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'Hawks start slow, never recover

11/15/2004 - Seattle Seahawks

ST. LOUIS -- The schedule makers were kind to the Seahawks. With a 5-4 record following Sunday's 23-12 loss to the Rams, the Seahawks have upcoming home games against three losing teams -- the Dolphins, Bills and Cowboys -- so improving to 8-4 is within reach.

But even if that happens, the Seahawks won't have much credibility as a likely playoff team. They are 0-3 against teams with winning marks and 5-1 against losing teams. Against the Rams, though, they are predictable. Whether it's by building a big lead early and blowing it or digging themselves a big hole, they can't beat St. Louis.

On Sunday, the Seahawks got off to a horrible start. They fell behind 17-0 early in the second quarter and couldn't reach the end zone. They made six trips to the Rams' 27-yard line or beyond and ended up with four field goals and two turnovers.

Six trips to the 27 and coming up with only 12 points is embarrassing and it leaves them in a tie with Rams, who own the tiebraker because of their season sweep, at 5-4 for the NFC West lead.

"They've won close games, and with that comes the confidence and the belief that no matter what happens, they will win," Seahawks linebacker Chad Brown said. "And I think that confidence also brings a calmness where you don't press and you don't make mistakes. You know, you can be in the most chaotic moments but still manage to be (mentally) clear and make the play."

Neither applied to the Seahawks on Sunday. On their first offensive play, the Seahawks were their own worst enemy.

The play was a much expected Shaun Alexander run call, a byproduct of a move three weeks ago to simplify the offense. Alexander's right knee crashed into Matt Hasselbeck's right knee and the play lost two yards.

It was going to be that kind of day for the Seahawks.

"It is just a bummer," Hasselbeck said. "It was the first play of the game. For that to happen was just unbelievable. It was just a bad bounce."

What followed wasn't much better. The league leader in dropped passes (23 in the first eight games), the Seahawks had two dropped passes by wide receiver Darrell Jackson and several other incompletions in which receivers didn't hustle toward passes.

Seahawks safeties played Rams receivers deep but got consistently burned on deep post routes and slant passes -- two of St. Louis' favorite pass plays. Minus defensive end Grant Wistrom, the Seahawks defensive line can't put any pressure on the quarterback, so Marc Bulger had enough time to complete 23-of-34 for 262 yards and one touchdown. Bulger hit eight of his first 13 passes for 119 yards in leading the Rams to two first-quarter touchdown drives.

"Once they settled in, we got a little aggressive with some of our things and we mixed it up a little bit," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "They're a talented team passing the ball. They got on one of those rolls. It didn't appear to matter what we did early. It was 17-0 before you could blink, and then we kind of settled in and played them pretty good."

But good wasn't good enough. Against good teams, the Seahawks either can't start games strong or can't finish them well. They started horribly against the Patriots and in Sunday's game against the Rams. They jumped to a 17-point lead and then blew it against the Rams in October.

"What's happening right know is we're not serious enough about winning," linebacker Anthony Simmons said. "We've got to get a little more serious. When you play with purpose, you don't make mistakes. You don't come out and play like we did in the first half and then think we are going to get them in the second half."

Especially when you have to settle for four field goals in the red zone.

"You can always tell if a team is going to win or lose by how they play in the red zone," said Alexander, who finished with 176 yards on 22 carries. "We were there, like, every time and came away with field goals. You never win like that."

The NFC West is still open for the Seahawks to win, but they have to fix their many problems. They have to fix their safety coverage. They must get better in the red zone. They must get a better pass rush with the four-man line when Wistrom comes back next week.

"I don't think they are better than us," Brown said. "I just think they're more polished than us. They came out and jumped on us with a 17-point lead. You know we were in a hole from the get go. They've got guys over there and they've been doing it for a while longer than us. So we're a team on the rise and until we get it done and until we start making things happen, you know, they control this division right now."

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.