Thursday, January 10, 2008
Poor play at tight end a disaster for Seahawks
By Mike Sando ESPN.com
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If this is how Mike Holmgren's Seattle tenure ends, with a 42-20 divisional-round playoff defeat at Lambeau Field, the coach can take pride in directing the most successful period in Seahawks history.
He deserves credit for finding a franchise quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck. He can take credit for drafting a one-time MVP running back in Shaun Alexander. He can take credit for leading Seattle to a Super Bowl and four consecutive NFC West championships.
Seattle tight end Marcus Pollard fumbles after a second-quarter catch, his only reception of the game.
As Holmgren uses the coming weeks to contemplate his professional future, he might also wonder how far the Seahawks might have gone had they only found a reliable tight end for an offense that historically demands one.
"The position had a tough day today," Holmgren said, putting it gently.
Marcus Pollard's shockingly poor play against Green Bay wasn't the only reason Seattle lost after taking a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter.
The Packers won largely because they buried the Seahawks beneath 235 yards rushing on a day when snow flurries made passing more difficult. When Packers running back Ryan Grant wasn't gashing Seattle's defense, quarterback Brett Favre was dazzling the largest crowd in Lambeau history (72,168) with an improbable third-down flip pass, among other tricks.
And yet there was no denying what a reliable tight end would have meant to the Seahawks.
Pollard lost a fumble early in the second quarter, leading to the go-ahead Green Bay touchdown. He dropped a third-quarter pass in the end zone when Seattle simply could not afford to settle for a field goal. Pollard dropped another long pass later in the game.
"I'm really having a tough time coping right now because it's plays I normally make," Pollard said. "Not to make them tonight, in a key game for us, is really tough."
The Seahawks are accustomed to getting spotty play from the position.
Jerramy Stevens' drops against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL played a significant role in the Seahawks' 21-10 defeat two years ago.
Holmgren was the Seahawks' general manager -- in addition to his coaching responsibilities -- in 2002 when the team used a first-round draft choice on Stevens.
The coach wanted an athletic tight end to stretch defenses the way Mark Chmura had done during Holmgren's most successful seasons as the Packers' coach.
"I see [Stevens] as being tremendous in the red zone," Holmgren said upon drafting Stevens. "I want to use the tight end more."
Stevens' physical gifts were undeniable -- his two touchdown receptions helped Seattle beat the Packers last season -- but repeated off-field problems precipitated his departure last offseason.
The Seahawks subsequently made a run at Daniel Graham, the top tight end available in free agency, but he signed with Denver. When Seattle ultimately addressed the position by signing Pollard from Detroit, Holmgren surprisingly predicted a 50-catch season for the 35-year-old veteran.
It didn't happen.
Pollard, who was slowed by injuries at times, ranked 29th among NFL tight ends with 28 receptions.
Seattle ranked 26th in third-down conversion percentage this season, inexcusable for a team with a Pro Bowl quarterback.
When the Packers needed to convert a third-and-7 play Saturday, Favre found tight end Bubba Franks for a 7-yard gain. The conversion sustained a touchdown drive as Green Bay pulled into a 14-14 tie.
Later in the game, on third-and-8, Favre found tight end Donald Lee for an 11-yard gain to the Seattle 3. The Packers scored, stretching their lead to 28-17.
Pollard's 3-yard catch and fumble accounted for the only reception by a Seattle tight end, even though Green Bay's previous opponents had used the position to great effect.
The New York Giants' Jeremy Shockey caught five passes for 60 yards against the Packers. San Diego's Antonio Gates caught 11 passes for 113 yards against them. Chicago's Greg Olsen had a four-catch, 57-yard game against them.
Washington's Chris Cooley caught nine passes for 105 yards in a game against Green Bay. Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez finished with 10 catches for 109 yards against the Packers, and Dallas' Jason Witten beat them for six catches and 67 yards.
Pollard's end-zone drop proved particularly frustrating for Seattle.
"It was a chance to get momentum swinging back our way and get us in a rhythm," Pollard said. "I like to think if I had made that play, things might have been different."
The snowy conditions made seeing the ball difficult, but Hasselbeck and Favre still combined to complete two-thirds of their passes.
Holmgren generally likes to get 75 to 80 catches per season from his tight ends. Pollard and backup Will Heller combined for 41 grabs this season.
No tight end in Seahawks history has caught more than 46 in a season.
Pollard caught 47 for Indianapolis in 2001 and 46 for Detroit in 2005, but he turns 36 next month and his career is nearing its end.
The Seahawks remain in position to contend in the NFC next season, but they appear unlikely to finish what Holmgren started without a tight end they can count on.
Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.