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Danny O'Neil covers the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.

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December 7, 2008 9:04 PM

Sunday's loss -- one that got away

Posted by Danny O'Neil

On the one hand, it's difficult to be too critical of the Seahawks for Sunday's loss to New England. Seattle's offense was without its only two Pro Bowlers from last season as Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones each sat out the game because of injuries.

Two more starters along the offensive line -- center Chris Spencer and guard Mike Wahle -- were placed on injured reserve last week, and the depth on the line was so desperate that Steve McKinney was active after participating in all of one practice last week.

And despite all that, the Seahawks scored a touchdown on their first possession for only the second time this season and led 14-3 in the first half. Sure, Seattle couldn't hold on, but the Patriots are a team contending for a playoff spot and the Seahawks have certainly been beaten by worse teams this year. They lost at home to the 49ers after all and unlike defeats to teams like the Giants and the Cowboys, the Seahawks were in this one right to the end.

But to minimize the significance of a defeat is to overlook the fact Seattle was outscored 11-0 in the fourth quarter and failed to force a punt in the final 22 minutes of the game. Three times Seattle was one play away from forcing New England to punt on its drive to the game-winning touchdown. Three times New England converted for a first down.

Seattle has seen comebacks fall short plenty of times this season. Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted at the end of each of the past two home games when the Seahawks had the ball and a chance to win. This was different, though. The Seahawks collapsed this time.

The defeat did spawn some questions, though:

  • How did Seattle manage to gain its most yards in any game since September? Some of that was because Seneca Wallace played so well, passing for three touchdowns for the second time in his career. But the bigger question involves the play of the offensive line composed of Sean Locklear, Floyd Womack, Steve Vallos, Mansfield Wrotto and Ray Willis. Only Locklear was projected as a starter when the season began yet the group played capably enough to ask the question of why there seemed to be an improvement when the Seahawks were using mostly backups.

  • Is that what can be expected from Deion Branch now that he's getting healthy again? He scored his first touchdown in almost a year and he caught two scoring passes for only the second time since he became a Seahawk. The Seahawks will have to improve their receiving corps this offseason. Bobby Engram is a free agent, Nate Burleson is coming off a knee surgery that most players say takes two years before they're fully recovered. Sunday was the first sign this season that Branch can be expected to be a productive starter.

  • Why are the Seahawks so consistently bad on third-down defense? Cornerback Marcus Trufant played a great game. He got hit with a pretty petty pass-interference penalty and Randy Moss' longest reception of the game came when he was matched up against Josh Wilson. The Seahawks did have success in flushing quarterback Matt Cassel out of the pocket, but safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell did little distinguish themselves in those third-down situations. Russell missed a tackle of Wes Welker in the open field during that drive to a game-winning touchdown.

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