Jon Kitna was standing in a hallway outside the Seahawks’ locker room at Giants Stadium expressing his frustration over the team failing to make the playoffs despite starting the 1999 season 8-2.
It was Sunday, Jan. 2, 2000, and the Seahawks had just lost to the New York Jets, 19-9, to finish with a 9-7 record. With a win over the Oakland Raiders on that final Sunday of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs would claim the AFC West title and automatic playoff berth than went with it.
With Kitna in mid-sentence – but full remorse – an eruption of cheers and shouts came from the training room, where most of his teammates were watching the end of the Chiefs game against the Raiders that had gone into overtime. Obviously, the Raiders had just won – on a 33-yard field goal by Joe Nedney, as it turned out and the Seahawks had just been crowned division champions.
Breaking into a large grin, and without missing a beat, Kitna mentally shifted gears – and emotions – to offer, “As I was saying, the next season just started.”
Make that the postseason, as the Seahawks’ first season under coach Mike Holmgren resulted in the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1988 – and first winning record since 1990.
But the once 8-2 Seahawks entered the playoffs with that 9-7 record. Talk about a tale of two seasons that played out during only one season.
“What can I say?” said Holmgren, who then said it all: “You go from the depths of despair to euphoria.”
That contortionist’s twist to the final Sunday of the regular season put the Seahawks into a wild-card playoff game against the Miami Dolphins at the Kingdome the following week – in a game that would be the last one played there before the structure the team had called home since 1976 was imploded to make way for Qwest Field.
But the playoff game played out just as the season had. After the Seahawks took a 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter on an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by rookie Charlie Rogers, 38-year-old QB Dan Marino rallied the Dolphins to 10 unanswered points – including a 50-yard field goal by Olindo Mare, who has kicked for the Seahawks the past three seasons.
Another impressive start. Another depressing finish.
“I’ve been saying all week that the key to the game was us and how we played,” said linebacker Chad Brown, who was voted team MVP and to the Pro Bowl after leading the Seahawks in tackles for the third consecutive season.
“We got outplayed in the second half. They took over the game in the second half. We didn’t get it done.”
Just as the regular season had ended with similar frustration. How is it that a team can win eight of its first 10 games, only to lose five of its final six in the regular season?
The question that stumped Holmgren, however, was the ability of the team to start 8-2. This was generally the same collection of players that had gone 8-8 the previous two seasons. So to match those win totals in the first 10 games, well, it had even Holmgren attaching an asterisk to the accomplishment.
“At the risk of saying something here that I have to take back later because I’m tired, that thing where the Seahawks have the most talent and are loaded – that was the common belief – we have to take a step back and take a realistic look at this thing,” Holmgren said during his season-recap news conference.
“We have a ways to go here before I think we can make that claim.”
But, as Holmgren said, that was the perception – among the fans, and even among some of the players. Heck, the Seattle Post Intelligencer held a staff meeting at midseason to discuss how the now-defunct newspaper would cover the Seahawks once they reached the Super Bowl.
That wasn’t just putting the cart before the horse - it was unhitching the cart and allowing the horse to run wild.
The path the Seahawks followed early only stoked the enthusiasm – and helped warp the reality. After a season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions at the Kingdome, the Seahawks eked out a one-point win at Chicago. Glenn Foley made his only Seahawks start in that game for an injured Kitna and threw a 49-yard TD pass to Fabien Bownes midway through the fourth quarter of the 14-13 victory.
Then came a win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and a one-point win over the Raiders. After the second loss – 13-10 to the Chargers in San Diego – the Seahawks ripped off a five-game winning streak.
So, entering a Week 12 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Kingdome, look who was 8-2. But after losing the game, 16-3, the Seahawks allowed 30-plus points twice in the final five games, while scoring less than 17 twice.
It was the Bucs who provided the blueprint on how to defend the Seahawks: Disguise your coverages and pressure Kitna into mistakes. At midseason, Kitna had the second-best passer rating in the AFC (94.5), largely because he had a touchdown pass (12) to interception (4) ratio that led the conference. But in the seven-game slide to end the season, Kitna threw eight TD passes and 12 interceptions – including five against the Bucs and two in the playoff loss to the Dolphins.
Still, the uneven season had its moments, and memorable performers.
On offense, Ricky Watters ran for 1,210 yards and caught 40 passes. Derrick Mayes led the team with 65 receptions and 10 TD catches, while Sean Dawkins averaged 17.1 yards on 58 catches – with 51 producing first downs – and scored seven TDs. Left tackle Walter Jones was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first of what would become a club-record nine times.
Defensively, Jay Bellamy, in his first season as the starting free safety, produced 96 tackles and four interceptions. Brown had 100-plus tackles for the third season in a row. Defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy was voted to the Pro Bowl for an eighth – and final – time, in what was his most-productive season (65 tackles, 6˝ sacks) since 1996.
Todd Peterson led the special teams, setting club records for field goals (34) and points scored (134). Rogers averaged a league-best 14.5 yards returning punts, including a 94-yarder for a score, and 25.8 returning kickoffs. Jeff Feagles had 34 of his 84 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, with Bownes the primary “downer.”
But the bottom line was that the Seahawks played their best football in September, October and early November not late November, December and January.
“I think a lot of people saw 8-2 as the destination,” Brown said at the time. “That’s just a stop in the journey where you admire the view for a second, but you’ve got to keep on going.
“Typically, you want to play your best football in November and December, and that’s something we didn’t do. We kind of got exposed late in the season.”