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Monday, December 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hawks down but not out

Seattle Times staff reporter

Five fine feats

Division championships in Seahawks history, with division won and record (*one game left in season):

2006 | NFC West | 8-7*

2005 | NFC West | 13-3

2004 | NFC West | 9-7

1999 | AFC West | 9-7

1988 | AFC West | 9-7

The good news in Seahawks land is that it's Christmas and the local team is the three-time NFC West champion.

The Seahawks have the commemorative apparel to prove it. And certainly a banner to be raised in the Qwest Field rafters.

But no Seahawks were in the mood for celebrating that distinction after the game Sunday with San Diego.

Losing the way the Seahawks did, 20-17 to one of the NFL's elite teams, was more painful than any defeat this season. Players shed tears, wiping them away to reveal bloodshot eyes and feelings of frustration, while trying to explain what losing a hard-fought game, yet securing the division, felt like.

"I'm upset," linebacker Julian Peterson said. "We should have won the game. That's three [losses] in a row, so we have to do something on the road next week. We have to get some type of momentum going into the playoffs."

Mere minutes after the Arizona Cardinals gave the Seahawks the gift of the division title with their 26-20 victory at San Francisco, Seattle was in position to post its biggest win of the regular season.

They were less than four minutes from a 17-13 victory, a division title without the Cardinals' help, and certainly a more festive atmosphere than the raw emotions eventually displayed after the defeat.

The Seahawks' defense had gotten the job done all day long in the rain, and after the offense played it conservatively and went three-and-out, the Chargers got the ball with two minutes left, no time outs remaining and 59 yards needed for the go-ahead score.

The Chargers moved the ball to the Seattle 37 with 36 seconds to play. Philip Rivers dropped back, and with plenty of time and protection to set his feet, he lofted a pass to the end zone.

Receiver Vincent Jackson was there, well past the Seahawks' defense, and safety Michael Boulware in particular. Touchdown Chargers. Twenty-nine seconds to play.

The Seahawks couldn't move the ball far enough to get in position for a tying field goal, and time ran out. Just like that, all of their effort and energy to rally from a 10-0 deficit, take a lead, chase down star running back LaDainian Tomlinson time after time and attempt to break a two-game losing streak, went for naught.

So did a pair of Shaun Alexander touchdown runs on an afternoon when Alexander, the 2005 NFL Most Valuable Player, outperformed the man — Tomlinson — who will likely win that honor this season.

"Going into that last play, we were like, 'Oh, here's our opportunity. We earned the right as the defense to win this game,' " defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "Against San Francisco, we let it slip away, because as a defense we earned the right to win and we blew it. And then I'm looking at them [the Chargers] celebrating, and it's the same thing."

After a scoreless first quarter, the Chargers took advantage of Tomlinson's 62-yard run and scored the game's first points, a 9-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Jackson.

The Chargers led 10-0 after a field goal capped a drive to open the second half. It could have been more, but a face-mask penalty nullified a 48-yard Tomlinson touchdown run.

Then an apparent Seahawks touchdown, a 96-yard kickoff return by Nate Burleson, was called back because of a holding penalty.

Nevertheless, the Seahawks broke through with 6:10 left in the third quarter. Alexander rumbled on a draw play 33 yards for his longest touchdown carry of the season.

The Seahawks scored again early in the fourth quarter to take their first lead at 14-13. Qwest Field was rocking, and after the defense forced the Chargers to punt, it seemed that victory was well within reach.

But it was not to be as the Seahawks dropped to 8-7. Now it's a couple of days off for Christmas and the normal players' day off Tuesday before preparations begin for a road game at Tampa Bay to close the regular season.

Hard is it might be to imagine, the Seahawks are in the playoffs for a fourth straight season. They'll get to host a playoff game in the wild-card round in the first weekend of January, that much is certain.

"As I told the players, this doesn't have to be a morgue," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "Our record is not what we had hoped ... but we are division champs, and no one's going to take that away from us."

Linebacker Lofa Tatupu decided to put on the NFC West Champions shirt and cap that was waiting for him in locker.

"I do feel bad," Tatupu said. "You're going to sit here and tell us we didn't earn it? It might have come by default, but we fought for the eight wins that we do have ... The loss, it hurts. I don't know how merry my Christmas will be. But we're in the playoffs."

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

Rivers split
Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers had two different halves against the Seahawks on Sunday. He was sacked once.
First half
Atts-Comp Yards TDs Long
1-10 9 1 9
Second half
Atts-Comp Yards TDs Long
9-20 172 1 38

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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