When playing the role of Super Bowl contender, some teams can find script selection troublesome when they are projected to live up to their lines.
The Seattle Seahawks, the chic pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, displayed just enough chutzpah last season to be placed among the NFL's elite, alongside New England and Philadelphia. This is a franchise that's been to the postseason just nine times in its 28-year existence, so fans in the Pacific Northwest lapped up the hype.
Then the season started and the fans are screaming about false advertising. There's no lemon law for NFL teams, so it's always buyer beware. The Seahawks come into Sunday's matchup at Qwest Field against the Buffalo Bills (4-6) with a 6-4 record, not exactly reeling but not exactly shoo-ins to visit the White House, either. With six games remaining, including road games at Minnesota and the New York Jets, the Super Bowl target has been downgraded to simply making the postseason.
The Seahawks raced to a 3-0 record before the bye week and then promptly lost three straight to St. Louis, New England and Arizona. They have since won three of four, including Sunday's 24-17 victory over Miami when rookie safety Michael Boulware rescued Seattle from a potentially crushing setback with a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute.
"We really can't talk about anyone being inconsistent," said Seattle running back Shaun Alexander. "We've played some great games and we've played some games where we're just awful. We can only prepare for a great team and hope that we play great and then see what happens."
The Seahawks aren't the first franchise to employ the old bait-and-switch method, promoting themselves as one thing only to reveal another. Coach Mike Holmgren realized his team's shortcomings in training camp and knew any talk of championships was impractical.
"We were pretty young to be picked to go to the Super Bowl," said Holmgren, whose Green Bay Packers teams twice played in the Super Bowl and won once. "High expectations are a good thing, our fans got really excited about it, the stadium is full and it's rocking now, and we were really in a good spot that way."
Coming into the season, Holmgren didn't know what to expect from his defense, which is relatively young outside of defensive ends Grant Wistrom and Chike Okeafor. And Wistrom has been injured most of the season.
On Monday, linebacker Chad Brown underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is not expected back until the end of the regular season. Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, a rookie from Texas who was compared favorably to Oakland's Warren Sapp, has been a major disappointment.
Holmgren had a better feel for his offense, an all-star studded group that led the Seahawks to a 10-6 record last season . . . or so he thought.
While Alexander is putting up MVP-type numbers (1,151 yards, 13 TDs), the offense has been woefully inconsistent. Twice the Seahawks have started games 17 points down and in another they coughed up a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. In a familiar ring to Bills fans, there's been a call to yank Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck from the lineup and replace him with one-time Super Bowl winner Trent Dilfer. Wide receivers Darrell Jackson, Koren Robinson and Bobby Engram drop passes at an alarming rate.
Sunday, Holmgren seemed to be fed up when he benched three offensive starters -- Robinson, tight end Jerramy Stevens and right tackle Chris Terry. All three had worked with the starters in practice. Then on Monday, Robinson was suspended by the NFL for four games without pay for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Robinson was replaced by future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who stirred up the offense with three receptions for 86 yards, a yardage total Robinson has reached only once in 10 games this season. They'll miss Robinson's deep-threat ability, but . . .
"We have Jerry Rice," Alexander said laughing. "How do you argue with that? You have Jerry Rice on your team."
But which team will show up Sunday? Will it be the one that plays to its vast potential or the one that could potentially miss the playoffs? Hype does not carry a consumer discount.
"We haven't been nearly as consistent as I'd like," Holmgren said. "I'm hopeful our best football is ahead of us."