- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seattle’s tough times in what was supposed to be smooth sailing back to the Super Bowl aren’t a first for coach Mike Holmgren, whose defending NFC champion Green Bay Packers lost in the first round in 1998.

But at least those Packers, who had lost Super Bowl XXXII to Denver, made the playoffs. Holmgren’s 2006 Seahawks are in danger of becoming the sixth straight Super Bowl loser not to get back to the postseason. And Holmgren certainly never envisioned having to play without running back Shaun Alexander, last year’s MVP, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, last year’s Pro Bowl starter.

“When you lose your quarterback, that’s a fairly substantial thing,” Holmgren said. “We have lost people at other positions and it’s not quite as dramatic. Everyone else has to crank it up a notch.”

Of course, the Seahawks were struggling before their stars were hurt. Alexander, running behind a line that lost All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson to free agency, was averaging a pathetic 2.9 yards a carry before giving in to the fractured foot he suffered in the opening 9-6 squeaker over lowly Detroit. Hasselbeck’s numbers were better, but still not up to his recent standards. And neither man could be blamed for Seattle’s defense allowing an average of 28 points during the past four games.

With Hasselbeck out two-to-four weeks with a sprained knee and Alexander not due back until after Sunday’s date at Kansas City, the Seahawks (4-2) are in trouble with nine NFC teams owning winning records. However, if both are back by mid-November, a schedule that includes just three more games against winning teams (St. Louis and San Diego at home and a visit to Denver) could save Seattle.

If the Seahawks don’t qualify, they’ll be the latest victim of the Super Bowl loser curse that started with the 2001 Giants, who lost early back-to-back 1-point games and slipped noticeably on defense en route to a 7-9 finish. The 2002 Rams slid to 7-9 as two-time MVP Kurt Warner suddenly subbed interceptions for touchdowns before being felled by hand injuries while the defense also faltered.

Oakland was 2-2 in 2003 before close losses to Chicago and Cleveland sent its season spinning in the wrong direction. Quarterback Rich Gannon, the 2003 MVP, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the next week and the Raiders crashed to 4-12.

Right tackle Adam Meadows’ abrupt retirement started Carolina downhill in 2004. Major injuries to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and running backs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster exacerbated the Panthers’ woes in rushing and in run defense. A 6-2 second half couldn’t salvage Carolina’s 1-7 first half.

Philadelphia’s 2005 season was ruined by Terrell Owens’ histrionics and ultimate suspension and by an incredible series of injuries, particularly to quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Eagles wound up 6-10.

Take that

It didn’t rank with T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s game-winning touchdown or Kevin Kaesviharn’s game-saving interception, but Shayne Graham’s 23-year-old field goal that helped Cincinnati beat Carolina 17-14 Sunday was sure sweet for the 28-year-old kicker.

Graham, now the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history (106-for-126, 84.0 percent), was cut by Carolina at the end of training camp three years ago in favor of holdover John Kasay. The veteran Kasay is still the Panthers’ kicker.

Brotherly battle

If Giants running back Tiki Barber makes good on his retirement plans, Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay will be the last between him and twin brother, Ronde, the Bucs’ cornerback.

“I know the end is here for me, but it’s not going to stop me from playing these last 10 games and hopefully farther in the playoffs and get that elusive [Super Bowl] ring so I don’t have to listen to my brother’s [stuff] for the rest of my life,” Tiki said.

Ronde won a ring with the 2002 Buccaneers. Asked whether he has ever had trouble tackling his twin, he said, “He’s just 21 in blue.”

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