Holmgren optimistic approaching final season

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- In kicking off his final season as Seahawks coach, Mike Holmgren is not looking for a do-over.

Holmgren knows full well that Seattle travels to Buffalo with an opening-day lineup much unlike the one he envisioned. He's been around long enough to understand that injuries happen and player suspensions -- though disappointing -- are part of today's game.

That's not enough to cut entirely into the optimism of the NFL's winningest active coach.

"If you're not optimistic, you're making a huge mistake," Holmgren said. "But if you don't toss in a little realism into the equation, I think you're making a mistake as well."

The realism Holmgren is referring to in opening his 17th NFL season as coach on Sunday is the Seahawks being down three receivers, including Bobby Engram (shoulder) and Deion Branch (knee); starting right tackle Sean Locklear (knee); and with two defensive regulars (DT Rocky Bernard and CB Jordan Babineaux) serving one-game NFL suspensions.

Then there's quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who has been bothered by back problems that limited him to playing in only two series in Seattle's preseason opener Aug. 8.

"All that takes a back seat to going against a good football team," Holmgren said. "I think that's what we have to focus on."

Holmgren, who's completing the final year of his contract before intending to give way to Jim Mora as coach, wasn't merely building up the opponent when giving credit to the Bills.

After years of mismanagement, some bad luck and too many cost-conscious decisions, the Bills might finally be taken seriously this season.

Buffalo has spent the past two years building around a young core and, with a few key veteran additions this offseason, has the potential to compete for a playoff berth to end an eight-season drought -- the longest in franchise history and second-longest active streak in the NFL.

Coach Dick Jauron set the tone in January when he established the Bills' objective of making the playoffs, and he wasn't backing off that goal this week.

"I feel like we have to win," Jauron said.

Safety Donte Whitner has gone one further, guaranteeing the Bills will make the playoffs.

"If you don't have high expectations going into the season, you're going to get your butt kicked," Whitner said.

The Bills have been kicked around plenty this past decade, in which they've enjoyed one winning season (a 9-7 finish in 2004), and still have plenty to prove. One way to start would be beating a Seahawks team that has been the model of NFC success with five straight playoff berths and four straight division titles.

"This is what we've all been waiting for," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We think we can be a great defense, but we have to go out and prove it. Words don't mean much. We have to go out and play well on Sunday."

The defense is revamped, featuring veteran newcomers such as three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud and linebacker Kawika Mitchell. Also back are Posluszny and safety Ko Simpson, who missed most of last season with injuries.

The unit is expected to be the Bills' strength and intends to erase a dreadful performance in which it finished 31st in yards allowed.

The Bills' offense remains a question mark. It's led by Trent Edwards, the 2007 third-round draft pick who took over the starting job ahead of J.P. Losman midway through last season. The unit is also missing key offensive lineman left tackle Jason Peters, who won't play Sunday after joining the team Saturday following a holdout.

"You'd like to think you've got a real good hand on where you are, but we have not played a regular-season game," Jauron said, referring to his sense of the offense. "So we're going to find out about who we are, and what we can do."

The Seahawks might have a similar question, especially with Nate Burleson and Courtney Taylor filling in as the starting receivers, and backup quarterback Seneca Wallace potentially in the mix.

One benefit, though, is the Seahawks have a tried and true system in the West Coast offense, and a quarterback in Hasselbeck who is more than capable of running it.

Add to that, Holmgren is keen on re-establishing the run with Maurice Morris and, newly acquired Julius Jones as the co-starters following Shaun Alexander's release.

"There will be no excuses for anything," Holmgren said. "I believe we're talented enough to make a run at this."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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