With an effort as earnest and futile as his attempt to recover his own fumble in the Kingdome end zone on Sunday, Rick Mirer groped for answers in the Seattle Seahawks locker room on Monday.
Slowly and achingly pulling on a T-shirt ironically with the logo “No Fears,” Mirer knew his status as starting quarterback is precarious - pending a decision by coach Dennis Erickson on whether to stick with him or give reserve John Friesz a try.
“We haven’t talked about (the starting job),” Mirer said. “I don’t know what that procedure is like, I’ve never gone through that. If it happens, it happens.
“I hope it doesn’t, but we’re in this thing together and we want to win games. If that’s the next step in the process, then that’s the next step.”
But it’s not a step to be made frivolously.
“Obviously, there is a possibility it could happen,” Erickson said of the quarterback shift. “I just haven’t made the decision yet. I’ll make the decision by Wednesday, obviously, before we start practicing. I’m going to put some thought into it and make a decision based on what I think is best for everyone involved.”
The lone criterion would be which quarterback gives the Seahawks the best chance to win Sunday’s game at Arizona. “Not what gives us the best chance next year,” Erickson said. “That way wouldn’t be fair to the team.”
Mirer had shown considerable promise and been solidly entrenched as the Seahawks quarterback of the future since being drafted with the second overall pick three years ago.
But in the past three weeks, Mirer has thrown eight interceptions that have led to 40 points by opponents, and his 12 interceptions for the season are the highest in the NFL.
Seahawks players stand behind him, admiring his toughness and his effort.
“I’ve got a lot of people trying to console me, but I think I’m more critical of things I do than anybody else is,” Mirer said, before recalling the boos in the Kingdome Sunday. “Well, maybe I’m not.”
The pressure comes with the job, Mirer said. But that doesn’t make it easier to stomach.
“I don’t need to get babied. It happened and it’s over,” he said. “When you’re singled out the way a quarterback will be when he’s the one making mistakes, it’s humiliating, but it’s part of it and you have to have thick skin.”
The bad statistics and criticism can be lived with, but “it’s the (2-5) record that hurts,” he said. “After seven games, it’s pretty clear we’re not going to be playing in January. It’s not too late to win games and have a winning season, but I’m not playing to be .500. That’s not good enough.”
Erickson, quarterbacks coach Rich Olson and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski all said Monday they felt Mirer has improved every week, and does more good things on the field than he ever has.
But turnovers and inconsistency can be tolerated only to a point.
“It really only takes a couple of crucial mistakes to offset all the good things you can do in a game,” Mirer said. “On paper, it looks terrible, like this guy is worse than when he came here. It’s hard to swallow when you understand a lot more about what’s going on. But there’s just too many balls going to the wrong team and I’ve got to take (the blame) for that.”
Mirer said he’d like to get better at finding the receivers in short patterns rather than ineffectively forcing the ball to the deeper routes.
When Mirer came off the field Sunday, replaced by Friesz, he sat in obvious dejection the bench.
“You feel like you’re alone,” he said. “The more you want it to be right, and the harder you try, the more it hurts.”
But Mirer was not alone in his shaky play.
“He did some really good things, and all those turnovers and interceptions were not all his fault,” Erickson said.
After evaluating films, Bratkowski said one interception was the fault of rookie receiver Joey Galloway not breaking from his pattern at the right time.
“At times Rick didn’t get some support from the people around him, from protection breakdowns to bad routes,” Bratkowski said. “It was not all as bad as some people perceived it to be on his part. There were some bad throws, yes, but there were some things from the supporting cast that didn’t help, either.”
Mirer’s struggles could open the path for Friesz, an Idaho grad, to show off the skills gained through 5-1/2 years in the NFL.
“John moved the team (in the fourth quarter Sunday),” Bratkowski said. “You can go back to what John did in the preseason and see he’s a very high-quality, capable quarterback. That’s why we went after him (in free-agency) and why we feel very fortunate to have him.”
Friesz’s influence has been beneficial to both Mirer and Olson, Olson said.
“He’s extremely valuable in what he knows and in helping me and Rick in what he sees during the game,” Olson said. “His experience has been invaluable.”
Erickson, who recruited Friesz to Idaho, but did not coach him there, is not afraid to go to him.
“John Friesz is a guy who’s been around and earned his stripes in a lot of different places in this league,” Erickson said.
But he would not hint, on a tense Monday afternoon, which way he was leaning on the issue.
“It’s not a black-and-white decision,” Erickson said. “You can’t just make this decision just like that.”
Calling in the heavy hitters
With the fervor generated by the Mariners’ success - and considerations of building them a new stadium - Seahawks administration is feeling a little left out.
“The Seattle Seahawks organization is very disappointed that the Washington State Legislature chose to exclude the Kingdome from stadium legislation passed at its recent special session,” Hawks president David Behring said. “We advocated a comprehensive approach which would have helped to solve the stadium problems of both franchises and treat the Seattle Seahawks in an equitable fashion.”
The Behring family, which has hinted that a franchise move might follow if Kingdome improvements aren’t forthcoming, apparently have called in league honchos to help supply pressure.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue faxed a letter this weekend to Kent Pullen, Chairman of Metropolitan King County Council.
“First, I do not understand how the NFL can be expected to have a positive view of the Seahawks future prospects in Seattle when the state legislation, as now being reviewed by the Council, virtually ignores the Seahawks’ stadium needs,” Tagliabue said. “Inevitably, selective legislation of this type, which creates an unlevel economic playing field for different major league franchises in Seattle, will tend to create additional uncertainties as to the Seahawks future.
“Second, we urge the Metropolitan King County Council to immediately consider the appropriate repairs and renovation required to bring the Kingdome up to the state of the art standards … (to) assure the Seattle Seahawks a realistic opportunity to compete in the NFL as the league enters a rapidly changing economic environment.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo