GREEN BAY, Wis. -– Once in a while, there’s some wisdom in prevailing wisdom.
The prevailing wisdom about the NFL playoffs is that an offense must be able to move the ball on the ground in case there’s severe weather.
The Seattle Seahawks encountered severe weather Saturday. The light, essentially harmless flurries expected to provide a classic backdrop for the 16th postseason game played in Green Bay — Lambeau Field Ambience Flakes — instead turned out to be, at various times, heavy flurries, wet flurries, thick flurries, swirling flurries, floating flurries, bothersome flurries, blinding flurries and, ultimatetely, defining flurries.
The snowstorm didn’t make passing the football impossible; it just made winning impossible for the team with a one-dimensional at-tack facing a team with a balanced attack.
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And though the visitors took full advantage of a pair of Ryan Grant turnovers to take a two-touchdown lead after four minutes, you sensed it was only a matter of time before the snow would the expose the Seahawks’ most conspicuous flaw.
After they were beaten in an overtime thriller at Cleveland on Nov. 4, coach Mike Holmgren pronounced the Seahawks offense would stop trying to emphasize what it wasn’t built to do. Holmgren’s candid assessment harkened a second-half-of-the-season surge that found the Hawks six of seven down the stretch.
But as they girded for a playoff run that posed 50-50 odds of a road game at Green Bay, the Seahawks’ dearth of a ground attack be-came the elephant in the room.
“I thought we’d be able to run the ball better,” quarterback said Matt Hasselbeck, meaning: He didn’t anticipate a blizzard that would inhibit his receivers’ cuts, affect their concentration, numb their fingers and essentially rule out any pass attempt longer than 25 yards.
Even with the threat of an all-systems-go passing game, the Seahawks running attack was little more than a kind of change-up pitch for the offense this season. Without the threat of a passing game, Shaun Alexander (nine carries, 20 yards), Mo Morris (three carries, minus-1 yard) and fullback Leonard Weaver (four carries, 10 yards) did nothing but feed the Packers’ taste for blood.
“We wanted to make sure to stop the run first and make them throw the ball, especially in the conditions like it was today,” said Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk. “You saw them drop balls and everything. It was tough to get the ball through the air.”
While the Seahawks were held to 28 rushing yards, the Packers were rolling up 235 — of which Grant accounted for 201.
“Ideally , if I could’ve called a perfect game, I’d have called 50 runs,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. “I think that’s the way you need to play this time of year. But I’m also not naive to the fact of the quarterback and the perimeter group we have. We wanted to be balanced, and running is a big part of that if you’re able to tap in to the play-action passing game.”
In other words, McCarthy might’ve called 50 running plays had quarterback not been named Brett Favre. But the point stands: The run sets up the pass, which sets up the run, which sets up the pass. Such balance enabled the Packers to score touchdows on six straight possessions.
And the Seahawks? Not only couldn’t they run, the Seahawks were unable to give the defense reason to suspect they might run.
Hasselbeck’s 19-of-33 passing performance was decent, considering the conditions. But, really, he never had a chance. The absence of a running attack compounded the frustration of trying to throw the ball in the snow.“We never got it going,” said wide receiver Nate Burleson. “We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of playmakers on our team…but we never got it going.
“I don’t want to blame it on the weather, but being able to pass the ball is something we carry as a strength. It’s something we’ve been carrying on our shoulders for several weeks now, and that was something we just couldn’t do.”
It didn’t help, of course, that fragile wide receiver Deion Branch was lost to a knee injury in the first quarter — “a pretty good injury,” said Holmgren, who didn’t have the heart to call it a “pretty bad injury” — or that 13th-year tight end Marcus Pollard, signed for vet-eran’s savvy he was supposed to bring to the playoffs, looked like he’d never played outside.
(Uh, Marcus? That was snow falling from the sky, not flakes of plutonium.)
And then there was Alexander. Last time he played a game in the snow — at Qwest Field, against the Packers, in 2006 – he rushed for 201 yards on 40 carries.
Think about that. In the same conditions, facing the same opponent, Alexander gained 181 fewer yards than he did 13 months ago.
Any assessment of where the Seahawks go from here must prominently include the assumption the former MVP has lost a step.
The more pertinent question is: Has he lost two or three other steps, too?