What turned out to be the most successful season in franchise history started out as so many others have for the Seahawks: Unimpressively.
They opened the 2005 season with a disheartening loss at Jacksonville. Then, after wins over the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals at Qwest Field, the Seahawks dropped an overtime decision to the Washington Redskins as Josh Brown’s 47-yard field-goal attempt thumped off the left upright as time expired in regulation.
The Seahawks were 2-2, and the look on coach Mike Holmgren’s reddened face after that loss screamed, “What can we do?”
The answer: Rip off an 11-game winning streak, the longest in club history to finish with a 13-3 record, also a franchise best-ever.
“You know, we never really realized what we were doing at the time,” Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck said. “Because we were just too busy doing it.”
No team in the 35-year history of the Seahawks ever did it better.
The record run included a few close calls (three-point wins over the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, a four-pointer over the Titans in Tennessee, and a two-point win over the 49ers in San Francisco). But the Seahawks also dominated some opponents (42-10 over the Houston Texans, 42-0 over the Eagles in Philadelphia, 41-3 over the 49ers at Qwest Field). They won at home (going 8-0). They won on the road (5-3). They won early (10 a.m. kickoffs in St. Louis and Tennessee). They won late (night games against Houston and Philadelphia).
The sum total: 13 wins and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which the Seahawks used to dispatch the Washington Redskins in the divisional round and the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game.
That put the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl, where they – and the officials – committed enough mistakes to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a 21-10 victory in Detroit.
As disappointing as that end result was, it didn’t dilute everything that came before it.
Mike Holmgren had been there before – in 1996 and 1997, when he led the Green Bay Packers to 13-3 records and berths in the Super Bowl. The Packers won the first, and lost the second.
Asked about the secret to that success during training camp in 2005, Holmgren said it was really no secret at all.
“For your team to have its best season,” he explained at the time, “your best players need to have their best seasons.” From Holmgren’s lips to the ears of Shaun Alexander. And Matt Hasselbeck. And Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson, as well as Tobeck. And Mack Strong. And rookie Lofa Tatupu.
All were voted to the Pro Bowl that season, and for obvious reasons.
Alexander: He was selected the league MVP – becoming the first Seahawk to win the honor – after scoring an NFL-record 28 touchdowns and rushing for a league-leading 1,880 yards.
“Shaun does a great job,” Strong, his lead-blocking fullback, said at the time. “He sets guys up for me and makes my job a lot easier. He brings them in a way that you just get a good angle to block them.”
Jones and Hutchinson: They formed best side of any line in the league, as 20 of Alexander’s 27 rushing touchdowns came on runs behind his All-Pro left side. And Jones and Hutchinson made it look effortless as they flattened would-be tacklers in opening huge holes for the elusive Alexander.
They were at their best while reacting – and interacting – when things didn’t occur exactly as it had been drawn up in the playbook.
“It’s uncanny,” an NFC scout said at the time. “They’re better at it than any duo in the league.”
Said Jones: “We don’t have to say anything. We can communicate with a look or glance.”
Added Hutchinson: “It’s just automatic, and that’s important because during a game a defense can pick up on your calls. We don’t make a lot of calls.”
Just a lot of blocks.
Strong: The Seahawks averaged 153.6 rushing yards that season, and a lot of it started with the aptly named Strong. When in doubt, Alexander just followed his personal escort.
“Mack Strong, God, I love that guy,” Alexander said. “It’s just great to have a person who will lead you through the hole and loves his job, which is beating people up and taking the big hit for me.”
Hasselbeck: He did more than just hand the ball to Alexander that season. Holmgren’s handpicked passer threw for 3,459 yards and 24 touchdowns, with only nine interceptions. It made for a career-best – and conference-leading – 98.2 passer rating during the regular season. Hasselbeck was even better in the first two playoff games, when he fashioned a 109.6 rating by completing 36 of 54 passes for 434 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, against the Redskins and Panthers.
It was those postseason performances that prompted Warren Moon, the Hall of Fame QB turned radio analyst for the Seahawks, to offer, “They’ve been bringing all sorts of pressure, and he’s been able to elude the pressure sack. He’s always buying time. He’s making great throws. The thing that impresses me the most is his decision-making.”
Tatupu: The Seahawks traded up in the second round of the 2005 draft to select the middle linebacker who was perceived to be too short and too slow. Turns out, Tatupu was just too good. He led the team in tackles as a rookie, and also registered a career-high four sacks and intercepted three passes.
There were others, too. Like Bobby Engram, who led the team with 67 receptions. Like Joe Jurevicius, who caught 10 TD passes. Like Brown, who scored 110 points. Like strong safety Michael Boulware, who led the club in interceptions (four) and finished second in tackles (73). Like Marquand Manuel, who stepped in and stepped up at free safety after Ken Hamlin was lost for the season. Like defensive end Bryce Fisher, who had a team-leading nine sacks. Like rookie linebacker Leroy Hill, who had 7½ sacks (more than he totaled in the next four seasons). Like Tobeck, who was voted to the Pro Bowl for the only time in his 13-year NFL career.
And that’s how the Seahawks were able to turn in the best season in franchise history – by having their best players play their best.