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Seahawks get postseason boost with victory over Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Shaun Alexander relishes the underdog role
and hopes the Seattle Seahawks have lulled the rest of the NFC into
thinking they're not capable of making a strong playoff run.

"I would much rather be that guy than the one that everybody is
looking at," the 2006 NFL MVP said after the defending conference
champions stopped a three-game losing streak Sunday with a 23-7
victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "We know what happens when
people take us lightly."

The stage is set. The Chiefs-Colts game in Indianapolis will kick off wild-card weekend on Saturday, with three games to follow. First-round byes go to the Chargers (No. 1 seed) and Ravens in the AFC, and the Bears (No. 1) and Saints in the NFC. This weekend's lineup:

SATURDAY
AFC: Chiefs at Colts, 4:30 ET (NBC)
NFC: Cowboys at Seahawks, 8 ET (NBC)

SUNDAY
AFC: Jets at Patriots, 1 ET (CBS)
NFC: Giants at Eagles, 4:30 ET (FOX)

• For the complete playoff schedule, click here.

The Seahawks (9-7) had little to play for after clinching the
NFC West title and assuring themselves of starting the playoffs
with a home game. Still, coach Mike Holmgren felt it important to
play well and ease some of the sting from the team's puzzling
performance the past month.

Seattle, the fourth seed, will host Dallas (9-7) next weekend.

"Our record isn't what we had hoped, to be honest with you, but
there's something about 9-7 being a lot better than 8-8 even though
it's just one game," Holmgren said. "The players feel that, and I
think the organization does. Now we start our new season."

Alexander rushed for 92 yards on 28 carries and scored on a
1-yard run in the first quarter. Matt Hasselbeck completed 17 of 29
passes for 216 yards, including a 5-yard scoring throw to D.J.
Hackett, while Josh Brown kicked three field goals for the
Seahawks.

Tampa Bay, which has missed the playoffs with a losing record
three of four seasons since winning the Super Bowl, lost two
fumbles -- one of them inside the Seattle 10 -- and was stopped on
downs once at the Seahawks 3.

Former Seattle receiver Joey Galloway was one of the few bright
spots for the Bucs (4-12), finishing with eight receptions for 118
yards and scoring Tampa Bay's only touchdown on a 4-yard catch in
the second quarter.

Galloway went over 1,000 yards receiving for the second straight
season and fifth time in a 12-year career. His other three
1,000-yard seasons came while he was with the Seahawks from
1995-99.

"Obviously, it has been a very rough season," said Tampa Bay
coach Jon Gruden, who is 27-37 since winning the Super Bowl in his
first year with the Bucs.

"A lot of people come unraveled. Some people jump right off
ship. They get on a life raft. But these guys stayed together, and
that's a real compliment. ... That's something this team hopefully
will lean on in years to come."

Gruden reiterated he expects to be back next season.

"There's going to be a lot of speculation and rumors this time
of year," Gruden said. "I'm very excited about the future. ...
I'm one of those guys who's going to go to the next hole. I'm going
to the next hole until someone tells me I'm out of the
tournament."

Seattle won for the first time since winning at Denver on Dec.
3. Losses to Arizona and San Francisco left Holmgren and his
players searching for answers. However, the Seahawks felt they
played one of their better games of the season despite losing to
San Diego on a last-minute touchdown pass last week.

The defending NFC champions have battled injuries all year, but
entered Sunday's finale believing they were getting healthy and
beginning to play better at the right time.

They scored on their first two possessions and never trailed,
but an already extensive injury report got longer with cornerback
Kelly Herndon breaking his left ankle in the first half and
linebacker Leroy Hill suffering a concussion and cornerback Jimmy
Williams hobbling off late with a knee injury.

"We're losing guys at the wrong time ... but at the same time,
everybody's just got to pick it up a little extra," Seahawks
receiver Deion Branch said.

Hackett scored three plays after the receiver made a lunging
catch that initially ruled a 32-yard touchdown before being
overturned by replay. The second-year receiver gained 21 on
third-and-18 on the next play, then Hasselbeck found him open in
the middle of the end zone for a 17-7 halftime lead.

Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott fumbled at his 11 and Jimmy Williams
recovered to set up Brown's 20-yard field goal early in the third
quarter. The Seattle kicker booted a 23-yarder to finish a 14-play
65-yard march that made it 23-7.

The Bucs, 11-5 and NFC South champions a year ago, lost five of
their last six games.

"It's unfulfilling," Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber said.

"All you ever ask for is an opportunity to play in the
postseason, to give yourself a chance to win a championship. It's
the only reason we play this game, and to be completely out of it
is frustrating."

Game notes
Galloway had 62 catches for 1,057 yards, joining Keyshawn
Johnson as the only Tampa Bay receivers to have consecutive
1,000-yard seasons. ... Alexander extended his NFL record string of
consecutive games with at least one run of 10 or more yards to 64.
He broke a 10-yarder on the drive leading to his touchdown. ...
Alstott carried six times for 4 yards in what may have been his
last game with the Bucs.