BY Art Thiel 11:36PM 01/02/2011

The homely kids get lucky

Bring on the Saints, if they dare, against 7-9 kings of the West

Charlie Whitehurst was the most improbable of several surprising contributors to the Seahawks' 16-6 win over St. Louis that put them in the playoffs. (Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest)

America’s Team for the 21st century: The Seattle Seahawks.

Anyone who’s ever had a rusty station wagon, a misdemeanor pot charge or owes money to bad people can appreciate the Seahawks.

As the first team with a losing record ever to make the NFL playoffs, they are the Big Lebowskis of the NFL.

The dudes abide.

Prevailing over the St. Louis Rams, hometown skeptics, national blowhards and the most examined booty since Beyonce, the Seahawks won 16-6 in the audio riot of Qwest Field and advanced to the postseason tournament with a record of 7-9.

What seemed distant thunder Sunday night was actually – thanks to the prime-time slot on NBC – millions of jaws dropping upon the fruited plain.

“This has never happened before,” said an almost giggly Pete Carroll, director of an opera goofier than anything Gilbert and Sullivan composed. “It may never happen again.”

Not only did they win the game, as champions of the NFC West (motto: “We’re all about three-and-out”) they will host the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Saints have no idea what they’re getting into.

In this inverted universe where left is right and night is day, all is possible.

When Carroll screams, “Release the Kraken!” out comes Charlie Whitehurst and Ruvell Martin, connecting on an opening-drive, 61-yard pass play that was actually poorly executed.

When Mike Ditka, pounding on the desk on ESPN’s pre-game show, growls, “The Seahawks defense . . . does . . . not . . .exist!” as he did Sunday morning, the defense holds the Rams to 184 yards and no touchdowns, and is led by Big Thrill Will Herring.

When Carroll draws analogy to 13-0 Texas Christian University’s claim to have won the Rose Bowl “for the little guys,” no one calls him out for overlooking the fact that TCU was good and the Seahawks, speaking generally, are not.

But for one game, they were good enough.  And in the NFC West, all it takes is a good night. To those who say winning a weak four-team division is nothing, there is but one local retort: Tell it to the Mariners.

“I’m so proud that we hung together through a lot of messy games,” Carroll said, referring obliquely to the fact that their average margin of defeat in the nine losses was 21 points. “This is the first game that’s been close since I can remember. It was great to be in a game like that.”

Besides dramatic, it was also preposterous because they won it behind Whitehurst, the maligned backup who until this point had done little to persuade anyone that he was capable.

He was so apprehensive during the week that the starting assignment, given him thanks to Matt Hasselbeck’s pulled butt muscle the previous Sunday, would be taken back that Carroll had to remind him several times that he was The Guy.

“There were a few times during the week, (he said) ‘You’re going to play,’” admitted Whitehurst, who apparently took on the posture of an abused dog who won’t come out from under the bed.

But on the opening drive, he took on hunting-dog alertness, going Six plays and 87 yards. The big one was to Martin, normally a reserve pressed into starting duty despite having only four receptions this season. He was wide open way downfield but had to come back for the underthrown ball, thwarting an almost-certain TD. But the Seahawks scored four plays later on a nifty roll-right, throw-left shot to Mike Williams for a four-yard score.

“It calmed me down a little bit, honestly,” Whitehurst said. “It was great to start a game like that.”

A 7-0 lead is known, in the culture of the NFC West, as pouring it on.

That it held for the rest of the game was a tribute largely to a defense that after a season of ineptness, suddenly was ept. Herring, a reserve linebacker almost as obscure as Whitehurst and Martin, made the critical play late in the fourth quarter to protect a 13-6 lead – by just standing there.

A really bad ball from St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, the heralded rookie not so heralded Sunday, was thrown right to Herring, who put his hands up in self-defense and came up with the interception that ended the last, best chance for the Rams.

So concluded a remarkable few days of football hereabouts that began with Washington’s huge upset of Nebraska Thursday in the Holiday Bowl. The Seahawks’ win wasn’t so big a surprise, but the fact that they wave the tattered NFC West banner will be the stuff of, if not legend, then mirth.

Carroll was having none of the mockery.

“This is the system, I don’t give a crap about that,” he said Carroll. “We played it out and this is what happened.”

What happened is that for the first time in NFL history, there is a team in the playoff field (New England, 14-2) with twice as many victories as another playoff team.

Call it diversity. Or perversity. Losers of seven of their last 10 games, the Seahawks are kings of a small hill. To knock them off it, the Saints must come a ways as well as pass into an inverted universe to face Whitehurst, Martin and Herring.

None so far have survived to speak of it.


YourThoughts

  • nick

    What a game. The Hawks brought something to the party. Many will not agree but this could shape up to be a dangerous situation for NO. They are the universal favorite but that complacency may be their undoing. Go Hawks!

  • Will

    Ya know Art, cynicism is a disease of the intellect. Just enjoy the game and don’t poke so hard at it. I bet there wasn’t one disappointed Seahawk fan tonight. And that’s good enough.

  • ed sullivan

    I enjoy the cynical/comical wit; it helps remind us that it’s just enternment, both the sport and the column.

  • ed sullivan

    That typo should read entertainment.

  • SportsBob

    Anyone who has ever had a misdemeanor pot charge? I did not see that coming. But Art it’s not just 2-0 with the Huskies and Seahawks, this was a 4-0 weekend if you toss in the Husky men’s basketball wins in SoCal. Can’t remember the last time Seattle sports did it’s imitation of Sherman marching to the sea and taking out everything in it’s path. Finally. Funny and smart, Art you remain a cut above everyone else.

  • Sam Chowder

    That opening drive had to be one of the most shocking drives in Seahawks history. It was like an actual Seahawk (the bird) swooping down and taking everything off of your dinner plate. What?! Did that just happen?

    Who knows what will happen next week, but for one sweet weekend Seattle sports wasn’t something sitting in somebody’s dark, damp basement. It was out in the light, shining like a morning star. Morning in America? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s definitely morning in Seattle.

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  • Rick M.

    Great coaching job by Pete. The defense was off the hook. I believe Whitehurst has the tools to be an NFL QB, he needs to believe in himself. Matt begging Pete to let him start as the team were coming out the tunnel and the PO look on his face after the win was not good.

  • Lucky Infidel

    I do not care how they got there, they are there, and if they can get past the Saints-which is possible–they could find themselves in the NFC Championship game if they draw the Bears in the second round. And as for winning the division and getting into the playoffs with a losing record, there is another side to this as well. Sure, this year it was because the division was not great. But it also could happen if a division was really strong and the teams beat each other up and also were injured or had down days or bad luck when they played out of the division. So a division winner deserves to be there regardless of its record. Winning a division is an accomplishment. Go Hawks!

    • Jenifer Reinhardt

      “the dudes abide”
      “Release the Kraken” Great stuff Art! I listened to Mike Ditka yesterday morning and once again judged him an overbearing ahole. Those folks at ESPN can’t mutter a single negative comment about the “Grey Ego” Brett Favre but they sure have some nasty things to say about us. I think their manipulation of sports news to fit their marketing agenda gives them a serious lack of credibility.

  • Bill Harris

    one little thing about the number 2 comment from Will….you’re right there wasn’t one dissappointed seahawk fan there! But you’ve got Art wrong. He’s being a bit cynical yes…that’s what makes him the best sports writer in history. GO SEAHAWKS AND GO ART!!

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  • McMurphy

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/blog/shutdown_corner/post/Video-Awful-spot-helps-7-9-Seahawks-win-NFC-Wes?urn=nfl-302772

    It is interesting to see what the national media said about yesterday’s Seahawks/Rams game. From Yahoo Sports (link above):

    “It’s fitting that the de facto NFC West championship game between the mediocre 7-8 St. Louis Rams and 6-9 Seattle Seahawks was defined by lousy officiating.

    “A baffling first-down ruling by the officials late in the fourth quarter gave Seattle a crucial first down and helped prevent a realistic comeback opportunity by the upstart St. Louis Rams. As a result, Seattle went on to win the game and became the first NFL team to win the division with a sub-.500 record:

    “As the replays (and the disbelief of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth) show, the ball wasn’t even close to getting to the first down marker. So how did officials award Seattle that crucial first down? By pulling the officiating equivalent of jumping the snap count.

    ” In Sunday’s game, the Rams dropped a few easy passes (a deep one by Danario Alexander(notes) stands out) and committed a number of silly penalties (including an offsides on a late fourth-and-3 which gave Seattle a first down). Still, that’s some pretty awful officiating right there and it could have prevented a Rams comeback.”

  • McMurphy

    I really have to laugh at the Seattle media writing about the Hawks’ great defense, and Whitehurst’s good quarterbacking. This game had nothing to do with the Seahawks — it was all about the utter ineptitude of the Rams. Don’t forget, the Rams were 1-15 last year, and were starting a rookie quarterback. That was not a good team the Hawks played yesterday.

    Remember some of the key plays which had nothing to do with the Seahawks:

    On the Hawks’ first drive, Whitehurst was sacked on third down at about the Rams’ 10 yard line, but the officials called a phantom defensive holding aginst St. Louis, giving the Hawks a 1st down at the Rams’ five, or so, instead of 4th down and a field goal attempt. That led to the Hawks’ only TD of the game.

    On one of the Rams drives, they completed a pass on third down which would have given them a first down inside the hawks’ 10 yard line, but the officials called it incomplete, saying the receiver did not get 2 feet down inbounds, although the replays showed he clearly did (why the Rams did not challenge that call remains a mystery to everyone).

    On another Rams drive, they ran the ball down to the Hawks’ 1 yard line, but, again, a “good acting job” (according to the tv announcers) drew a another phantom holding call against the Rams, giving them a 1st and 16 from the Hawks 16, instead of 2nd and goal from the Hawks’ 1.

    Then there were the two long balls which the Rams threw which went right through their receivers’ hands.

    These things had nothing to do with the Seahawks. They were just the “breaks of the game” which largely went in favor of Seattle yesterday.

    The Hawks deserved to win, in my opinion, but it was much more a case of the Rams losing than the Hawks beating them with good play. The Rams were just plainly terrible.

    That was one really lousy NFL football game, and the worst team lost.

  • Paul Harmening

    Before the game was played, I was wanting the #8 draft pick. I still would have liked that better. Much better. But as a long time fan, I couldn’t help smiling a bit during the game and after the win. When watching your team play and a 5 million $ never started before QB playing lights out compared to his past play, I couldn’t help but cheer them on. But somewhere near 20 punts in this game? Ah well, that’s the NFC West.

    It does make for interesting QB controversy this week though. And probably beyond. Charlie vs. whatever draft choice;(they will move up to get a QB, ya know.)

    Now, can lightening strike twice within a week? Seriously doubt it. And, will the Saints still take da hawks lightly? Even at Quest field? They gotta be laughing at all the punts. Yep, they’ll take em lightly and still win by 19.

  • 1coolguy

    Not that he is an automatic NFL – calibre QB, but wasn’t it nice to see a Hawk QB who is MOBILE?

    For the first time in memory, the Hawks have a QB the defense actually has to pay attention to, concerning a scramble. It helped the running game tremendously, as did the first drive.

    Odd we didn’t succeed with any long passes the rest of the game, to stretch the defense.

    I do hope Pete gives the reigns to CW against NO, as their pass rush is more formidable than the Rams. MH will just be on his back all day if he plays.

  • 1coolguy

    ALSO, great column Art – tellin’ it like it is!

    I laughed the entire read – great entertainment and for those with no sense of clever humor, read someone else’ column.

  • Fritzi

    I just about fell off the chair when I read, “release the Kraken”. funny stuff.

  • J.E.C.

    Enjoy it while it lasts, Seahawks fans. Like the song says, the Saints are coming…

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  • Damayor

    My 12 year old called the game “the pathetic playoffs”

  • Mark

    <>

    Hilarious lede, Art. Well-turned.

    I do believe the Hawks have it in them for an upset. No way will the Saints take them seriously. And the just-swallowed-a-rotten-egg look on Hasselbeck’s face for most of the game makes it clear he can see his job slipping away from him.