On large stage, Seahawks come up extremely small

OTHER VOICES

February 07, 2006|By MARK PURDY | MARK PURDY,SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

DETROIT -- --The question was loaded. Marcus Trufant was not eager to unload the answer. But he finally did.

This was Sunday night, maybe a half-hour after the Seattle Seahawks had lost the Super Bowl, 21-10, despite beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in all the important statistical categories.

That's why you had to wonder.

Will the Seahawks walk away from this Super Bowl thinking they were still the better team?

The Seattle cornerback was careful in replying.

"We will walk away thinking we could have played better," Trufant said. "And if we would have played better, we would have had a good chance to win."

In other words, yes.

Sunday night was the 40th Super Bowl. None of the previous 39 had a stranger champion.

Oh, the Steelers deserved to win. They made significant plays when it mattered. But in essence, they were less bad than the Seahawks - who actually were pretty good, except when they got close enough to score points. Then they were extremely bad.

"The Steelers played well enough to win and we didn't," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "They should get the credit. It is disappointing. It is hard. But what are you going to do?"

Well, you could wear a pained expression, as Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren did afterward.

"I'm always honest with my players after a game," Holmgren said. "I told them we could have played better. Unfortunately, this is the biggest game of the year. At the same time, I wanted them to hold their heads high because we accomplished a lot this year."

In a twisted sense, you might say the Seahawks also accomplished a lot Sunday. It is difficult to gain more yards than an opponent and lose a Super Bowl by 11 points. But the Seahawks did. It is difficult to have fewer turnovers than an opponent and lose a Super Bowl. But the Seahawks did.

It is difficult to pressure the opposing quarterback into such a terrible game that he finishes with a 22.6 passer rating and ... that's right, still lose a Super Bowl. But the Seahawks did exactly that.

So how were the Steelers able to win? Four perfect plays. The first was a scrambling, improvised pass by Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His 37-yard heave to the 3-yard line, snatched out of open space by receiver Hines Ward, set up a touchdown that put the Steelers ahead by 7-3 at halftime - even though they had been mostly dominated by Seattle to that point.

Roethlisberger had the worst day of any Super Bowl-winning quarterback. But his teammates bailed him out.

"We couldn't do anything on the field all the way through the second quarter," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "We could have been real down. But to be up 7-3, that was a big thing."

And then came the second half, with the three other big Pittsburgh plays. The first was a 75-yard touchdown sprint by running back Willie Parker. The second was a crucial interception by Ike Taylor at the Steelers' 5. The fourth was an end-around touchdown pass from receiver Antwaan Randle El to Ward. It worked spectacularly for the Steelers' final score.

"They made a nice call on that play," Trufant said. "We'd talked about it. We knew they had trick plays. On that one, they just got me."

Meanwhile, the Seattle offense was moving up and down the field and getting squat. In three trips inside Pittsburgh's 20, Seattle scored just once. Yellow flags and dropped passes undid them. Six of the Seahawks' seven penalties came when they had the ball, including one on a kick return.

"The thing that bothers me as much as anything else was the penalties," Holmgren said. "We had a touchdown called back. We had a catch down to the 1-yard line called back. We had a pretty good punt return called back. And that's tough."

As a result, Seattle scored its fewest points since November 2004. The Steelers needn't apologize for winning. They are a good-looking group to pose with the Vince Lombardi trophy. The Rooney family might well be the NFL's best ownership group. Running back Jerome Bettis is a fine fellow who had a sweet farewell party. You can only feel great for him.

But you also know how Seattle feels. If you did the math, the Seahawks' goofs cost them about 175 yards, two first downs and at least two touchdowns.

"You can't make mistakes in any game and win," Trufant said.

Randle El, the best Pittsburgh passer on this day, begged to differ. Because he knew the Steelers were hardly flawless themselves.

"This game wasn't about making mistakes," he said. "It was about making a big play and making a big play at the right time."

In the end, maybe that's also how to answer the loaded question. Better team or not, Seattle walks away knowing that at crunch time, it was a small-play team. And it cost the Seahawks in a big, big, big way.

Mark Purdy writes for the San Jose Mercury News.

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