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Originally published January 3, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 3, 2005 at 1:55 PM

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Seahawks

Seahawks grab hold of NFC West crown

No instant replay or further review necessary. The Seahawks are indeed the NFC West champions, playoff bound and first-round hosts.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Marquand Manuel made a beeline toward the south end zone and jumped into the arms of all the die-hard fans, the ones with green faces and blue hair, the ones who remember all the regular seasons that didn't end like this one did.

No instant replay or further review necessary. The Seahawks are indeed the NFC West champions, playoff bound and first-round hosts.

They had to win this game to attain that title, and it took every available second and a few more to outlast the Atlanta Falcons 28-26 in front of 66,740 yesterday at Qwest Field.

When it finally ended, Mike Holmgren hugged his daughter, Ken Lucas raised his arms to the heavens and Chike Okeafor spread both arms wide and took off down the field, weaving in and out of traffic, flapping with delirium all the way into the locker room.

"I don't think I've come down yet," receiver Bobby Engram said. "I'm still floating."

The way this season has gone, the ending came as no surprise. The scoreboard showed a string of zeros, and still the Seahawks held their collective breath.

Celebratory hats and T-shirts were nearby, just waiting to be flaunted. "We Are The Champions" was queued up, just waiting to be pumped through loudspeakers.

"It's been a crazy season," Engram said. "So why would this game be any different?"

Seahawks in playoffs


Who — vs. St. Louis Rams

When — 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Where — Seahawks Stadium

Three seconds earlier, Matt Schaub, the Falcons' backup rookie quarterback, dropped back to pass and tossed a dart to receiver Brian Finneran in the back of the north end zone. With no time left, the Falcons were faced with a two-point conversion that would force overtime if converted.

Schaub handed off to Warrick Dunn on a delay. Dunn met a mass of Seahawks at the goal line, met the arms of linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski in particular and fell about a yard short of ending another day at Qwest Field in the heartbreak of a Seahawks collapse.

Dunn finished with 132 yards, but this one he knew he didn't get. Officials reviewed the play to make sure and reached the same conclusion Holmgren came to minutes earlier.

"I didn't think it was even close," the Seahawks' coach said. "We have been in a fair amount of white-knuckle games this year. Just when I thought a game couldn't get any closer than last week ... "

That's been the theme of a season that seemed so down three weeks ago and ended on another upward turn with two victories for the Seahawks in their last two games. They needed both wins to hold off St. Louis for the NFC West title, and both came in typical dramatic fashion — by a total of five points.

When it ended, the Seahawks celebrated like it was 1999. Which was, appropriately enough, the last time they won a division title. Thus this season marked the third division title in team history and the first in the NFC West.

The Seahawks note that history doesn't predict the future, which is good for the Seahawks on two counts. For one, both previous Seahawks teams that won their division also finished 9-7 and both lost in the first round. For another, the Seahawks will host the Rams on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. — the same Rams who beat them twice this season, including a 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback on the same field.

"This is what you play for," center Robbie Tobeck said. "You go through training camp and 16 games and offseason programs and all this stuff for this right here."


ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Seattle's Chike Okeafor dives but can't tackle Atlanta running back Warrick Dunn in the first half yesterday. Dunn finished with 132 yards on 25 carries.

The Falcons took control early, building a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter behind quarterback Michael Vick (6 for 7, 35 yards passing and one touchdown) and a 48-yard interception return for a TD by DeAngelo Hall. It looked as if the Seahawks would be heading to St. Louis as a wild card.

Then Seattle's own Jim Mora, the Falcons' coach, took Vick out of the game, and the Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck connected with Darrell Jackson for a touchdown before the half ended. From there, it was almost all Seahawks until the end, with Jerramy Stevens catching another touchdown pass and Hasselbeck sneaking in from 1 yard out.

"That's how it's been all year," cornerback Marcus Trufant said. "We've been up and down. We haven't always been the best, but somehow, some way, we find a way to get victories. And that's what we did today."

But not without the game-ending drama that has served as a prerequisite for fourth quarters this season. After the Hasselbeck sneak, the Seahawks led 28-20 with 4:32 to play.

The Falcons marched down the field, converting twice on third down and another time on fourth. Lucas dropped a potential interception in the end zone on third-and-goal, leaving one play and three seconds on the clock. Of course, the Falcons scored as time expired.

Yet yesterday was different than losses to the Rams and the Dallas Cowboys, losses where the Seahawks led in the fourth quarter, but not at the game's end. This time, they sealed the division title.

"That's a testament of where we've come from," safety Michael Boulware said. "Earlier in the season, we've lost those. Now, we're starting to win them."

So yes, the Seahawks will march into the playoffs for the second consecutive year for only the third time in team history. Yes, they only beat two teams that owned a winning record at the time they played. And yes, they play in arguably the weakest division in the NFL.

Just don't expect them to apologize for being the champions of it.

"Much has been made of our record this year, and quite frankly, I thought we could have a better record," Holmgren said. "In no way should that take away from the accomplishment of this football team."

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

Title and out
The Seahawks, who captured their third title in franchise history, have finished 9-7 all three years in which they won the division. A look at the ensuing postseasons:
Yr. Postseason
'88 Lost 21-13 at Cinci., AFC div. playoff
'99 Lost 20-17 vs. Miami, AFC wild card
'04 Host St. Louis in NFC wild card
Note: Seahawks joined NFC West in 2002.

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