MVP has a head rush


Published: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Enlarge |

Seattle's Shaun Alexander ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the the NFC Championship game.

The Associated Press
SEATTLE - With their MVP back in business, a fierce defense and all the comforts of playing at home, the Seattle Seahawks had everything they needed to get to their first Super Bowl.
And they did, easily. Shaun Alexander came back from last week's concussion to rush for a team playoff-record 132 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, and Seattle pressured Carolina stars Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith into oblivion in a 34-14 rout for the NFC championship.
The Seahawks picked off three passes in winning their 12th straight home game and shattering the fifth-seeded Panthers' stunning postseason road run.
"We have an unbelievable team, an unbelievable group of fans," Alexander said. "Prayer works. I get knocked out and guys step up. One guy goes down and another guy steps up."
The NFC's best team during the season, the Seahawks (15-3) will have to beat yet another wild card, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the Super Bowl in Detroit on Feb. 5. Pittsburgh beat Denver 34-17 earlier in the day.
The Steelers opened as a 3-point favorite.
"We're not done yet," said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was a precise 20-for-28 for 219 yards and two scores. "We've got another game we've got to go win."
While Alexander paced the ball-control offense, it was the defense that really carried the Seahawks. It yielded only 62 yards, three first downs and no real threats in the first half.
Then, with Carolina desperate, Seattle allowed virtually nothing until it had a 20-point lead.
Mike Holmgren, only the fifth coach to lead two franchises to the Super Bowl - he won in 1997 and lost in 1998 with Green Bay - praised his defense this week for the enormous pressure it applied to opponents all season. That defense led the league in sacks and was always in Delhomme's face, helping force two first-half interceptions that were decisive.
"I don't know if we ran out of gas," Panthers coach John Fox said. "I'm not sure what the problem was. Their defense played tremendous. We knew we'd have our hands full with their offense.
"We didn't play well enough in all three phases to win," he said.
The Panthers weren't helped when starting running back Nick Goings was sidelined in the first quarter after a massive hit by linebacker Lofa Tatupu. They already were minus their top two runners, Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster.
The Seahawks had their horse, though, and by the second half, they could turn to Alexander. As he always has this season, he delivered some big runs as the crowd chanted "M-V-P, M-V-P."
Hasselbeck finished off the Panthers (13-6) with a gorgeous pump fake that had cornerback Chris Gamble on all fours. Former Gator Darrell Jackson caught the 20-yard pass for a 27-7 lead, and it was time to celebrate in the Pacific Northwest.
"They're all coming to Detroit with us, everybody in the stadium's coming," Holmgren said. "They were great for us all year. Home-field advantage in this place means everything."
Several players did a Qwest Field leap into the stands at the end as the crowd chanted "Super Bowl, Super Bowl." Their 30-year-old team, which tried to leave Seattle for Los Angeles a decade ago, is, indeed, headed for the big game.
Alexander grabbed the George Halas Trophy and carried it down the field as majestically as he totes a football. He only stopped when he reached the end zone, surrounded by photographers and cheerleaders.
Seahawks owner Paul Allen raised the team's 12th man flag, then waved a white towel to whip the crowd of 67,837 into a frenzy. What really got the fans going was when Holmgren sent in backup quarterback Seneca Wallace as a wideout, then Hasselbeck threw to him. Wallace, one of the better athletes in the NFL, made a superb over-the-shoulder catch for 28 yards.
One player later, Jerramy Stevens slipped uncovered down the middle for a 17-yard TD pass.
Josh Brown made it 10-0 with a 24-yard field goal set up when Delhomme forced an ill-advised pass for Smith into triple coverage - even though Ricky Proehl was wide open down the left sideline - and rookie Tatupu speared it. His 21-yard return got Seattle to the Panthers 20.
Seattle's big-play defense was at it again on the next series. Delhomme's lollipop throw for Keary Colbert instead fell into the waiting hands of Marquand Manuel, who weaved through traffic for 32 yards to the Panthers 17. Alexander swept left for 15 yards before his 1-yard run made it 17-0.
Then the dynamic Smith broke free on a 59-yard punt return down the right side. An official threw a flag for a block in the back, but after a long discussion, referee Ed Hochuli announced there was no foul, and Carolina was within 17-7.
But the Panthers weren't making any miracle comebacks against a defense that kept them off-balance all day. Led by Tatupu and Manuel, plus a fierce pass rush pace that forever was in Delhomme's face, the Seahawks made Smith invisible the rest of the way. Rocky Bernard had two sacks as the Seahawks dominated up the middle, and Smith, who made 12 catches for 218 yards in last week's win at Chicago, managed just five catches for 33 yards.
Of course, the Panthers almost never had the ball; Seattle held it for nearly 42 minutes. And after Michael Boulware got the Seahawks' third interception - surpassing Delhomme's career playoff total - late in the third quarter, all doubt was removed.
Alexander added a 1-yard scoring run, and Drew Carter's 47-yard TD reception meant little for Carolina. To finish it off, Smith fumbled on a reception in the final two minutes.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top