 to sign with Tennessee after Joe Nedney was hurt, he made a deal with coach Jeff Fisher.

Because Anderson’s family is in Canmore, Alberta, near Calgary, he flies home after games and usually doesn’t have to return until Thursday, leaving Wednesday kicking duty to punter Craig Hentrich.

No diaper motif? — Kansas City second-year running back Larry Johnson was recently blasted by coach Dick Vermeil for being so immature that he might as well wear diapers. However, the 24-year-old Johnson does have an appreciation of football history. He has re-upholstered the seats of his Mercedes with the throwback jerseys of Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Walter Payton and Dick “Night Train” Lane.

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