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Monday, November 22, 2004 - Page updated at 08:43 A.M.
By Greg Bishop
Isaiah Kacyvenski glanced at his teammates in the huddle before the play that would decide whether the Seahawks stood a chance this season.
He could see it in their eyes. Somebody was going to make a play.
Dolphins quarterback A.J. Feeley dropped back to pass, scanning the field, finding Chris Chambers and what seemed like a reasonable amount of space. Rookie safety Michael Boulware locked on to Feeley's eyes, jumped the route and scampered 63 yards up the left sideline with the play that saved this season, if only for a week.
The Seahawks escaped the Miami Dolphins with a 24-17 win in front of 66,644 at Qwest Field yesterday afternoon.
If the playoffs started today, the NFC West-leading Seahawks would be in. Thanks to Boulware, a college linebacker who proved yesterday that the Seahawks didn't just turn him into a safety. Oh no, with three game-saving plays this season, he's their safety net.
"That might be the biggest play for us all year," defensive end Grant Wistrom said. "If we lose that game, who knows where this team heads?"
"Wow," coach Mike Holmgren added. "Thank goodness for Michael Boulware."
The Seahawks engulfed Boulware after his fourth interception of this season. Rocky Bernard and Chad Brown tackled him in the end zone as if the Seahawks had won the Super Bowl. Jerry Rice ran around, searching desperately for someone to hug.
Chambers hung his head as the Dolphins fell to 1-9, their new coach (Jim Bates) and new starting quarterback (Feeley) turning in a familiar, deja-vu result. Chambers' first thoughts?
The Seahawks, meanwhile, improved to the shakiest of 6-4 records. They resumed their NFC West lead courtesy of their rookie safety net, a forced fumble by Antonio Cochran on the Dolphins' final drive and lopsided losses from every other team in their division.
"(Boulware is) going for rookie of the year," receiver Darrell Jackson quipped. "Put your votes in now."
The Seahawks entered this game in a state of flux themselves, missing tackle Chris Terry and receiver Koren Robinson because they violated team rules and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck because of injury.
Holmgren challenged his players before the game, noting the absence of the starters and calling for the reserves to step in and make plays.
They did early. Trent Dilfer stepped in for Hasselbeck and completed his first three passes for 47 yards including one to Jerry Rice, who started in place of Robinson, for a 21-yard touchdown. Dilfer completed 14 of 28 passes for 196 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The defense forced a punt after three Miami plays, and it appeared the rout was on. But the Seahawks proved once more that almost every game will be close and provide intrigue, as Mack Strong fumbled in Seattle territory to set up the Dolphins' tying touchdown.
"Oh, man, tell me about it," Jackson said. "We have to make it interesting for our 12th man."
The Seahawks took a 17-7 lead into the break, following a 33-yard Josh Brown field goal and a 4-yard run from Shaun Alexander, the team-record 56th rushing touchdown of his career. Alexander finished with 96 yards on 29 carries, good for 1,151 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season.
But then came the second half, an ugly, mistake-prone stanza that provided flashbacks to home games against St. Louis and Carolina earlier this season.
On its first three drives of the second half, the Seahawks' offense gained no yards and no first downs. During the second half, the Seahawks did not convert on third down once.
"It never should have been that close," Bernard said. "No way. We let them back in."
Meanwhile, the Dolphins were coming off a bye week and playing for new coach Bates without a division lead on the line. They loosened while the Seahawks tightened.
Feeley connected with Chambers for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 17-14 with 10:39 left in the third quarter. They tied the score at 17 on Olindo Mare's 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Dilfer and the offense took over with 2:20 left in the game. He fired two incompletions and took a sack, setting up the Dolphins' drive, the Boulware heroics and the win that took back sole possession of first place in their division.
"You have to close teams out in the second half," Dilfer said. "It doesn't have to be glamorous, but you have to move the chains, you have to get first downs, and you have to dominate."
Now, the Seahawks turn their eyes to the season's final stretch home games against Buffalo and Dallas, then road games at Minnesota and New York, then home games against Arizona and Atlanta.
Four wins, even four wins as ugly as the one they pilfered from the Dolphins yesterday, should do the trick.
"Some people might think it's ugly, but we brought it home," tackle Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack said. "That's all that matters. First place is first place."
Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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