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Seattle coach Mike Holmgren insists that his team can survive the playoffs without a strong running game, but he can’t be feeling as confident now as he was a week ago.
The Seahawks will try to bounce back from their first loss in six games on Sunday when they try to hand the Baltimore Ravens a ninth straight loss.
Seattle (9-5) reached the Super Bowl two seasons ago behind running back Shaun Alexander, who rushed for 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns en route to league MVP honors. This season, however, Alexander has run for just 612 yards and three touchdowns while becoming almost an afterthought in Seattle’s offense.
Instead, Holmgren has leaned more heavily on Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who is just 221 passing yards shy of his career high of 3,841 set in 2003. Holmgren has pointed out that many teams, including undefeated New England, have moved to a more pass-heavy offense.
However, Holmgren’s one-dimensional offense was exposed on Sunday, as the Seahawks fell 13-10 in Carolina. Hasselbeck, who had 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions during Seattle’s five-game winning streak, was 27-of-41 for 274 yards and was sacked three times in windy conditions.
His only touchdown came on a 15-yard pass to Deion Branch with 1 second left, after he fumbled the ball late in the fourth quarter, ending Seattle’s chances for a comeback.
“I don’t even feel like we played a full game,” Hasselbeck said. “I feel like we should go back out there and try again. It wasn’t us.”
The Seahawks, who had scored at least 24 points in each of their previous seven games, were unable to pick up the slack on the ground, managing just 44 yards. Alexander led the team with 17 yards on seven carries.
“We didn’t run worth a lick,” Holmgren said. “We’re going to keep trying. But to think we’re all of a sudden going to become this power running team, I think it’s a little foolish.”
The Seahawks have already clinched the NFC West, and can do no better than a No. 3 seed. Seattle is tied for third in the conference with Tampa Bay, but owns a tiebreaker against the Buccaneers.
“At this point, our seed is still unchanged, but we’ve got to get our act together if we want to achieve our next goal,” Hasselbeck said. “We’re not in this to go part of the way there, we’re in it to go all the way there.”
But Sunday’s loss to the Panthers merely underscored that the Seahawks could run into trouble in the postseason if they cannot figure out a way to run the ball.
Getting the running game going against the Ravens (4-10) won’t be easy. Though Baltimore owns the longest current losing streak in the league, it ranks second in the NFL with just 77.0 rushing yards allowed per game.
Seattle, meanwhile, ranks 30th in the league with just 3.6 yards per rush.
“We’re going to keep trying to make it better, to keep positive,” Holmgren said. “Maybe we’ll have a bust-out game and guys will start feeling it a bit. That’s how we’re going to approach it.”
The Ravens are reeling after falling 22-16 in overtime to previously winless Miami on Sunday. Matt Stover missed a 44-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime, and the Dolphins completed a 64-yard touchdown pass three plays later, extending the worst losing streak in Baltimore franchise history.
“Eight losses in a row - I think everything stinks at this point, whether it’s the Dolphins or whether we were playing Missouri,” center Mike Flynn said.
Though the Ravens are well out of the playoff race, coach Brian Billick said he would stick with Kyle Boller at quarterback. Boller, though, was knocked out of Sunday’s loss midway through the fourth quarter with a mild concussion and didn’t practice this week.
Rookie Troy Smith led the team on a game-tying field-goal drive, and will make his first start this week.
“With Kyle, it would be problematic for him on Sunday, so, hopefully, he will be available to back up,” Billick said. “Missing two days of practice would make it tough. We’re certainly not going to put him at risk.”
Smith, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, will be the third quarterback to start for the Ravens this season.
“He’s a very strong personality,” Billick said. “If things get ugly with him, he’ll be all right through whatever happens. He’s a very strong-willed young man.”
Billick was hoping linebacker Ray Lewis, who left last week’s game with a dislocated finger on his left hand, would be able to play against the Seahawks, but Lewis missed his third consecutive day of practice Friday.
The Ravens are visiting Seattle for the first time, but have won both previous meetings between the teams. Baltimore beat Seattle 44-41 in overtime on Nov. 23, 2003 in the most recent matchup.