- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

Seattle coach/general manager Mike Holmgren thought this was going to be the Seahawks' year. All but four starters were back from a team that had won three of its final four to finish 9-7 and just out of the playoffs.

Quarterback Trent Dilfer had been re-signed, and free agent defensive end Brandon Mitchell had been added from Super Bowl champion New England to fill the only hole for which there wasn't a recent draft pick. And after playing home games last season at the University of Washington, the Seahawks would have gorgeous new digs complete with ultra-modern FieldTurf.

"I really thought we had a chance to do some things this year," said fourth-year boss Holmgren, who guided Green Bay to the NFC Championship game in his fourth season with the Packers. "I thought we were better than last year."

But as usual for the NFL franchise that has gone the longest nearly 18 years without a playoff victory, things haven't gone as hoped.

Dilfer sprained a knee in the preseason opener and didn't return until Week2. Left tackle Walter Jones, the Seahawks' best offensive lineman, held out throughout preseason and didn't play until Week3, by which point right tackle Chris McIntosh had been lost for the season. Mitchell has battled a calf injury, and top defensive lineman John Randle missed four games following knee surgery.

Also, linebacker Anthony Simmons sprained an ankle on the season's eighth play and hasn't returned. The loss of last season's top tackler helps explain why Seattle (2-5) has the NFL's worst run defense, but not why the offense stinks.

"We've had a very unusual season," Holmgren said from a city where rain is the rule, not the exception. "If it could rain, it did."

The Seahawks lost to Arizona 24-13 in their new stadium's debut after leading in the fourth quarter. Seattle also lost final-period leads to San Francisco and the New York Giants.

And even as the Seahawks spoiled Emmitt Smith's record day by upsetting host Dallas 14-7 last Sunday "We were kind of like the blind date invited to the prom," Holmgren said they couldn't really enjoy the victory because they lost Dilfer to a season-ending torn Achilles' tendon and briefly thought they might lose leading receiver Darrell Jackson for good when he suffered a seizure in the locker room following an on-field concussion.

"We play a good game, control the line of scrimmage, sneak out with a win in Dallas, but we lose our No.1 receiver and quarterback," lamented halfback Shaun Alexander. "That's basically the way it goes for us."

When Jackson sits out tomorrow against the Washington Redskins, he'll be the eighth regular to miss a start.

Perhaps no player symbolizes the maddening Seahawks more than the inconsistent Alexander. Seattle's first-round choice in 2000, Alexander replaced injured Ricky Watters as the starter in Week4 last year. Alexander ran for 176 yards in his first start, 142 in his second and 266 the fourth-most in NFL history in his fifth. But Alexander didn't even average 3.5 yards a carry in five of the final eight games.

That pattern has continued this year. Alexander gained 139 yards and scored four touchdowns against Minnesota, but he managed less than 40 yards in four of Seattle's other six games.

Holmgren said the greatly varying results have been hard to explain. Alexander said he has found it hard to get a rhythm while trying to adjust to three line combinations. In any event, Alexander will be even more of a focal point in the absence of Jackson and Dilfer, although the latter's replacement, Matt Hasselbeck, started 12 games last season with a 5-7 record.

"Everyone's always in a hurry, and I put myself in that category," Holmgren said when asked if he was on the hot seat with his 26-30 record in Seattle after going 84-42 and winning a Super Bowl and two NFC titles during eight years as Green Bay's coach. "Our drafts have been pretty good. If I could just solidify the quarterback situation, that would help. Because of our salary cap situation in [2000 after the Seahawks won the 1999 AFC West title], it hasn't happened quite as fast as I had hoped, but we're getting there."

Maybe, maybe not. With seven of their remaining nine foes at .500 or above, the Seahawks likely won't get anywhere this year. As usual.

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