Difficulty stopping last-gasp drives doomed Seahawks


In November of 1997, then Daily World sports writer and Washington State University alum Jerrel Swenning attended the Apple Cup at Husky Stadium, hoping to see his Cougars clinch a Rose Bowl berth at the expense of Washington.

Seated near a group of Husky fans and undoubtedly holding his own in the inevitable trash talking, Jerrel (now the sports editor of the Yakima Herald-Republic) was unfazed when the Dawgs returned an interception of a Ryan Leaf pass for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to pull the UW to within striking distance.

“Do you realize what you’ve done?,” he yelled at the Husky faithful. “You’ve just put Ryan Leaf back on the field.”

Leaf’s future National Football League opponents would consider such a development cause for celebration. On that day, however, Jerrel’s confidence was warranted. The controversial quarterback quickly regrouped and led the Cougs to a 41-35 triumph.

Seattle Seahawk fans might have entertained similar thoughts Sunday when the Hawks capped a remarkable comeback by scoring with 31 seconds remaining to take a 28-27 lead on Atlanta in an NFC playoff game.

By leaving that much time on the clock, the Seahawks were putting their prevent defense on the field.

All season long, Seattle’s normally strong defense had experienced difficulty stopping opponents in last-gasp situations. That failing cost the Seahawks at least three regular-season contests against less-formidable foes (Arizona, Miami and Detroit).

Many observers have pointed to a come-from-behind overtime victory at Chicago in early December as the turning point in the season. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson engineered long touchdown drives on Seattle’s final possession of regulation and its first series in overtime for the 23-17 win.

What some forget is that the Seahawks should have won that game in regulation. Wilson’s touchdown pass to Golden Tate with only 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave Seattle a 17-14 lead.

Incredibly, Seattle’s secondary somehow allowed Chicago’s Brandon Marshall to grab a 56-yard pass from Jay Cutler that set up a game-tying field goal on the final play of regulation.

Atlanta’s situation was slightly less dire Sunday. With 25 seconds and two timeouts remaining following the kickoff, the Falcons had time for at least three scrimmage plays to move into field-goal range. As it developed, they needed only two Matt Ryan completions to set up Matt Bryant’s winning 49-yard boot.

The old line about a prevent defense preventing the team that uses it from winning doesn’t apply exclusively to the Seahawks. Many clubs struggle with the concept, perhaps because they alter their standard defensive scheme to protect against the deep pass.

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, the Hawk defense seems to be particularly ineffectual in late-game situations. It’s a shortcoming they’ll need to address in the future.

Thanks to their late-season surge, the Seahawks probably will enter the 2013 campaign as a “smart money” choice to reach the Super Bowl.

Seattle fans might want to hold off, however, on booking reservations for East Rutherford, N.J. (yep, next year’s Super Bowl will be played in a northern open-air stadium) for early February.

Aside from the torn knee ligament that sidelined defensive end Chris Clemons for the Atlanta game, the Seahawks were remarkably lucky in avoiding major injuries this season. There’s also a sense that Coach Pete Carroll, not exactly a master tactician (as evidenced by his failure to attempt a chip-shot field goal in the first half of Sunday’s game) could be outwitted in a tight postseason game.

Strategy, however, is only one element of coaching. Carroll deserves enormous credit for sticking with his much-criticized decision to open the season with the agile but untested rookie Wilson at quarterback. He also commands the loyalty of his players, always a critical factor in professional sports.

General manager John Schneider, meanwhile, has done a remarkable job of using lower-round draft picks to build a team with few apparent weaknesses.

In other words, the Seahawks are one Seattle franchise that seems to know what they’re doing. Which brings us to the Seattle Mariners.

DEAL OR NO DEAL

If the Mariners somehow wind up in the 2017 or 2018 major league baseball playoffs, here’s hoping that Arizona outfielder Justin Upton receives a belated vote for Executive of the Year.

By vetoing a proposed trade to Seattle last week, Upton saved the M’s from a potentially disastrous deal that could have had repercussions for years to come.

According to published reports that were never confirmed by the Mariners, Seattle was prepared to send pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, shortstop Nick Franklin and two relievers, Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor, to the Diamondbacks in exchange for the talented Upton, who despite respectable hitting statistics (.280 average with 17 homers last year) has been regarded as an underachiever with Arizona.

It’s true that Seattle is in desperate need of offensive help. Rebuffed by free agent sluggers who are reluctant to come to a last-place team who play home games in a pitcher’s park, the Mariners must give up quality to receive the same via trades.

Even so, Walker is considered the best of a cadre of promising young pitchers in the Seattle organization. I wouldn’t trade him for Upton even up, let alone dangle him as one of the components in a four-for-one swap.

While hitting remains the top priority, the Mariners aren’t exactly flush with starting pitching, either. By trading Jason Vargas to the Los Angeles Angels for Kendrys Morales (a deal that made sense), the M’s are shy on rotation depth behind staff ace Felix Hernandez that will likely only be filled when their young talent develops. They certainly can’t afford to give away one of the crown jewels of the organization.

I have mixed feelings about Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik. I like his organizational blueprint of building through the farm system while stressing pitching and defense. I’d be even happier if he followed his own game plan more frequently.

His trades of Doug Fister and Brandon Morrow — young pitchers who were under club control for several years — for very little in return almost defy belief. The revisionist theory that Fister was a back-of-the-rotation starter who unexpectedly blossomed in Detroit is hogwash. At the time of the trade, he boasted a sparkling 3.33 earned run average in Seattle but didn’t have much to show for it due to a lack of run support.

The Mariners have endured their share of self-inflicted wounds of late — raising season ticket prices without advance warning and publicly opposing Seattle’s proposed new basketball/hockey area.

Zduriencik’s frequent calls for patience from the fan base won’t cut it any more. Unless the M’s improve quickly, Seattle fans will patiently wait for the Seahawk season to begin.

Rick Anderson is The Daily World’s sports editor. He can be reach at (360) 537-3924 or via email at randerson@thedailyworld.com