The bad decision that could turn the season around

Nov 8, 2009, 9:56 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:51 pm

by Mike Salk

If winning is the most important thing, then Sunday’s game against Detroit was an unqualified success. The Seahawks accomplished their number one goal: getting back in the win column to keep pace with the division-leading Cardinals. And while the win was the all-important final result, the way they got there may have been the more interesting discussion.

Detractors today will choose to focus on the messy performance. They’ll argue that the first quarter was nearly as awful as the one we all saw against Arizona three weeks ago. They’ll criticize Jim Mora for what appeared to be a panic move – attempting a fourth down conversion inside his own 40 yard-line in the first quarter. They’ll wonder why it was so tough to beat a Lions team that that has very little talent and even less confidence.

Those detractors will be right on all accounts…but they’ll still be missing the point.

The Seahawks did something important at Qwest Field on Sunday, maybe even more important than beating a bad team at home. They showed their mental toughness, their resiliency, and their ability to overcome adversity.

Remember, it was just three weeks ago that ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck questioned the mental toughness of this group of players. He wondered how well this team could respond to an adverse situation – essentially questioning their ability to bounce back from a tough injury, an early deficit or a bad turnover.

They showed on Sunday that those qualities are present. Trailing by 17 in the first quarter? No problem. Turnovers on your first two plays from scrimmage? No big deal. Quarterback dealing with a sore shoulder in addition to his still-healing ribs? Non issue.

Yes, the Hawks proved they have the intestinal fortitude to get past whatever issues were staring them in the face. But perhaps the most surprising thing about it, was that it may have all stemmed from a play that should be categorized as an epic failure.

It came 11:20 into the game with the ball on the Seahawks 38 yard line. Already trailing by 14, they were on the verge of going three and out on their third possession (after turning the ball over on their first two). So it’s easy to see how coach Jim Mora might have believed his season was on the line. With that in mind, he made the unconventional (and extremely risky) decision to keep his offense on the field.

The play? A handoff to Julius Jones that failed to pick up the necessary yard and led to an easy Lions field goal.

But the message? One of importance, immediacy and urgency.

At the time, it might have felt desperate. And if the Hawks had lost, it might have been a play we would have criticized.

“That was probably not a good decision to make,” admitted Mora after the game. “In fact, it wasn’t a good decision to make. But it’s a decision that I made because I just felt like I’d had enough. And sometimes you do that. Sometimes your gut tells you what to do.”

And this time, Mora’s gut delivered a message that perhaps he was unable to get across with words: that this team better start playing like their backs are against the wall.

Because that’s how they played for the next 48:40.

After that play, the Hawks defense allowed less than 200 total yards, while the offense racked up nearly 400. The defense forced five interceptions while the offense did not commit another turnover. The defense allowed just six points, while the offense struck for 32.

As Mora said, “Maybe [it was] a spark. Maybe [it showed we’re] not backing down or we’d had enough. [It was] one of those moments.”

And if the Hawks go on to beat Arizona next week and get back in the division race, maybe it will be the turning point.

Three Up, Three Down

Offense

Up:

1. Matt Hasselbeck. Take out his first throw, and he had a nearly perfect day. Despite throwing lots of underneath routes, screens, and other short passes, he accumulated more than 300 yards for the first time all season and his 39 completions set a franchise record. At one point, he connected on 15 straight passes. He said after the game that he hurt his shoulder tackling Louis Delmas after the interception and that it limited his ability to throw deep down the field. Fair enough. But in the modern era, you can accumulate huge yardage in the passing game without a single deep ball. And Matt proved that on Sunday.

2. Nate Burleson and the other eight receivers who caught a pass. Burleson led the way with seven receptions, but everyone was involved including three other wide receivers, one tight end, two tailbacks and two fullbacks. Burleson’s 25 yard grab down the right sideline was a heckuva play. I liked the way he used his body to shield the defender.

3. Damien McIntosh. This goes to the whole offensive line, but McIntosh gets a special nod because he again stepped in ably at the premier position. Hasselbeck was sacked only once and hit no more than a handful of times despite dropping back more than 50 times. The Lions defensive line may not be ’07 Giants, but they were stymied all day. Nice work.

Bad:

1. Hasselbeck and Justin Griffith. In the game of football, the ball is the most important commodity and they both gave it up. The fact that the turnovers occurred deep in their own territory, on consecutive plays to start the game didn’t help.

2. The offensive line. As much as they deserve credit for keeping Hasselbeck upright, they were once again unable to generate much in the running game. Take away one 14 yard run from Justin Forsett, and the Hawks mustered just 41 yards on 17 carries (2.4 avg). And while it’s nice to point to the daring/risky fourth down call as a spark, it also failed because the line was unable to get a push. This Hawks offense didn;t start working until it became “throw first.” That’s not what Jim Mora wants.

3. TJ Houshmandzadeh. I know his numbers were good and he seemed happy after the game. I also know he scored a touchdown. But he also put the ball on the ground and could have been a goat were it not for Max Unger alertly pouncing on it. I also wonder if the interception came because Hasselbeck was reacting to Housh’s comments from last week by forcing the ball to him.

Defense

Good:

1. David Hawthorne. “The Heater” just continues to impress. He led the team with nine tackles. He picked off Matthew Stafford twice. Lofa Tatupu may be the captain and leader of this defense, but when he returns next year, they are going to have to find room for Hawthorne. He’s shown that he belongs on an NFL field.

2. Josh Wilson. His pick-six sealed the game, but he also defended three passes and made five tackles. I continue to like his game. We’ll be talking to Wilson on the show on Monday.

3. Leroy Hill and Patrick Kerney. You can see what a difference they both make when they’re healthy and in the lineup. Kerney came up with a sack and forced another fumble. Hill finished with seven tackles and was all over the field.

Bad:

1. Ken Lucas. He was picked on throughout the game. Hard to say that Wilson hasn’t passed him as the second best corner on the team.

2. Laurence Jackson. After such a hot start to the season, LoJack failed to make the stat sheet against Detroit. His physical skills are so impressive, I’d like to see him around the quarterback more often and more consistently.

3. Ah, let’s give them a break. The defense was pretty darn good after the first drive of the game, right?

Special Teams

Good:

Louis Rankin and Justin Forsett. Both kick returners had returns of over 40 yards. Rankin showed his considerable speed and Forsett did what he does best: running as hard as he can. This team is going to need those kinds of sparks next week in Arizona.

Bad:

Kevin Houser. The long snapper came under fire after Olindo Mare missed a pair of field goals against Chicago when it was suggested that he may not be consistent enough at snapping at the same speed each time. On Sunday, his bad snap cost the team a point. Fortunately, it didn’t matter too much, and it allowed us a chance to see Steve Vallos show off his tremendous hops!

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