SEATTLE — Mike Holmgren walked by a stunned group of Seattle Seahawks fans, into the locker room at Qwest Field, and eventually emerged with his post-game face on.
His team had just lost a heartbreaker in the regular-season home opener, falling 33-30 in overtime to the San Francisco 49ers. Holmgren’s Seahawks were sporting an 0-2 record for the first time since 2002 and were in the rare position of looking up at two other NFC West teams.
And yet Holmgren refused to let the loss get the best of him.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Holmgren told several reporters who were waiting for answers after the NFC West favorites dropped their second consecutive game.
Easy for him to say. He has to put up with the Seattle sports scene for only four more months.
For the rest of the Puget Sound area, Sunday’s overtime loss to the 49ers not only ruined a beautiful afternoon, but it also added another chapter to the year of sports misery.
With no NBA team, a last-place baseball team, and two major college football programs nearing rock bottom, the city was looking for its Seahawks to bring some sunshine to the sports landscape. Despite playing without several injured players, the short-handed Seahawks jumped out to a quick lead but couldn’t hold on.
In the end, what was left of the Seahawks couldn’t save what’s left of the Seattle sports scene.
“We’re figuring out what kind of team we are,” said defensive tackle Craig Terrill, whose fumble recovery return for a touchdown gave Seattle a 14-0 lead with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter. “We have to decide who we’re going to be.
“This team doesn’t lose at home. We don’t lose to division opponents. We really have to get our identity down and start playing up to our standards.”
It’s been so long since the Seahawks started a season 0-2 that only two current members of the defense – cornerback Marcus Trufant and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard – have experienced the feeling in Seattle.
“It’s been since my rookie year that we’ve gone 0-2,” said Bernard, who came into the league in 2002. “We’ve just got to get it turned around. We’ve got to figure some things out.”
Even more frustrating than the team’s record was the way it happened.
The Seahawks jumped out to a 14-0 lead Sunday and appeared to be well on their way to another one-sided win over the 49ers at Qwest Field, where Seattle had outscored San Francisco 112-27 in four previous meetings.
But 49ers quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan, playing in his first road game as an NFL starter, threw for 321 yards and completed two long passes to Isaac Bruce on key third-down plays in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the comeback.
After 49ers kicker Joe Nedney overcame a miss at the end of regulation to hit the game-winning field goal 4:40 into overtime, the Seahawks were left wondering what happened.
“I don’t even have the words, man,” defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said after the loss. “We’ve just got to get it going in the way we know how to play.”
The Seahawks played the game without five offensive starters, while two stars of the defense – Trufant and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu – were essentially playing one-handed while wearing casts on the other.
Things got even worse early Sunday, when the Seahawks lost backup quarterback/receiver Seneca Wallace to a calf injury in warm-ups and starting receiver Logan Payne to a knee injury on the second offensive series of the game.
Down so many bodies on offense, Seattle’s defense knew it had to carry the load.
“We know that as a defense,” linebacker Julian Peterson said. “Once the offense scored (the first) seven points, we were like, OK, that should be enough for us to do what we have to do.”
Seattle’s early lead wasn’t nearly enough. The 49ers (1-1) got back in the game midway through the second half, when a pair of Matt Hasselbeck interceptions helped San Francisco go from seven points down to seven up. Patrick Willis’ 86-yard interception return touchdown tied the score at 20 six minutes into the second half, while a Walt Harris interception set up Frank Gore’s go-ahead touchdown.
A T.J. Duckett 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter marked the game’s final touchdown, tying the score at 27 before the teams exchanged field goals.
Nedney stepped up with a chance to win the game on the final play of regulation, but his 41-yard attempt sailed wide right.
The 49ers won the overtime coin toss and marched down the field on the extra session’s only drive. O’Sullivan connected with Bruce for a 33-yard reception on third-and-7 to keep the drive alive, and then Nedney made up for his miss with a 40-yard field goal 4:40 into overtime.
“There was nothing louder than 67,000 people dead silent,” Nedney said afterward. “To take the 12th man out of the game was very satisfying.”
For the Seahawks, the game served as another stake in the heart of Seattle sports fans.
“We’ve been 0-2 before, and there are still 14 games left, so mathematically it doesn’t really mean much,” said Hasselbeck, who was probably not aware of the fact that no Seahawks team has ever gone to the postseason after losing its first two games. “But you can’t give games away.”