Just reaching the playoffs was a goal for the Seattle Seahawks last season. In 2004, bigger things are expected from one of the NFL’s emerging teams.
The Seahawks will begin dealing with the weight of expectations when they take on the New Orleans Saints in the season opener for both teams.
“Everyone else is just now thinking the way we’ve already been thinking,” running back Shaun Alexander said. “We’ve been saying for two years that we’ve got potential to be the best. Now, everyone else is seeing it, too.”
After Mike Holmgren led the Seahawks into the playoffs in 1999 in his first season as coach, many believed Seattle was on its way to becoming one of the NFL’s top teams. The Seahawks, however, slipped to 6-10 the following year and failed to qualify for the playoffs for three consecutive seasons before going 10-6 in 2003 and losing to Green Bay in the NFC wild-card game.
The 10 wins were the most for Seattle since it went 10-6 in 1986, while the playoff appearance was only its second in 16 seasons.
“Unless something beyond normal happens, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be better and back in the playoffs,” linebacker Anthony Simmons said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t do better than last year.”
A potent offense remains the biggest strength for the Seahawks.
Matt Hasselbeck established himself as one of the league’s best quarterbacks last season, passing for a franchise-record 3,841 yards and 26 touchdowns while earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Running back Alexander, also a Pro Bowl selection, had his third straight 1,000-yard season, rushing for a career-best 1,435 yards and 14 TDs.
Alexander gets to run behind one of the league’s best offensive lines featuring Pro Bowlers Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson.
Seattle’s defense should also be better than last season with the additions of defensive end Grant Wistrom, veteran cornerback Bobby Taylor and rookies Marcus Tubbs and safely Michael Boulware. Under the guidance of defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, the Seahawks’ defense improved from 28th in 2002 to 19th last season while improving from last to 14th against the run.
Holmgren isn’t putting much faith in preseason predictions—some that have the Seahawks going as far as the Super Bowl.
“We took some steps last year, but this is a new season,” he said. “We have a tough schedule. You have to do it all over again every year. I like the fact that expectations are high, and I’ve said that before, but you still have to do it. You’ve got to win games.”
The Saints hope to rise above mediocrity in 2004 after finishing 8-8 last season while failing to make the playoffs for the third straight season.
Coach Jim Haslett has a 34-30 record with New Orleans and hasn’t had a losing record since replacing Mike Ditka, but has been unable to match his first season, when the Saints won the NFC West and posted the first playoff win in franchise history.
“That’s the nature of this business,” Haslett said. “If you don’t win, you’re going to be in the hot seat.”
Despite a disappointing season, the 2004 Saints will bear a very close resemblance to last year’s team. Haslett did replace two assistant coaches, but New Orleans was far less active in the free agent market than in past years.
“It’s the first time we’ve had some continuity since we’ve been here,” Haslett said.
One concern for the Saints is the health of quarterback Aaron Brooks, who played sparingly in the preseason because of a strained muscle in his right leg.
“I feel good, I did a good job of taking care of myself in the preseason,” Brooks said. “We’re all excited about it. It’s going to be a good season for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
Deuce McAllister will be counted on for another big season after setting career highs with 1,641 yards on 351 rushes in 2003.
The Saints lost their season opener 27-10 at Seattle last season.
“We’ve been traveling up there the past few years so it’s nice to play at home,” Haslett said. “They’re a good football team, they’re well-coached and they have a lot of great players, especially on the offensive side.”
2003 STANDINGS: Seahawks - 2nd place, NFC West. Saints - 2nd place, NFC South.
SEAHAWKS LEADERS: Offense - Hasselbeck, 3,841 passing yards and 26 passing TDs; Alexander, 1,435 rushing yards and 14 rushing TDs; Darrell Jackson, 68 receptions, 1,137 receiving yards and 9 receiving TDs. Defense - Simmons, 79 tackles; Chike Okeafor, 8 sacks; Reggie Tongue, 4 INTs.
SAINTS LEADERS: Offense - Brooks, 3,546 passing yards and 24 passing TDs; McAllister, 1,641 rushing yards and 8 rushing TDs; Horn, 78 receptions, 973 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs. Defense - Jay Bellamy, 77 tackles; Charles Grant, 10 sacks; Fred Thomas, 4 INTs.
2003 SEAHAWKS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 125.6 yards per game (10th in NFL); Passing Offense - 226.1 ypg (7th); Total Offense - 351.7 ypg (6th). Rushing Defense - 109.9 ypg (14th); Passing Defense - 217.5 ypg (27th); Total Defense - 327.4 ypg (19th).
2003 SAINTS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 125 yards per game (11th); Passing Offense - 214.9 ypg (8th); Total Offense - 339.9 ypg (11th). Rushing Defense - 140.1 ypg (27th); Passing Defense - 187.1 ypg (8th); Total Defense - 327.1 ypg (18th).
LAST MEETING: Sept. 7, 2003; Seahawks, 27-10. At Seattle, Alexander rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Seahawks.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Seahawks - Holmgren is 4-0 lifetime against the Saints. … QB Hasselbeck has thrown just one interception and 33 TDs in the red zone sine becoming starting quarterback in 2001. … WR Jackson, the 14th wide receiver drafted in 2002, leads that class in catches, yards and TDs. Saints - QB Brooks hasn’t thrown an interception in 232 consecutive pass attempts. … RB McCallister had nine straight 100-yard games last season, the third-longest streak in league history. … WR Horn needs 110 receiving yards to join Eric Martin as the only players in team history with 5,000.
2003 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Seahawks - 2-6 on the road; Saints - 5-3 at home.
INJURIES: Seahawks - OUT: LB Chad Brown (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: WR Alex Bannister (shoulder); S Ken Hamlin (foot); DT Marcus Tubbs (hamstring); G Jerry Wunsch (ankle). PROBABLE: G Chris Gray (back); WR Koren Robinson (migrane). Saints - QUESTIONABLE: CB Jason Craft (ankle); DE Darren Howard (neck).