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Originally published December 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 30, 2007 at 9:33 PM

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Hawks lose, will face Washington in playoffs

The Seahawks struggled in a meaningless game today, falling to the Atlanta Falcons 44-41. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins, by virtue of beating the Dallas Cowboys this afternoon, earned a trip to Qwest Field to the face the Hawks.

Seattle Times staff reporter

ATLANTA -- Two minutes.

That's all it was.

Just two minutes from a meaningless game played in a half-empty Georgia Dome.

But in those two minutes, Seneca Wallace committed two turnovers and Seattle's defense allowed three touchdown passes by Atlanta's Chris Redman, who was selling insurance this time last year.

Those two minutes did nothing to change Seattle's playoff position, heading into a Saturday (1:30 p.m.) first-round game against Washington, but those two minutes had everything to do with their coach's disdain following a 44-41 loss to Atlanta today.

"It doesn't matter who you're playing or when you're playing," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I've said that a million times. If you are entrusted with the football, it's your job to take care of the football.

"And we didn't do it two series in a row and gave them 14 points."

Holmgren gave Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones the afternoon off. He had quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander work half-days and the most meaningful result for Seattle on Sunday was probably the X-rays taken of Hasselbeck's right wrist after a second-quarter fall. They were negative.

But one two-minute stretch of the fourth quarter roughed up Holmgren's plan for a smooth sail through the regular-season finale.

Wallace fumbled on Seattle's first offensive play of the fourth quarter, getting stripped of the ball as he stepped forward in the pocket. The Falcons recovered and needed just three plays to parlay that turnover into a touchdown. Wallace's pass on the Seahawks' next play from scrimmage was intercepted. Atlanta scored on a 10-yard pass the following play.

Throw in a 55-yard touchdown catch by Atlanta's Alge Crumpler to begin the period, and Atlanta ran five plays in the first 1:45 of the fourth quarter and scored 21 points.

"Things happen," Wallace said. "I made a mistake there. I basically gave them 14 points. That was my main thing coming into this game, just protecting the ball. Not giving them points. Not giving them easy ones.

"Unfortunately, I did that."

He gave a booster seat to a Falcons team that scored more than 20 points in only three of its first 15 games. This was an Atlanta team that had won three games and saw its coach walk out on it earlier this month.

The Falcons came out to a half full stadium and played like they had nothing to lose. Their defense put 10 men at the line of scrimmage several times. They Falcons went for it on fourth down in the first quarter, attempted an onside kick in the second quarter and tried a second-half flea flicker. The Seahawks rushed for a season-high 167 yards, scored more than 40 points for the second time this season and recovered an onside kick in the final minute of the fourth quarter only to have it overturned by a penalty.

But the biggest question coming out of Sunday's game is just how ready the Seahawks are for the playoffs.

"By Friday, we'll be very ready," defensive end Patrick Kerney said. "Obviously today, we're not where we need to be." The prospect of a fresh start in the postseason couldn't erase all the stink from this performance.

"Any time you put on your uniform, you've got to put your best foot forward," Kerney said.

On Sunday, Seattle was too busy shooting itself in the foot. The Seahawks committed three turnovers, one by Hasselbeck and two by Wallace. Each was on the Seahawks' half of the field. All three led to Falcons touchdowns.

And this was with most of Seattle's defensive starters still in the game. A unit that allowed a league-low 11 touchdown passes through the first 15 games. A squad that entered the game with a chance to set the franchise record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season.

Seattle needed to allow 13 points or fewer to beat the mark of 261 set in 1991.

"We talked about it and we would have loved to have that happen," safety Brian Russell said. "But we didn't execute anywhere in the defense. I, personally, didn't play well."

The result was that the Seahawks gave up their most points since November 2003 when Baltimore finished with 44 in overtime.

And afterward, safety Deon Grant could find one redeeming characteristic about Sunday's performance: It was over.

"We don't end the season with that bad loss," Grant said. "We do go onto the postseason now. That's a good thing. We can go and fix what we made mistakes on."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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