TAMPA, Fla. – When the Seattle Seahawks made another one of those cross-country trips that typically saps the competitive balance out of them Saturday morning, the list of passengers did not include any chickens with the surname Little.
While it might appear that the Seahawks’ sky is falling, they’re not extending any invitations to those willing to scream it from the hilltops.
The Seahawks are looking at their 1-4 start as a misstep, maintaining that their postseason goals are still within reach.
But if tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ends up like four of Seattle’s first five did, Chicken Little may well be waiting for the team plane at SeaTac Airport.
As far-fetched as the Seahawks’ postseason chances look, they’re that much more dismal at 1-5. No team in the past 22 years has come back from a 1-5 start and gone on to make the playoffs. Only three – the 1988 Indianapolis Colts (9-7), the 1996 Cincinnati Bengals (8-8) and the 1999 New York Jets (8-8) – went on to finish at or better than .500.
Must win? It’s not that dire yet. But the fat lady is certainly ready to start tuning up her vocal chords.
“Each game takes on a little more sense of urgency,” wide receiver Bobby Engram said of tonight’s game, which will be televised on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. “We’ve got to get a win right now.”
Desperate for a victory, the Seahawks could certainly find better scenarios than a road trip and a date with the NFC South-leading Buccaneers (4-2). Seattle has struggled in that part of the country, losing four consecutive games on the East Coast and six of its last seven, while Tampa Bay is riding high after a blowout win over division rival Carolina last week.
The sports scene in this area is so buzzing that Bucs coach Jon Gruden called it “the city of champions” last week.
Seattle, of course, is on the other end of that spectrum of sports enthusiasm.
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren summed up his team’s start to the 2008 season by saying: “We just have to fight through this.”
A win over the Buccaneers wouldn’t necessarily save the Seahawks’ season – or the Seattle sports scene, for that matter – but it could go a long way toward re-establishing themselves as a contender.
“This game could be a nice resurrection game for the whole team,” Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson said. “The national spotlight will be on us, and everyone will be watching. It will be a nice opportunity for us to play our best ball.
“We can turn our whole season around, really. It’s an NFC opponent, and they’ve played pretty well, so this would be a good way to jump-start the season.”
The Seahawks will have to do it without the services of Matt Hasselbeck, who is out because of a bulging disk in his back. Holmgren said last week that Hasselbeck could return as soon as next week, but for now the team will have to try to get a win behind backup Seneca Wallace – or, if Wallace’s strained calf flares up, third-stringer Charlie Frye.
“It’s a challenge,” Holmgren said of having to start a backup quarterback. “The young men who have to play the game are doing everything they can, but Matt’s a coach on the field. He’s been here a long time. You have a franchise quarterback, and (when) you lose him, it changes things.”
Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said that the Seahawks’ season is still salvageable, especially when the team starts to get healthy. In assessing Seattle’s chances of a quick turnaround, he talked about the talent that the Seahawks have on offense.
“We just need Matt to come back and orchestrate it,” he said. “He’s at a different level (than the other quarterbacks) in terms of running the offense.”
Until then, the Seahawks hope they can weather the storm by beating the Buccaneers tonight. While Seattle has struggled in road games over the years, it remains undefeated in games played in Tampa Bay.
“This is a huge game,” Haskell said. “It’s a huge game. They think they can kick us pretty good. But I think we can do it; I really do. We’ve played them a lot.”
The Seahawks have a record of 7-1 against Tampa Bay. They’ve won all three meetings between Holmgren and Gruden, having allowed a total of 19 points in the process.
It should also be noted that five of Seattle’s seven wins over Tampa Bay snapped losing streaks of more than two games.
But this year’s Seahawks, who have lost two in a row, aren’t so much concerned with history as they are becoming history.
McMullen moved aside
Wide receiver Billy McMullen’s tenure as an emergency fill-in is over.
The Seahawks placed McMullen on the waived/injured list to make room for linebacker Will Herring on the roster. Herring is likely to play some special teams today when the Seahawks (1-4) play against Tampa Bay.
McMullen caught seven passes in four games with the Seahawks, but he broke his pinky in practice last week. Rather than place him on injured reserve and be forced to pay his remaining salary, Seattle put McMullen on another list that will pay him only a percentage of it.
McMullen is the fourth Seahawks receiver to have an injury end his season, joining Ben Obomanu, Nate Burleson and Logan Payne.