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Friday, December 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A soggy loss for Seahawks

Seattle Times staff reporter

Not this week. And the way the Seahawks played Thursday night, maybe not 10 days from now, either.

Division-champion shirts and hats stayed in boxes, and there was no celebration of any kind.

Pick the line you want to use: When it rains, it pours. Bad things happen in bunches.

Or maybe the following best described how the Seahawks looked in their 24-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, at Qwest Field on national television.

Coach Mike Holmgren: "Inconsistency is our identity right now."

Defensive end Bryce Fisher was asked what the Seahawks need to do to get out of their two-game slide.

"If I had that answer, I'd be making millions of dollars on the book circuit," he said.

It was hard to tell what looked worse Thursday night — the weather, the Seahawks' offense or their fourth-quarter defense.

That offense failed to score for all but nine seconds of the second half on the stubborn but unimpressive 49ers, and the Seahawks failed in a second bid in less than a week to clinch the NFC West championship with their maddening loss to yet another team not considered in their class.

That defense, which shut out the 49ers for all but three seconds of the first half, gave up three touchdowns in the last 11 minutes, 24 seconds of the game.

The weather was wet and windy, sort of like the stormy forecast the Seahawks are looking at unless they right themselves.

The defending NFC champions dropped to 8-6. They have 10 days to stew on their most demoralizing loss of the season before facing the powerful San Diego Chargers on Christmas Eve.

"I thought the defense played [a] good enough game for us to win, and the offense, we just didn't do anything," left tackle Walter Jones said. "We have to be more accountable on the football field. All you can do is roll up your sleeves and get ready for next week."

Seattle had chances to build on leads of 7-0 and 7-3. Those were squandered with a turnover, failure to execute and dropped passes. And 49ers running back Frank Gore, who ran all over the Seahawks for 212 yards in November, finished with 144.

Where was the adjustment? It left many scratching their heads and wondering how to regroup.

Said Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck: "We have to get our swagger back as a team."

Any hopes the Seahawks had for a No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs were all but dashed. The Seahawks look bound for a wild-card game at home next month, provided they can win the division.

That part itself is still in question. The 49ers (6-8) are still mathematically alive in the West, and if both teams finish the year with identical records, the 49ers win the division because of a season sweep in head-to-head meetings.

But all of that is pure prognostication.

The Seahawks had problems hanging on to the ball from the beginning of the game, even when a pregame monsoon subsided. A pair of dropped passes, one by Deion Branch and one by Jerramy Stevens, ended the first two Seahawks drives. Stevens' miscue drew boos from the crowd.

Seattle had good field position to start its third possession, and Shaun Alexander was headed for the end zone on a run from the 49ers' 24 when cornerback Walt Harris stripped him of the ball at the 6. Wide receiver Nate Burleson, though, atoned for his earlier fumble and pounced on the ball at the 3.

Alexander scored on the next play to give the Seahawks a 7-0 lead with 2:18 left in the first quarter.

With 4:41 to play in the half, Hasselbeck hit Stevens on third-and-12 for what looked to be a 25-yard gain to the San Francisco 11. But the 49ers challenged the call, and replays showed that Stevens dropped the ball.

Leading 7-3, the Seahawks opened the second half with a drive to the 49ers' 20, but Hasselbeck's pass was intercepted by safety Mark Roman in the end zone.

Still, the Seahawks' defense remained stubborn, until a 54-yard bomb and go-ahead touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis made it 10-7 49ers with 11:24 left in the game.

After Burleson's 28-yard kickoff gave them excellent field position, the Seahawks couldn't gain a first down. They went for it on fourth-and-one with 9:49 to play, but Manny Lawson stopped Mack Strong for no gain.

That proved to be the turning point as things unraveled.

"I always think we can get that," Holmgren said. "Normally we convert those."

The 49ers got the ball back and turned to Gore for chunks of yards. Just when the Seahawks appeared to have quarterback Alex Smith sacked, Smith got out of cornerback Kelly Herndon's grasp and fired a 20-yard touchdown toss to Gore. That made the score 17-7.

And to add further insult, the 49ers tried a trick play with Smith bootlegging off a fake handoff. He scored from 18 yards, completing a wild run of points against a downtrodden defense.

Game over, except for a meaningless jump-ball touchdown catch by Stevens in the final seconds.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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