BY Doug Farrar 11:28PM 09/26/2010

Chargers ‘Federlined’ by scrappy Seahawks

The Seahawks tested out some new attitudes –teamwork, mentorship, resilience — and the upshot was an upset

Receivers Deion Branch and Golden Tate work together after practice. (Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)

Seahawks receiver Mike Williams recently rolled out the term the term “Federlined” in humorous fashion, after dancer/rapper/self-promoter/recreational bowler Kevin Federline, who managed to wrangle a tidy, unexpected financial settlement from ex-wife Britney Spears a few years ago.

In football terms, to be “Federlined” can mean getting taken to school by someone completely unexpected. If that’s the case, All-Pro quarterback Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers found himself “Federlined” by Earl Thomas, a safety playing in his third NFL game.

The unexpected nature of Thomas’ two-pick game was not based on his talent level – selected 14th overall in the 2010 NFL draft, Thomas was thought to have the best coverage skills of anyone at his position in the draft class. But when Rivers’ general excellence and the fact that Thomas started the game with less than total confidence, the rebound was pretty special.

Early on, he was the primary defender on a 20-yard pass to Legedu Naanee, and he was beaten in the third quarter for 49 yards when Rivers went up top to Buster Davis. After the game, Thomas spoke of the leadership provided by veteran safety Lawyer Milloy.

“We have a lot of leaders on this team, like Lawyer,” Thomas said after the game. “And early in the game, I wasn’t down, but I wasn’t myself. He took me aside at halftime and said, ‘Kid, it’s time to grow up – get your head up, because we have two more quarters.’ That was just leadership showing itself, and that’s what kind of guy he is. There isn’t a play that goes by that he doesn’t talk to me.”

Thomas responded early in the fourth quarter by stopping a San Diego drive on a pass attempt to tight end Antonio Gates, and Thomas ended the game as Rivers was driving his team for what could have been a 27-27 tie.

Early on, the San Diego offense that was supposed to be, really wasn’t – at least in the first half. For all the talk this week among the media and the Seahawks about a Chargers passing game reminiscent of the Air Coryell attack of a generation ago, Rivers was held in check for the first 30 minutes. The point man for the team’s generally high-flying aerial attack completed just eight passes in 17 attempts for 118 yards and no touchdowns. He was harassed non-stop by Seattle’s front seven, which sacked him three times in the opening half and pressured him into several errant throws. He would finish the game with 455 passing yards, but many came in desperation and against defenses playing prevent and struggling to communicate through one of the loudest games at Qwest Field.

The Seattle offense that wasn’t supposed to be actually was … at least, until it got into the red zone, when several iffy play calls, some horrendous clock management and a heady play by a San Diego free safety kept as many as  three touchdowns off the board.

There was the 42-yard pass to Deion Branch with 1:39 left in that first half that would have been a score, had safety Paul Oliver not punched out the ball at the San Diego one-yard line. The ball rolled through the end zone for a  touchback. After a defensive stop, the Seahawks scored their first touchdown on a four-play, 59-yard drive that included a horrible Matt Hasselbeck throw to Deon Butler. On that play, Butler headed 23 yards downfield from the San Diego 32-yard line, and the throw actually hit cornerback Quentin Jammer in the back. Somehow, Butler stayed in the play long enough to make the ball catchable and draw an interference penalty from Jammer. On the next play, Hasselbeck found Carlson in the end zone.

But it was the last drive of the first half that had everyone in Seattle shaking their heads. San Diego running back Darren Sproles fumbled the kickoff, and after one of three booth reviews in the two-minute warning window, the Seahawks had the ball back at the Chargers’ 24-yard line. After a quick catch that had receiver Golden Tate, who did a 360 airborne move (and forgetting to give the ball back to the official so that he could spot the ball), Hasselbeck ran a quarterback draw over left guard with 19 seconds left. The running play and pileup left the Seahawks without enough time to execute a field goal. Instead of 17-0 or 13-0, Seattle walked into the locker room up, 10-0.

“We had a shot to knock it in the end zone,” head coach Pete Carroll said after the game. “We had a play that we hadn’t run before that we felt was going to knock us a couple of yards, a quarterback draw, Matt has been scoring every week, so we thought we’d run him in again. We thought we could get it done. The problem was that we weren’t able to know if we’d made the first down or not, so if we didn’t make it, we were going to the field goal. We had that in order, but they did a really good job of holding [center Chris] Spencer down.”

The Chargers came out like gangbusters in the second half, even after Leon Washington set a team record with a 101-yard kick return. A 99-yarder came later. Washington finished the night with the two longest returns in franchise history, as well as the only two-score special teams day the Seahawks have ever seen.

“When you have a returner who has faith in the guys in front of him, he can hit it hard and fast,” Washington said. “Like I did in New York, I’m just coming here bringing that same type of attitude. I know that in the return game, you get a chance to instantly change momentum because (you can score on) the first play of the game, right after halftime, and right after the opposing team scores. I relish the opportunity to change the momentum.”

That level of trust was a common subject in the locker room; there seems to be level of Kool-Aid these guys are drinking. However that manifests itself on the field, it’s certainly refreshing after the divisive and ego-driven debacles of the Mora/Ruskell era. Milloy, who still carries a grudge over the way he was treated by that administration, spoke about the way he and other veterans, like Deion Branch, are now helping the new kids buy into the program.

“I’m proud, because they’re starting to get it,” he said. “They’re starting to get that we need everybody on the roster, and they prepare the way they’re supposed to prepare, and they’re ready whenever someone else goes down, or when you need that big play at the end of the game. It’s coming from all levels of our roster, and that’s good to see. There were times when it wasn’t pretty out there, but I liked the way our team stayed together. We know it was going to be a fight. We know it was one of the better teams in the NFL over the last four of five years, but we got this done. This is a big step for the identity of our team.”

For now, those steps are surprises. In time, they may be standard operating procedure.


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