Winning on Sunday was the Seahawks' sweet reward for their optimism in the face of a bad season.
ST. LOUIS — In the final seconds of a battle to determine the less shameful team, Deion Branch, the Seahawks’ chirpy No. 83, turned clairvoyant. He predicted he would make a big play, even though his legs had been wobbly most of this season. He was so confident that he yelled his thoughts to two St. Louis Rams defensive backs, Ron Bartell and Jason Craft.
“I’m trying to figure out where I’m going to catch this football at!” Branch exclaimed.
Bartell and Craft laughed.
Then he burned them for a 45-yard reception. It set up Olindo Mare’s game-winning field goal in a 23-20 victory Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
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After the play, Branch was too busy to offer a told-ya-so to his previously chuckling opponents. He chose to celebrate by shouting at Rams fans who’d heckled him all game.
Never doubt a winner, even when he’s losing.
“I was dead serious,” Branch said afterward, recalling his prediction. “They thought it was a joke.”
Throughout the anguish of this season, as losses and injuries littered their goals, the Seahawks have remained such optimists you don’t know whether to be amused or annoyed. When they’ve admitted frustration, they’ve chased it with positive thoughts about their work ethic, persistence and character. They’ve vowed not to let the misfortune break them. They’ve considered this season an aberration and pledged to return to winning next season.
The cynics in the audience huff and refer to an inevitable decline. In response, the Seahawks shrug and say they’re still alive.
One victory over a Rams franchise gone haywire won’t settle the debate, but it does provide a reward for the optimists. It gives a jolt to a team displaying admirable professionalism during an unexpectedly difficult year.
It’s appropriate that three of the Seahawks’ most dogged positive thinkers — Branch, Bobby Engram and Seneca Wallace — graced the end of this comeback victory.
All three have endured trying, injury-burdened seasons. All three have endured low moments that leave fans questioning their futures with the Seahawks. Nevertheless, they continue to play with purpose, and at the end of a woeful season, a time when players of lesser character relent, they’re helping the Seahawks stay focused and businesslike in their approach.
With 5:20 left in the game and the Seahawks down a touchdown, Engram caught a 37-yard pass from Wallace to set up running back T.J. Duckett’s game-tying score. After the Rams pummeled him most of the first half with blitzes, Wallace rallied to complete his final six passes to capture the win.
Afterward, Wallace wept in the locker room. “Happy tears,” his coach said.
“He was very emotional in there,” coach Mike Holmgren said. “I’ve never seen him like that.”
It was Wallace’s second stunning display of emotion on this day. As the Seahawks headed to the locker room at halftime trailing 17-7, he screamed at his team, trying to inspire better play. It led Holmgren to give one of his fiery halftime speeches.
The outburst from Wallace was more motivational than angry, according to fullback Leonard Weaver. He was impressed with how his quarterback, starting again for the injured Matt Hasselbeck, managed to inspire his teammates without blaming them for the punishment he took in the first half.
“It speaks volumes about his character,” Weaver said. “His main message was to pick it up. He wasn’t calling anybody out. I was like, ‘I’m sitting here watching this man get his head beat in, and he didn’t blame us.’ He had every right to, but he didn’t. He was being a great leader.”
The Seahawks have several good leaders. The losing has masked that fact, but this group has handled the trauma without any major controversies, without dividing into factions, without any finger-pointing.
It doesn’t take away the sting of a 3-11 record. However, there’s something to be said for the professionalism.
And after six straight losses, the Seahawks were finally treated to a positive result.
“It’s been an interesting year, to say the least,” Engram said, grinning. “I’ve said all along that we have guys in this locker room that won’t quit. We were able to finish today. It was good to get a win.”
Engram, who missed the first three games with a broken shoulder, has seen his production dip from 94 receptions a year ago to 35 this season, but he hasn’t complained. He spent the offseason upset over not getting a new contract, but he hasn’t complained. Fortunately, there is no Terrell Owens in the Seahawks locker room.
“There’s enough going on this year without me throwing my two cents in there,” Engram said.
It’s much better to let Branch do the talking, anyway. The little guy is quite the fortuneteller.