GLENDALE, Ariz. – The eyes gave away coach Mike Holmgren’s true emotions Sunday.
With just over eight minutes remaining in a game that had slipped away from the Seattle Seahawks, those eyes glared down the whistles of the officiating crew after he’d become bewildered by a couple of penalties.
Then, as Holmgren tried to speak to the players in the locker room after the Seahawks’ 34-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, he teared up and couldn’t get the words out.
Holmgren will try that one again today when he meets with the players at the team’s training facility in Renton. Then he’ll ease out of the Seahawks portion of his coaching life into what he says will be at least a one-year hiatus from football.
In his 170th and final game as coach of the Seahawks, Holmgren remained intense through the 60th minute.
“All the way to the end, he never let up,” said receiver Deion Branch, who caught two touchdown passes. “You have to love a guy for that.”
Holmgren went 90-80 with the Seahawks, guiding them to four NFC West championships, five playoff appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl. He’s 174-122 in his career.
When he met with reporters after a few moments with the team, his eyes were moist.
“I started talking to the team in there but I couldn’t talk,” he said. “I’m an emotional coach anyway. The thing I’ll miss the most is the players. They mean a lot to me.”
Any chance for a final victory with the Seahawks disappeared midway through the third quarter when the Cardinals scored on consecutive drives. The Seahawks offense, meanwhile, sputtered on its first two possessions of the quarter after quarterback Seneca Wallace had outplayed the Cardinals’ Kurt Warner in the first half.
Wallace completed 13 of 22 passes for 154 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown to Branch with 1:17 left in the first half that tied the score 14-14.
Warner went 10-for-17 for 135 yards and an interception in the first half. Despite a 14-14 tie at halftime, restless Cardinals fans had booed a performance that seemed too similar to the previous five weeks, when the Cards won only once and hardly seemed ready for next weekend’s playoff matchup with Atlanta.
But Warner got it together in the second half and the Seahawks didn’t. The Hawks did nothing with their first possession of the third quarter, and Warner picked on the Seattle secondary.
His 38-yard touchdown pass to star receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who got position on Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant in single coverage, broke the 14-all tie.
The Seahawks punted again and Warner followed by putting the Cardinals into the end zone, this time with a 14-yard scoring pass to Steve Breaston, who broke from the grasp of Seahawks cornerback Kelly Jennings after catching the ball.
Wallace made it a one-touchdown game early in the fourth quarter with his 2-yard touchdown to Branch, making it a 28-21 game.
The Seahawks got no closer.
Matt Leinart replaced Warner with 12:04 remaining in the game and led the Cardinals to two field goals, 23 and 32 yards by Neil Rackers.
Despite being hopelessly behind, Holmgren never lost his intensity on the sideline, and the officials felt his wrath with 8:09 remaining.
Frustrated by consecutive false-start penalties against tackle Na’Shan Goddard, the coach called the officials to the sideline during a timeout and gave them an earful.
He admitted he may have over-reacted with the officials, that he was more frustrated that another injury cost the Seahawks a player. This time it was tackle Kyle Williams, who suffered a concussion and was replaced by Goddard, who the Hawks had signed off the practice squad earlier this month.
“Kyle got hurt and we put in a young guy who’d never played one snap for us,” Holmgren said. “It reminded me of the kind of season we’d gone through with the injury thing. He’s the guy who was getting picked on, and I probably over-reacted. But I’m going to fight for my guys, even though it’s the last (eight) minutes of my coaching career.”
Wallace, who finished 24-for-43 with 250 yards, threw his second interception with 1:10 remaining and the Cardinals burned off the remaining time.
It sent Holmgren away with a 4-12 record in his last year but thinking as much about what the Seahawks had endured as what it meant to him.
He praised players like Wallace, guard Ray Willis, center Steve Vallos and cornerback Josh Wilson, who were tossed into games despite little experience.
“When you have guys who haven’t played too much giving it everything they have, that’s fulfilling,” Holmgren said. “As a coach, that’s all you can ever ask for. The talent level is always going to be different, but if they give you everything they’ve got, that’s good.
“I’ll look back on this team and remember a lot of these kids who probably shouldn’t have been out there but they played a lot and gave it everything.”
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