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Seahawks hope to stay sharp against woeful Falcons

POSTED: January 10, 2008 5:03 a.m.
ATLANTA — The Seattle Seahawks are expected to be watching the scoreboard as they wait to see if they’ll host Washington, Minnesota or New Orleans in the playoffs.

The Atlanta Falcons may be more interested in paying attention to the traffic reports, eager to leave town quickly following the end of a disastrous season packed with equal doses of losses and controversy.

But what’s the motivation for players vrom either the NFC West champion Seahawks (10-5) or the reeling Falcons (3-12) for the last game of the regular season Sunday?

The Falcons’ only available prize is a chance for the No. 2 pick in the draft, and that possibility can be kept alive only with a loss. That’s hardly the stuff of pregame pep talks.

Seattle, according to coach Mike Holmgren, already "clinched everything that’s possible to clinch" in playoff positioning.

The Falcons have lost six straight, a span that includes the bitter end under former coach Bobby Petrino, who quit the day after his last loss to take a college job at Arkansas. The Falcons are 0-2 under interim head coach Emmitt Thomas, who made it clear what’s left for his team.

With a new coach yet to be hired, many players won’t be back, so their motivation against Seattle should be the basic desire to salvage their careers.

"They’re writing a resume," Thomas said. "Like I told them, ‘All of us won’t be back here in Falcons uniforms next year.’ A lot of them are going to be seeking jobs in other places, so they better lay a good product out there because people are watching. I think that’s the motivation."

Among the Atlanta players who may be looking for work are veteran quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich. Each failed to hold the starting job left vacant when the franchise player, Michael Vick, was indicted on dogfighting charges that eventually earned him 23 months in a federal prison.

The Vick case hung over the team from the opening day of training camp, and seemed to leave a cloud of despair that grew darker with every loss.

The season was a brutal series of letdowns for Atlanta’s players and fans, leaving linebacker Keith Brooking and his teammates in a survival mode.

"My only approach is to just grind it out and know tough times don’t last, tough people do," Brooking said. "That old clichDe, man, I believe that with all my heart and you get what you earn. No matter what situation you’re in, winning or losing, you still have to go out there and lay it out on the line because we’re playing for a lot.

"Guys are motivated for different reasons in our locker room and throughout the NFL. Some guys are motivated by money. Some are motivated by family. Some are motivated by pride. You should be motivated because your resume is put out there every Sunday. We’re playing for a lot still, to this day."

The Seahawks’ obvious motivation is the Super Bowl. Like other playoff-bound teams, they must balance the desire to keep the players sharp with the need to keep the stars healthy.

Holmgren announced this week he’ll open the game with his starters with the intent to treat it like any other, but he left open the possibility that top players could leave early if Seattle builds a lead.

"We all want the same thing," Holmgren said. "We want to go into the playoffs as strong as we can be, but at the same time, we want to play every game. I think the integrity of game is a little bit at stake."

One year ago, Jim Mora was coaching his final game of his three-year stay as Atlanta’s coach. Mora returns to Atlanta as Seattle’s secondary coach.

"Without overstating it, I believe he’s moved on now and he’s having fun coaching this year," Holmgren said. "I believe he’s glad he’s in Seattle. Would he still like to be a head coach? Yeah, certainly. That’s obvious. But now he’s moving forward."

Motivation is never a problem for Seattle’s hardworking defensive end Patrick Kerney. There will be extra incentives when he returns to Atlanta, where he played for eight years.

Kerney leads the NFL with 141/2 sacks, giving him only a half-sack lead on Houston’s Mario Williams. Kansas City’s Jared Allen is only one sack off the lead.

Kerney may be looking to pad that lead early in the game in case Holmgren starts pulling out top starters.

"I’m going into Atlanta expecting to play the whole game," Kerney said.

"If something else is decided, I’m all for it.

"If I hold onto (the sack title), that will be icing on the cake. If not ... I know there’s not a big, silver trophy for that."

Kerney should have ample pass-rush opportunities. Unlike the run-first Falcons of the Mora era, Petrino installed a passing attack that has continued in his absence. Chris Redman threw for a career-best 315 yards last week in an overtime loss at Arizona, and receiver Roddy White has 78 catches for 1,140 yards in his breakout year.

Meanwhile, veteran tailback Warrick Dunn has become an afterthought at the end of the season in which he became just the 22nd NFL player to rush for 10,000 career yards. Dunn is averaging 16.3 yards in the last four games.

Seattle’s Shaun Alexander also has seen a decline in production, though his 73 yards rushing last week were his high total since Week 4. He has rushed for only 685 yards and three touchdowns.


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