TAMPA, Fla. – In a year when the entire NFC West has been the butt of jokes around the NFL, it's appropriate that the division title might come down to a pain in the rear.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's(notes) rear, that is. The Seattle Seahawks quarterback may not be able to play in the winner-take-all season finale next Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at Qwest Field after suffering what he and coach Pete Carroll described as a pulled muscle or two in his posterior as Seattle fell to 6-9 in a mostly meaningless 38-15 loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
"Fell" is actually a polite way to put it. Seattle has spent the season bumbling and stumbling. The fact that Seattle has a chance to make the playoffs still is akin to saying it's great that 84-year-old Hugh Hefner just got engaged to a woman 60 years his junior.
The images are just not comforting.
Of Seattle's nine losses, every one of them has been by at least 15 points. The Seahawks haven't just been mostly bad, they have been mostly awful. Putrid, brutal, repugnant. Throw any term you want out there, they all apply.
Carroll threw a bunch of them out after the game, ripping his team for their unimpressive effort. While the game was rendered somewhat meaningless when St. Louis beat San Francisco earlier in the day, Carroll was hoping to get some kind of momentum going into the season finale.
Instead, after watching Hasselbeck come up lame after not even being touched on a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Carroll and the rest of the Seahawks had to spend the postgame defending why it's OK that his team is still in playoff contention. With a win over the 7-8 Rams next Sunday, the Seahawks advance to the postseason by virtue of a tiebreaker.
(At this point, it would be normal to say that the NFL has to do something to make sure that there is never a chance that a 7-9 team makes the playoffs in an effort to protect the integrity of the NFL's regular season and … blah, blah, blah. Here's the deal: NFL owners generally don't care about the issue. Earlier this month at an NFL owners meeting in Fort Worth, four owners were asked about the situation and they said it wasn't a high-priority issue. While the owners could solve the problem by either going to a four-division format instead of eight or requiring that a playoff team have a winning record to qualify, they don't seem interested in the subject. So save the outrage and just trust that this is not going to change anytime soon.)
"We have an opportunity in this last week to play for our division, which is what we set out to do from the start," Carroll said. "Regardless of what it looks like, what it feels like, that's the facts."
To that end, most Seattle players looked downright sheepish as they talked about the prospects of winning the division.
While the Seahawks don't control playoff formatting, they have had the opportunity to take control of a weak division but have responded miserably. Seattle has lost three in a row, five of six and seven of their past nine. On Sunday, after getting the early lead, the game unraveled faster than Matt Millen can spit out clichés.
Seattle was torched by second-year Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman(notes), who had as many touchdown passes (five) as he had incompletions (he finished 21 of 26 for 237 yards). The Buccaneers’ running game churned out 208 yards on only 26 carries, including 164 on 18 carries by rookie LeGarrette Blount(notes), who has 941 yards and has a chance to become only the second undrafted rookie to rush for 1,000 yards (Dominic Rhodes(notes) did it in 2001 with Indianapolis).
"I am concerned," Carroll said when asked about his team's effort. "That didn't look like what our effort should be at this point. We're not where we should be and it's telling."
Carroll talked quickly and dispassionately, perhaps realizing that fixing the Seahawks is going to take a lot more work than he expected. Moreover, making the playoffs will be a whole lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing, if the Seahawks don't start to play better quality football.
"When I first got here, the 'Hawks had been building and building for years, with all the different draft picks we had and the chemistry finally clicked," said Tatupu, who helped Seattle reach the Super Bowl in his rookie season in 2005. As Tatupu talked, his eyes looked distant, knowing that how the Seahawks are playing right now seems a long way removed from that.
In fact, what the Seahawks and really every team in the NFC West is doing right now seems a long way removed from being playoff-worthy. Before the game, several writers sat watching San Francisco lose to St. Louis in a mistake-filled game that was emblematic of the division this season. At one point, one writer suggested that if you combine all four teams from the NFC West and used the best players still active, you might have a hard time fielding a team capable of winning a playoff game. That seems stunning to consider, but remember that the starting quarterback right now would have to be Sam Bradford(notes), the talented rookie from the Rams.
That's because not even Hasselbeck could get his butt into the lineup right now.
- Pete Carroll