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Seahawks Chase Away Gloom

Seattle battles through losing Alexander to a concussion and driving rain to beat Redskins, 20-10, for its first playoff victory since 1984.

January 15, 2006|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Maurice Morris pulled on faded blue jeans and a red, white and blue golf shirt and tried to fade quietly into his locker. Sitting next to him in the Seattle Seahawk locker room was Mack Strong, his forehead creased with worry lines.

The Seahawks advanced to their first NFC championship game with a 20-10 win Saturday over the Washington Redskins at Qwest Field. Next Sunday, they will play the winner of today's game between the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers for the right to advance to the Super Bowl.

It was Seattle's first playoff victory since 1984, the longest such streak alive in the league, and it came despite what could have been a devastating moment in the first quarter when Shaun Alexander, the NFL's most valuable player, was cracked in the head and left woozy with a concussion.

Alexander had set an NFL single-season record by scoring 28 touchdowns this season, but Saturday he became the valet for Morris and Strong. He would cover them with jackets to protect them from a driving rain (it has rained 27 straight days here) or he would put his arm around their shoulders whispering about the next play or about a tendency he noticed.

Morris and Strong aren't famous the way Alexander is. They didn't make exclamatory runs the way Alexander does, though Strong did have a career-best 32-yard carry at one point. But they were steady. They didn't make big mistakes and they mostly made the right moves. So that brought crowds to their normally quiet corner of the room.

"All year we've had guys that we aren't necessarily counting on stepping up and being guys we can count on," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "In that way, today was no different for us."

Morris, a fourth-year running back from Oregon, gained 49 yards on 18 carries. He didn't score, but he didn't fumble. He averaged only 2.7 yards a carry, but Hasselbeck said, "The kid works hard and comes to play."

Strong is in his 13th NFL season and said he almost quit in 1999. "I had two ankle surgeries," Strong said. "That's not so good if you're a runner."

His 32-yard rush was great, Hasselbeck said. "It ran a lot of time off the clock. Mack's, uh, not too fast."

This city was primed for an end to an 0-6 playoff streak that has lasted 21 years. The area around the stadium was packed four hours before kickoff even in the rain. When Hasselbeck connected with wide receiver Darrell Jackson for 37 yards to the Redskin 23 on the third play of the game and two plays later found Bobby Engram for a nine-yard gain to Washington's 11, the stadium shook with noise.

But after a Hasselbeck incompletion, Alexander took a handoff and then dropped the wet ball. It was recovered by Redskin linebacker Lemar Marshall and silence followed.

About five minutes later, on a sideline run, Alexander was hit hard by LaVar Arrington and Cornelius Griffin, nearly 600 pounds of hard-charging muscle that snapped Alexander's head back. He suffered a concussion and his game was over.

"What our feeling was," Strong said, "was that the rest of us would just get out there and win."

The Redskins capitalized on another Seahawk mistake when punt returner Jimmy Williams dropped a fair catch. Washington's Pierson Prioleau recovered and 10 plays and 32 yards later the Redskins converted a 32-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

That seemed to snap the Seahawks out of whatever funk had settled on them after Alexander's injury. Hasselbeck engineered a clock-sapping 74-yard drive that finished with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jackson, who had nine catches for 143 yards.

Hasselbeck scored Seattle's second touchdown on a six-yard run in which he slid into the right corner of the end zone while holding the ball above his head.

By early in the fourth quarter the Seahawks led, 17-3. The Redskins' Santana Moss streaked free to make a 20-yard touchdown catch from Mark Brunell to make it 17-10, but kicker John Hall missed a 36-yard field that would have made the score 17-13 with 8:06 left in the game.

"We didn't take advantage of all of our chances," said Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs, whose team had only 289 yards of offense. "But all credit to the Seahawks."

"It would be an understatement to say I'm happy about this," said Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren, who is finishing his seventh year here, having come from Green Bay as a savior to be both coach and general manager. He gave up the GM work three years ago when patience was wearing thin over Seattle's continued inability to be a playoff winner.

Making him even more happy, Holmgren said, was the fact that Alexander will probably play next week.

"He got dinged pretty good," Holmgren said, "and he was pretty wobbly. But I think if we showed him a picture of a truck right now, he'd know it was a truck." Good enough.

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