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Monday, September 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By José Miguel Romero
NEW ORLEANS Something about the Superdome and New Orleans must have felt like home to the Seahawks.
Was it the rain that fell in New Orleans before yesterday's kickoff? The large groups of Seahawks fans who were friends and family of Seahawks players with Southern roots?
Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, the Seahawks got their season of high hopes off to a good start with a 21-7 win over the Saints. In doing so, Seattle's defense returned to the same swagger it picked up in defeating the Saints in last season's opener. And once they had that, the offense got into its groove, to the tune of 415 yards.
The game didn't end on a good note, however, as running back Shaun Alexander sprained his right knee with 3:36 to play. It appeared the knee buckled as Alexander tried to fall down after a 9-yard gain.
He was helped off the field and looked to be in serious pain on a trainer's table on the sideline but walked off at the end of the game on his own power.
Before the injury, Alexander dominated with a 28-carry, 135-yard performance that included three touchdowns.
Alexander had X-rays taken of the injury and said he'll have an MRI today in Kirkland, but added that he felt better within moments after going down.
"I think I'm going to be all right. Hopefully it's nothing serious," he said. "They tried to cart me off. I was like, are you kidding me?"
"It's not his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)," coach Mike Holmgren said.
The Seahawks won because they dictated the tempo of the game on offense and were able to shift the offense into cruise control in the fourth quarter. Defensively, players swarmed to the ball en masse.
"There's a lot of energy on this team, a lot of excitement, a lot of youth, and it's all channeled in the right direction," defensive end Grant Wistrom said. "Guys went out there and were ready to play from the beginning. It was a total team effort out there, and it was fun to be a part of."
"A surprise? A pleasant surprise," Holmgren said. "They played how I hoped they play. They allowed us to hang in there."
The Seahawks' offense sputtered early, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted by Saints cornerback Ashley Ambrose on Seattle's second possession of the game. When finally it appeared that the Seahawks were back on track midway through the first quarter, wide receiver Bobby Engram was stripped of the ball on the run, and New Orleans recovered the fumble.
The pass from Hasselbeck to Engram was for 38 yards but ended in a turnover.
But the Seahawks defense held its own. The front seven established itself early in limiting the Saints star running back, Deuce McAllister to just 57 yards. Defensive end Chike Okeafor sacked Brooks for a 9-yard loss, and the defense forced its first turnover in the first quarter when cornerback Bobby Taylor stripped tight end Boo Williams after a 7-yard gain and cornerback Ken Lucas recovered the fumble.
The hard hits, takedowns and post-play activity got going early, and Seattle's Ken Hamlin and New Orleans' Donte Stallworth were at the center of the smack talk. Hamlin already had a reputation for his hit prowess, having landed a forceful blow on Stallworth in the season opener in Seattle last year.
At one point, Hamlin thumped Stallworth on the helmet after an incomplete pass. No flag was thrown, but Holmgren had a discussion with Hamlin on the sideline after the play.
"We know that the man on their team is Deuce," Lucas said of McAllister. "We did a pretty good job of stopping the running game and made them have to pass in most situations. We feel like we're talented enough to make plays when we have to.
"There were some bad things said out there. I typically don't get into all that jaw-jacking, but once somebody talks to you, you have to stand up for yourself. You can't let anybody take your integrity away. So I did a little talking back, but they were trying to get you out of your game."
Unfazed by two early turnovers, Hasselbeck and Alexander energized the Seahawks. The two hooked up on the first of three touchdowns for Alexander with a 14-yard screen pass that Alexander ran into the end zone on the first play of the second quarter.
That gave the Seahawks a 7-0 lead. They went up 14-0 on Alexander's first touchdown run, for 6 yards in the second quarter; and 21-7 on a third score for Alexander in the third quarter, this one featuring a nifty cutback from left to right from 9 yards out.
The last touchdown was a product of rookie Michael Boulware's first NFL interception, on a ball deflected by Wistrom. It set up the Seahawks at the New Orleans 26.
And Hamlin and Stallworth? Embracing and wishing each other well at the end of the game.
"You can disregard all that. It's just competition," Hamlin said. "No need to talk about the past."
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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