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Seahawks limp into playoffs with 23-7 win

TAMPA, Fla. (Dec. 31, 2006) -- Shaun Alexander relishes the underdog role and hopes the Seattle Seahawks have lulled the rest of the NFC into thinking they're not capable of making a strong playoff run.

"I would much rather be that guy than the one that everybody is looking at," the 2006 NFL MVP said after the defending conference champions stopped a three-game losing streak with a 23-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "We know what happens when people take us lightly."

The Seahawks (9-7) had little to play for after clinching the NFC West title and assuring themselves of starting the playoffs with a home game. Still, coach Mike Holmgren felt it important to play well and ease some of the sting from the team's puzzling performance the past month.

Seattle, the fourth seed, will host Dallas (9-7) next weekend.

"Our record isn't what we had hoped, to be honest with you, but there's something about 9-7 being a lot better than 8-8 even though it's just one game," Holmgren said. "The players feel that, and I think the organization does. Now we start our new season."

Alexander rushed for 92 yards on 28 carries and scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter. Matt Hasselbeck completed 17 of 29 passes for 216 yards, including a 5-yard scoring throw to D.J. Hackett, while Josh Brown kicked three field goals for the Seahawks.

Tampa Bay, which has missed the playoffs with a losing record three of four seasons since winning the Super Bowl, lost two fumbles -- one of them inside the Seattle 10 -- and was stopped on downs once at the Seahawks 3.

Former Seattle receiver Joey Galloway was one of the few bright spots for the Bucs (4-12), finishing with eight receptions for 118 yards and scoring Tampa Bay's only touchdown on a 4-yard catch in the second quarter.

Galloway went over 1,000 yards receiving for the second straight season and fifth time in a 12-year career. His other three 1,000-yard seasons came while he was with the Seahawks from 1995-99.

"Obviously, it has been a very rough season," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, who is 27-37 since winning the Super Bowl in his first year with the Bucs.

"A lot of people come unraveled. Some people jump right off ship. They get on a life raft. But these guys stayed together, and that's a real compliment. ... That's something this team hopefully will lean on in years to come."

Gruden reiterated he expects to be back next season.

"There's going to be a lot of speculation and rumors this time of year," Gruden said. "I'm very excited about the future. ... I'm one of those guys who's going to go to the next hole. I'm going to the next hole until someone tells me I'm out of the tournament."

Seattle won for the first time since winning at Denver on Dec. 3. Losses to Arizona and San Francisco left Holmgren and his players searching for answers. However, the Seahawks felt they played one of their better games of the season despite losing to San Diego on a last-minute touchdown pass last week.

The defending NFC champions have battled injuries all year, but entered the finale believing they were getting healthy and beginning to play better at the right time.

They scored on their first two possessions and never trailed, but an already extensive injury report got longer with cornerback Kelly Herndon breaking his left ankle in the first half and linebacker Leroy Hill suffering a concussion and cornerback Jimmy Williams hobbling off late with a knee injury.

"We're losing guys at the wrong time ... but at the same time, everybody's just got to pick it up a little extra," Seahawks receiver Deion Branch said.

Hackett scored three plays after the receiver made a lunging catch that initially ruled a 32-yard touchdown before being overturned by replay. The second-year receiver gained 21 on third-and-18 on the next play, then Hasselbeck found him open in the middle of the end zone for a 17-7 halftime lead.

Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott fumbled at his 11 and Williams recovered to set up Brown's 20-yard field goal early in the third quarter. The Seattle kicker booted a 23-yarder to finish a 14-play 65-yard march that made it 23-7.

The Bucs, 11-5 and NFC South champions a year ago, lost five of their last six games.

"It's unfulfilling," Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber said.

"All you ever ask for is an opportunity to play in the postseason, to give yourself a chance to win a championship. It's the only reason we play this game, and to be completely out of it is frustrating."

Notes: Galloway had 62 catches for 1,057 yards, joining Keyshawn Johnson as the only Tampa Bay receivers to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. ... Alexander extended his NFL record string of consecutive games with at least one run of 10 or more yards to 64. He broke a 10-yarder on the drive leading to his touchdown. ... Alstott carried six times for 4 yards in what may have been his last game with the Bucs.

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