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Saints, Seahawks share need for redemption after early knockdowns

SEATTLE -- Mike Holmgren was a high-school history teacher and the freshman football coach in San Francisco during the early 1970s.

"I had the freshman kids who couldn't tie their shoelaces and know how to put on the pads," the veteran Seahawks coach said.

Those novice beginnings for someone who has gone on to coach in the NFL for 22 seasons and in five Super Bowls seemingly has nothing do with Sunday night's game between the sunken New Orleans Saints (0-4) and the sputtering Seattle Seahawks (3-2).

But the former teacher has a lesson for you.

"The beauty of this sport is, you do get the chance to redeem yourself," Holmgren said this week, knowing the Saints and his Seahawks each have more to redeem than either expected this season.

"The very first time, (a player) got the wind knocked out of him, I got all sorts of reactions. Some of the guys walked off the field. Some of them started to cry.

"I used to tell this to my high school kids, the students as well: football (gets) you ready for things you are going to deal with in life. Stuff happens. You get knocked down. Now what are you going to do? Are you going to go home? Are you going to lay there?

"The beauty of our game is that you are going to get up and give it another go."

The Saints, who reached the NFC championship game last season, have already been knocked down so much they are talking of unearthing a ceremonial, move-on burial they had during a spring minicamp. Resurrecting a coffin that represented 2006 seems pretty good right now after four mistake-filled defeats.

"We might want to dig that back up, huh?" said coach Sean Payton, who is 10-10 leading New Orleans.

The fact he has the second-best record in Saints history after 20 games is a sign of how fleeting success has been for the franchise that became America's darlings last season.

"We know a lot of people have probably given up hope on us," running back Reggie Bush said. "We have a whole lot to prove because at this point and time we haven't proven anything. We haven't shown that we can compete right now."

The Seahawks are failing at the foundation of Holmgren's offense, running the ball. Last weekend, Seattle lost 21-0 loss at Pittsburgh, Holmgren's second shutout in 16 years as an NFL head coach.

But, yes, both teams will give it another go in a prime-time game that's not quite must-see TV.

"We must improve our execution on offense," Holmgren said.

Shaun Alexander, who turned 30 in August, is hearing whispers he is fading after gaining just 93 yards on 36 carries in the last two games. Playing with a cast on a cracked bone in his left wrist, the 2005 league MVP has just two touchdowns. He set an NFL record with 28 two seasons ago.

Yet when asked what's wrong, Alexander smiles as usual and says, "Nothing."

Holmgren said he wants backup Maurice Morris to get more carries, though he remains convinced Alexander will turn it around.

That may to tough to do against a New Orleans defense allowing only 3.6 yards per rush, about Alexander's average this season and the fifth-stingiest average in the league. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck called the Saints' active front four "the strength of their team."

Hasselbeck had the best September of his career, completing 67 percent of his passes. But last weekend he was just 13-for-27. Sunday he will target a defense that is last in the NFL in yards allowed per passing play, but he won't have injured starting receivers Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett.

The Saints' offense has been bad, too. Quarterback Drew Brees, who started the Pro Bowl after throwing for 4,418 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, has just one TD and a league-high nine interceptions. He threw just 11 last season.

Payton keeps saying he needs to balance the offense with more runs, even though lead back Deuce McAllister is out for the season after tearing a knee ligament. Payton is struggling with how much to use the dynamic Bush in his absence.

Payton said he wants to limit Bush to about 25 touches per game. But last weekend, in the Saints' first game without McAllister, Bush had 30 touches, including a career-high 21 carries. He gained just 67 yards rushing, though he set a Saints season-high for receptions.

"He is not someone I want to handle the ball 30, 35 times a game," Payton said.

Bush had some soreness from getting kicked in the shin last weekend, but the second pick in the 2006 draft practiced all week.

"Whatever it takes -- if it's 30, 40 carries, if it's 15 carries -- whatever it takes for us to win a game," said Bush, who thought he handled last week's load well.

Less Bush would mean more Aaron Stecker, usually the special teams captain, and Pierre Thomas, the only undrafted rookie to make the Saints this season.

Seattle remains concerned no matter how much Bush gets the ball.

"He scares the heck out of me," Holmgren said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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