The Seattle Seahawks have managed to stay atop a weak division despite injuries to NFL MVP Shaun Alexander and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. That duo may return Sunday to bolster the defending NFC champions when they visit the streaking San Francisco 49ers.
Alexander broke his left foot in a win over the New York Giants on Sept. 24 and has missed six straight games. The running back has been pain-free for the past three weeks, but the crack was still present in X-rays. Doctors have cleared him to practice and if he is able to do so without pain, will return Sunday.
“It has healed and it is continuing to heal. Will it ever be totally closed? I suppose someday,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said.
“The diagnostics of the injury don’t compute with what the player is actually feeling.”
Hasselbeck, meanwhile had a sprained right knee ligament sidelined him for three games, forcing Seneca Wallace into a starting role for the first time. Holmgren said Hasselbeck “had some limitations” in practice Monday, but the coach was hopeful he’d get his veteran leader back against the 49ers.
“He has a chance to play this week,” Holmgren said. “I can’t say for sure … if he can’t move (better by Friday), then I’m not going to stick him back there.”
Not having either player in the backfield hasn’t significantly hurt Holmgren’s team, however. Seattle (6-3) leads the NFC West by two games over San Francisco and St. Louis, and is 3-3 without the 2005 league rushing leader and 2-1 without Hasselbeck.
Maurice Morris has filled in for Alexander and rushed for 262 yards in the last two games—both wins. Wallace hasn’t thrown an interception in the last two weeks and had his best game Sunday, going 15-of-23 for 161 yards and two touchdowns as the Seahawks defeated the Rams 24-22.
Josh Brown beat St. Louis for the second time in less than a month with a late field goal, making a 38-yarder with 9 seconds left.
“I am very proud of the football team in the last few weeks, when we have been kind of holding them together with band aids—particularly on offense,” Holmgren said. “The guys have stepped up and really given great efforts, I think.
“We dinked it around a little bit and haven’t been as efficient as I would like, but we managed to scrape out a couple wins.”
Bobby Engram, the Seahawks’ leading receiver last season, is expected to miss his sixth straight game Sunday with a thyroid condition.
Seattle has won six in a row over San Francisco, last losing to the Niners on Dec. 1, 2002. Since then, the Seahawks have outscored the 49ers 188-91.
The 49ers, though, are looking for their first three-game winning streak since Oct. 27-Nov. 10, 2002—the last season they made the playoffs.
“We’re kind of in the gray area right now, but I don’t think it’s out of the question,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “You get that win (Sunday), and you’re 5-5, and the division is not that far out of reach.”
San Francisco defeated Detroit 19-13 last week after knocking off Minnesota 9-3 on Nov. 5.
Frank Gore set a team record with 148 rushing yards in the first half against the Lions, and finished with a career-high 159 yards and a score.
The second-year running back out of Miami has keyed San Francisco’s offense, gaining 831 rushing yards on the season—the most by a Niner since Kevan Barlow had 1,024 in 2003.
San Francisco has allowed a league-high 251 points through nine games, although the defense has improved the last two weeks.
The unit has forced seven turnovers in that span, including an interception late in the fourth quarter against the Lions that sealed the win.
Along with the strong defensive play, Smith has been very accurate in the two victories, completing 65.9 percent of his attempts for 241 yards, no touchdowns but only one interception.
Smith has faced Seattle once, in a Dec. 11 loss, when he was just 9-of-22 for 77 yards with an interception in San Francisco’s 41-3 road defeat.