Jim Mora is crafting more messages than wins right now.
The Seattle coach just released some veterans, including Edgerrin James, the NFL’s active leading rusher. He promoted running back Louis Rankin, formerly released by the equally woeful Raiders, from the practice squad.
The message is clear: those who aren’t producing had better start doing so when the Seahawks host the one-win Detroit Lions on Sunday.
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Mora also gave notice to his flopping team last weekend when he left quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in for the entire blowout loss at Dallas – even though the three-time Pro Bowl passer still has broken ribs and was crumpled on the Cowboys‘ turf in the third quarter after getting crunched in the chest.
“I think you send the wrong message to your football team if you pull him out,” Mora said. “I’m not going to take Matt Hasselbeck out when we’re down like that and there’s probably very little chance that we’re going to win. I’m not going to send that message to this football team or our fans.”
Something similar worked in Mora’s first season with Atlanta in 2004.
“We were 6-2, and we went to Kansas City. They were up 35-3 on us at halftime,” Mora said. “And I went in and I told the team at halftime, I said, ‘We are not punting. I don’t care where the football is. We’re going to go for two. We’re going to try to block every punt. We absolutely will not give in.’
“And we got beat 56-10.”
After the game, Mora got a call from his father, a former NFL coach who told his son: “Hey Jim, sometimes it’s OK to punt.”
“I’m trying to make a point here,” Mora told his father. “My point is: we will not quit, we will not give in.”
The following week, Mora’s Falcons went to Denver. They fell behind 14-3 after one quarter.
“Came back to win (41-28),” he said, proudly. “I’m not saying that I’m a master psychologist or anything, but I do think that the fact that we took that stance at halftime of the Kansas City game created a mindset that helped us move forward. We went to the NFC championship that year. I think it’s a little bit the same for me (here).”
The Seahawks (2-5) have lost five of their last six games, coming within 13 points of winning only once in that span. Injuries have cost 12 starters at least one game this season, including six-time All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Both are on injured reserve.
When he’s not publicly saying so, big-money receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is angrily gesturing to Hasselbeck that he wants the ball.
And last weekend, forgotten former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch had his first touchdown catch of the season. Branch, a subject of trade rumors last month, immediately ran up to a FOX television camera and barked: “This is what I do! If anyone wants me, come find me!”
Wednesday, Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said they have talked to Branch and to Houshmandzadeh this week and that all is well.
Branch has 15 catches in the five games for which he’s been active. That’s his fewest through five weeks in his career.
He tried to distance himself from Sunday’s odd proclamation.
“What you all hear is not, you know what I’m saying, what’s coming from me,” he said. “I just want to win and I want to play.
“I’ve been accepting my role. Trust me, if I wanted to start something, I would have done it (in) minicamp. … Regardless of what it sounded like I said, I want to finish my career here.
“The biggest thing is that we are 2-5. The guys are frustrated. Coaches are, too.”
James passed Marcus Allen for 10th on the league’s all-time rushing list last weekend, but was averaging just 2.7 yards per carry while playing roughly every third series.
Knapp said Rankin will now spell starter Julius Jones every few series, with Justin Forsett remaining the third-down back. Mora said Rankin will also get a chance to return kickoffs.
“Edgerrin came in here and did a wonderful job in the locker room. He’s a wonderful person. He’s a pro. He worked his tail off. Unfortunately, the results weren’t what we wanted,” Mora said.
“Rather than ask Edgerrin James, a man of his stature in this league, to be inactive and be relegated to a position to the scout team during the week, we felt the honorable thing would be to let him go.”
Mora’s many messages suggest James won’t be the last to leave.