Sinking Seahawks’ optimism ringing a bit hollow

The Seahawks were once hallowed within the NFC West.

A prolific, multidimensional offense was backed by a big-play defense and one of the league’s loudest home-field advantages, helping Seattle win four consecutive division titles and reach the Super Bowl after the 2005 season.

Now, Seattle is hollow.

The Seahawks (3-6) improved dramatically Sunday at rival Arizona – and it ultimately amounted to nothing.

The same offense that scored just three points in a home loss last month to the Cardinals outgained the high-flying, defending NFC champions with 472 yards. Seattle carried a lead into the fourth quarter and was primed for an upset that would have vaulted them back into the division race.

“It was more fun to be out there,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.

Then it all fell apart.

Hasselbeck threw two interceptions in the final period and Seattle lost 31-20 to essentially fall four games behind Arizona in the division. The Cardinals own the first tiebreaker after sweeping both games against the Seahawks.

All that remains are seven games that mean little, just like last year at this point. Seattle has lost 20 of 27 games since December 2007, the last time it was division champion.

“It’s not going to continue to go this way, how about that? It’s just not,” first-year coach Jim Mora said Monday. “We’re getting better.

“I know that’s odd. We lost.”

Odd, yes. And hollow for Seahawks fans accustomed to winning for much of the decade.

After he caught a season-high nine passes for 165 yards in Sunday’s game, outspoken star receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was so encouraged he told his coach after the team plane landed in Seattle late Sunday, “We’re not losing another game.”

Their next one is Sunday against Brett Favre and the 8-1 Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks haven’t won on the road this season, and are 2-12 in the last 14 games away from Seattle.

The last time they won a road game against a team that finished with a winning record was Dec. 3, 2006, at Denver.

Worse yet, it’s been five years since the Seahawks beat a playoff team on their home field, on Dec. 12, 2004, at Minnesota.

“I’d rather hear that than, ‘Oh God, what are we going to do? How are we going to win?”‘ Mora said of Houshmandzadeh’s prediction. “You can call it false enthusiasm, false confidence, but it’s certainly the mindset you want your team to have.”

The Seahawks will rely more on young running backs Justin Forsett, who romped for 123 yards on just 17 carries at Arizona after veteran Julius Jones bruised his lung, and Louis Rankin over the final seven weeks of the season.

They’re also awaiting word on 17 plays from Sunday’s game that Mora sent to the league’s supervisor of officials for review of what the coach thought were missed calls.

“Seventeen!” Mora said. “I’ve never done that, now, in four years as a head coach. I’ve never had 17 calls turned in. So we’ll see what they say.”

Mora said it was probably three times as many plays as he’s ever submitted to the league from one game.

His frustration came from Darnell Dockett pushing his forearm into the neck of the already battered Hasselbeck without a penalty after a sack, and from pass-interference penalties that included a play on which Mora thought Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald pulled the face mask of cornerback Josh Wilson, yet Wilson got the flag.

Still, Mora remains outwardly optimistic. Despite odds longer than Seattle’s rainy season, he thinks his players still believe it’s possible to achieve their goal of returning to the postseason after a one-year absence.

“From their reaction I got in the locker room (Sunday), I do,” Mora said. “There’s hope. Disappointment, but (we are) somewhat encouraged.”