Seattle latest to play into Pats' defensive hands

October 18, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

IF THE New England Patriots own the NFL today, it's because of the ability to inflict their defensive ill will upon whatever offense dares to cross their path.

That goes for the St. Louis Rams' Greatest Show on Turf, vintage 2001, or the Indianapolis Colts' no-huddle fire alarm of Peyton Manning, or the modified West Coast scheme the Seattle Seahawks took to Foxboro, Mass., yesterday.

That's the consolation Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck can take from a Week 6 loss to the Patriots. Better quarterbacks than he have been choked off at the goal line by the Patriots.

At the peak of his success, in the February 2002 Super Bowl, the Rams' Kurt Warner found out how difficult it can be to cope with a Bill Belichick pressure defense. Manning has become intimately acquainted with that fact the past two seasons.

Now, Hasselbeck, a rising young player with a chance to be very good, has learned the lesson as well.

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who worked with Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco and Brett Favre in Green Bay, sent Hasselbeck into Foxboro with a game plan that would test the Patriots deep.

This, in most NFL circles, is viewed as playing into Belichick's hands.

Not surprisingly, Belichick proceeded to take Hasselbeck's lunch.

On his first two possessions, Hasselbeck threw interceptions against New England blitzes. The first occurred on a tipped ball that Willie McGinest grabbed and lumbered 27 yards to set up the first Patriots' touchdown. The second, by elite cornerback Ty Law, set up a field goal.

The Seahawks, unbeaten until they had a fourth-quarter collapse last week, were nearly voted off the island of Super Bowl contenders with yesterday's dreadful start to their own reality check.

Hasselbeck would recover to throw 50 times for 349 yards and get the Seahawks within striking distance of a significant victory. Still, the 10 points he gave away at the beginning represented the difference at the end in a 30-20 loss.

The Patriots gave ground, but when they had to, they were impenetrable.

Five times, the Seahawks had the ball inside the New England 20 - four times at the 10 or closer - and they managed only one touchdown. Three times, they had to settle for field goals.

Holmgren's offense never looked as ineffectual as it did in the red zone.

The Seahawks had a first down on the Patriots' 13 with 3:57 left, trailing 23-17. Two plays later, with two blitzers bearing down from his right, Hasselbeck threw the ball away - and paid for it with a costly intentional grounding penalty.

Then on a key third-down play, Hasselbeck again got enough pressure that he couldn't try to go to the end zone for a touchdown. He had to take his checkdown to the tight end and then a field goal and ultimately the loss.

No play better symbolized the pride factor the Patriots have working right now than the last play of the game. Already resigned to defeat, the Seahawks got one last chance to get in the end zone after a New England penalty with no time left extended the game.

Belichick called a timeout to make sure he had the right personnel on the field. Then the Patriots stuffed running back Shaun Alexander to show the Seahawks the right way to finish off a game.

With 20 straight wins, the Patriots appear unbeatable. Trading for malcontent Corey Dillon in the offseason essentially makes them immune to a losing streak. Dillon's power running will balance Tom Brady's big-strike passing and help the Patriots through the rough spots late in the year.

Next up for the Patriots are the unbeaten New York Jets. After that come road trips to Pittsburgh and St. Louis, then another in Kansas City two weeks later. Somewhere in that collection of games, a loss is lurking.

But until somebody brings a quarterback bold enough to handle Belichick's defensive wizardry, don't count on the Patriots losing any games they have to have.

Not so Super

At 1-4, the injury-marred Carolina Panthers can forget about a return to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. Only eight teams in league history have bounced back from a 1-4 start to make the playoffs, the last being the Tennessee Titans in 2002.

The more pertinent question is whether the Panthers can make it back to 7-9.

How's that? Well, the last three NFC champions not only failed to make the playoffs the next year, but they also all went 7-9 in their crash landing.

The New York Giants followed up a Super Bowl season in 2000 by going 7-9 in 2001. The St. Louis Rams went from the Super Bowl to 7-9 in 2002, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit the 7-9 skids a year ago after their Super Bowl championship.

The real deal

After Dallas coach Bill Parcells vaguely compared Ben Roethlisberger to Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers' rookie deftly made Parcells seem clairvoyant. Roethlisberger brought the Steelers back from a 10-point deficit by hitting his last 11 passes in a 24-20 win over the Cowboys.

He demonstrates not only the ability to make the deep throw, but also remains uncannily cool under pressure. His best plays yesterday were made in desperation, often with the Cowboys swirling around him.

If he can keep it up, the Ravens' preordained AFC North title is in jeopardy.

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