November 11, 2010

2001: Shaun Alexander Gains 266 Yards to Lead Seahawks Over Raiders

RB Shaun Alexander was chosen by the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the 2000 draft out of Alabama, but spent his rookie season seeing limited action behind 31-year-old veteran Ricky Watters. To be sure, Watters had a typically solid year, rushing for 1242 yards and co-leading the team with 63 pass receptions, and was still the starting running back at the beginning of the 2001 season. However, Alexander got his chance when the veteran went down with a shoulder injury three games into the schedule, and made the most of it.

The 5’11”, 220-pound Alexander gained 176 yards in his first start, against Jacksonville, and after four games had 465 yards on 100 carries with five touchdowns. On November 11 against the Oakland Raiders, he had his biggest performance of all.

The Seahawks, under Mike Holmgren, who had led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory and was now in his third year in Seattle, were 3-4 coming into the Sunday night contest at Husky Stadium against a Raiders team that had beaten them handily in Oakland. Oakland, under Head Coach Jon Gruden, was 6-1. An aging club, they were the defending AFC West champions and coming off a big win over Denver the preceding Monday.

The first quarter started quietly, with Seattle’s Rian Lindell kicking field goals of 33 and 20 yards and, in between, Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski booming a 52-yarder. QB Matt Hasselbeck, who was struggling with inconsistency in his first year as a starting quarterback after backing up Brett Favre in Green Bay for two seasons, threw timely passes to set up both field goals.

The Raiders scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter thanks to a 10-play, 89-yard drive that ended with QB Rich Gannon throwing a four-yard scoring pass to WR Tim Brown. But just before the end of the half, Hasselbeck directed the Seahawks on a 76-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard TD pass to WR Darrell Jackson. Seattle had a 13-10 lead at halftime.

That margin evaporated quickly when Oakland RB Terry Kirby returned the kickoff to open the second half 90 yards for a touchdown and 17-13 lead for the Raiders. Later, Oakland extended the margin in more methodical fashion, driving 61 yards on nine plays that included Gannon passes to Brown for 13 and 18 yards, and capped by a 37-yard Janikowski field goal.

Seattle came back, however, on a nine-play possession that covered 61 yards and was helped along by a 28-yard pass play from Hasselbeck to WR Bobby Engram in a third-and-five situation. With the ball at the Oakland 18, Alexander took off on a 12-yard carry and then ran the final six yards for a touchdown. With Lindell’s successful PAT, the score was tied at 20-20.

Late in the third quarter, Alexander made the most spectacular play of the game. With the ball on the Seattle 12 yard line, he took the handoff, ran to his left before cutting across the middle of the field and running nearly untouched for a touchdown (CB Tory James caught him at the one but couldn’t stop Alexander from falling into the end zone). The 88-yard run was the longest in Seahawks history. It also capped a third quarter in which Alexander ran for 120 yards and Seattle moved ahead by a 27-20 score.

The Seattle defense came up with a big play in the fourth quarter when LB Anthony Simmons forced a fumble by Raiders RB Zack Crockett and CB Willie Williams recovered at the Oakland 25. Alexander scored his third touchdown of the game from 10 yards out to extend Seattle’s lead to 34-20 with just over seven minutes remaining on the clock.

The Raiders came back with a 10-play, 64-yard drive that was highlighted by a 16-yard run by Gannon and a 13-yard pass completion to 17-year veteran WR Jerry Rice on a fourth-and-seven play. TE Roland Williams scored a touchdown on a five-yard pass from Gannon to narrow the margin. But Seattle ran the clock down on its next possession, helped along by a key first down run by Alexander, and the Raiders got the ball back for one last shot from their 22 yard line with 1:07 remaining and no time outs. Oakland got to the Seattle 48 as time expired, and the Seahawks came away with a 34-27 win.

Shaun Alexander was the star of the game, running for 266 yards on 35 carries with three touchdowns. The rushing total set a franchise record and was the fourth-highest in NFL history up to that time.

Overall, the Seahawks rolled up 497 total yards, with 319 of them coming on the ground against a Raiders defense that had entered the game ranked fourth against the run. Matt Hasselbeck passed for 181 yards, completing 15 of 23 throws with a TD and none intercepted. Darrell Jackson was the leading receiver by far, catching 7 of those passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.

Rich Gannon went to the air 38 times with 24 completions for 257 yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions. The savvy veteran wide receivers had very similar numbers as Tim Brown caught 7 passes for 86 yards and a TD and Jerry Rice added 6 receptions for 85 yards. RB Charlie Garner led Oakland in rushing with 57 yards on 13 carries.

”I don't know if that was Alexander or Jim Brown,” said Raiders Coach Gruden about Alexander’s performance. “If you're asking me if he's good, he ran for a franchise record. He's real good, man, real good.”

“Shaun Alexander had a marvelous game,” summed up Mike Holmgren. “The offensive line and (FB) Mack Strong did a great job. We challenged the offensive line and they came through big time, and Shaun had just a great game, but he has to do it game after game and year after year. But there is no reason to think he won't do that.”

The Seahawks went on to a 9-7 record to place second in the AFC West in their last season in the American Conference - with realignment in 2002, Seattle moved over to the NFC West. Oakland faltered in the second half of the season, losing its last three games, but still won the division at 10-6. The Raiders won in the Wild Card playoff round, but lost a close-fought Divisional playoff game to New England in a snowstorm.

Shaun Alexander ended up with 1318 yards on 309 carries (4.3 avg.) for a league-leading 14 rushing touchdowns. He briefly yielded the starting job back to Watters, and took some criticism for poor pass blocking, but by the next season Alexander was unquestionably the team’s number one running back. He would go on to string together five straight thousand-yard rushing seasons, leading the league once and setting a single-season record for touchdowns along the way. In eight years in Seattle, Alexander gained 9429 yards to become the franchise’s career rushing leader, as well as single-game and single-season record holder.