Cards' victory shows how far Seattle has fallen
October, 18, 2009
|AP Photo/Elaine Thompson|
|The Cardinals sacked Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck five times on Sunday.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
SEATTLE -- Beating the Seattle Seahawks isn't what it used to be for the Arizona Cardinals.
You could even call it routine.
The Cardinals are 4-1 against Seattle since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach. They've won three straight against the Seahawks and five of the last six meetings between the teams dating to the Dennis Green era.
So, while there was much for the Cardinals to like about their 27-3 domination Sunday at Qwest Field -- as complete a game as the Cardinals have played in recent memory -- we already knew Arizona could play at an elite level for any particular game. The playoff run last season demonstrated that profoundly.
This outcome told us more about Seattle in the short term, namely that last season wasn't necessarily an aberration. Blame injuries if you'd like, but whatever the reason, Seattle is 6-16 in its last 22 games.
If the Mike Holmgren era in Seattle passed quietly last season with a Week 17 defeat at Arizona, this latest defeat to the Cardinals seemed to push it several years deeper into the memory banks.
"I've seen crazy things happen in this league," Seahawks coach Jim Mora said, grasping a bit, "and so we're going to keep fighting, we're going to keep battling, we're going to keep searching for consistency, searching to get better and we'll see where this thing ends up."
A 7-9 finish might be optimistic. Seattle is 2-4 and facing road games against Dallas, Arizona and Minnesota during the first month after the upcoming bye. A 3-7 mark could be a realistic record for Seattle heading into a Week 12 road game against the St. Louis Rams.
"We're an inconsistent football team, particularly on offense," Mora said. "We all know the reasons for that."
Seattle was down to its fourth-string left guard and fourth-string left tackle Sunday. Whisenhunt acknowledged as much in his opening remarks, but as Holmgren often said when injuries became a problem, nobody cares.
"I guess they are making excuses, saying Walter Jones is out and [Sean] Locklear and all those guys," Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "At the end of the day, man, you've got to come play on Sundays. Whoever they put out there, they've got to play. We played with guys hurt, even myself. … We're not going to make no excuses because they have backup offensive linemen. They get on the field, they get whooped. It's like that."
Jones, defensive end Patrick Kerney, linebacker Lofa Tatupu and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stood most prominently among Seattle icons from the 2007 team that made the organization's most recent playoff appearance.
Where are they now?
Jones hasn't played all season and it's unclear if he'll recover enough from two knee surgeries to help the Seahawks. It's no stretch to think this could be his final NFL season.
Kerney had two sacks against Levi Brown, the man most responsible for getting Kerney to the Pro Bowl two years ago, before he aggravated a groin injury. Kerney could not finish the game. He'll be 33 in December and his salary will climb past $5 million next season.
Tatupu, the defensive addition most responsible for the Seahawks' Super Bowl run four years ago, suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle trying to tackle Larry Fitzgerald. He'll need surgery.
Hasselbeck's immediate future is clearer after the Cardinals sacked him five times and punished him into survival mode.
"I know Matt Hasselbeck is going to be soaking in the ice tub," said Cardinals linebacker Chike Okeafor, credited with one sack and two of the nine hits on Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck was at his best during a 41-0 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars one week ago. The Cardinals kept him off the field until only 3:07 remained in the first quarter. Kurt Warner completed every one of his passes during a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Whisenhunt's decision to try a pooch kickoff seemed to catch the Seahawks unprepared, although Mora said the team reviewed that situation Saturday morning. Arizona recovered and scored its second touchdown 71 seconds later.
The score was 14-0 and the worst was yet to come for Seattle.
Once the Cardinals allowed Hasselbeck onto the field, they beat him up. Adrian Wilson tagged Hasselbeck on the Seahawks' first play. Calais Campbell sacked Hasselbeck and forced a fumble on the Seahawks' third play.
Hasselbeck earned the Cardinals' respect for his ability to take punishment.
"That is a tough quarterback," Dockett said. "We wanted to get to him early and we did and he stood in there. I take my hat off to him. I think by the third quarter, he started bailing up out of there real fast and at some point, I was thinking he wasn't even looking for the receiver. He was just taking off with the ball."
Dockett stopped himself and searched for the right words, as if trying to avoid saying anything too inflammatory.
"I don't think he likes playing us," he said.
The Seahawks had to like their chances coming into the game if they could only find a way to protect Hasselbeck. They had shut out their previous home opponents 69-0 when Hasselbeck started. Rookie linebacker Aaron Curry and the defense had punished opponents at home, even during a defeat to the Bears in Week 3.
Curry managed a couple of strong tackles early in the game, but Cardinals left tackle Mike Gandy slammed the rookie out of the way during Beanie Wells' 12-yard run to the Seattle 2 on Arizona's opening drive. Curry's helmet popped off as Gandy made his block and Wells knifed into the secondary. The Cardinals' offense was more physical than the Seahawks' defense on that drive, in the Seahawks' house, and that was significant.
By game's end, the Seahawks had set a franchise single-game low with 14 yards rushing. They failed to convert any of their 11 third-down opportunities.
"Some weeks we play well, some weeks we don't," Hasselbeck said. "You don't know which team is going to show up."
Mora blamed Seattle's offense while pointing to other factors, including how the team was learning new systems on both sides of the ball. Those factors didn't stop Seattle from shutting out the Rams (28-0) and Jaguars (41-0).
"I think what you're seeing on defense is some consistency in the lineup finally and you're seeing us improve on defense," Mora said.
Not so much.
Warner completed 20 of his first 23 passes before Seattle picked off a Hail Mary gift as the first half ended. Warner completed 32 of 41 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns. Fitzgerald caught 13 passes for 100 yards. His per-catch average suffered from a 2-yard touchdown reception, but Steve Breaston picked up the slack with seven receptions for 77 yards. The Cardinals converted 8 of 16 times on third down, scoring touchdowns twice in three red zone trips.
"I understand they are banged up a little bit," Whisenhunt said, "but for us to go 11 minutes to start the game with the drive to touchdown and for the defense to play the way it did, especially here, which has been a tough place to play, I am very proud of our team and excited that we are improving and we are playing better football."
Plenty of time remains to find out how far the Cardinals, now 3-2, can go. With the Seahawks, there's a growing sense we already know.
"We're going to not focus on the playoffs right now," Mora said. "We're going to focus on getting better and more consistent as a football team."
Dockett was already looking ahead to the New York Giants in Week 7.
"I honestly feel they are a much better team," he said. "No disrespect to Seattle, but the Giants are one of the top teams in the league and we are going to have our work cut out for us."