Nothing ugly about first place for Seahawks

Mike Williams dominated Arizona's secondary as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck repeatedly targeted the former first round draft pick. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

SEATTLE -- The word "ugly" sounded like "lucky" to Seattle Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy following his team's aesthetically challenged 22-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Milloy bristled.

The wad of chewing tobacco perched inside his lower lip seemed to tremble.

For a moment I thought the 36-year-old safety might jump from the stool in front of his locker. Milloy launched into a mini-rant about players playing, analysts analyzing, guys "strapping it up" and the Seahawks knowing they could beat anybody if they played their brand of ball. He even threw in a "point blank" reference at the end.

"You got my blood boiling a little bit," he said. "We got lucky?"

Uh, no, Lawyer. Your team won ugly.

As in:

  • Ten Seattle penalties, including three that nullified field goals (Olindo Mare kept making them anyway, getting credit for five of the eight he made, and never missing);

  • One touchdown in seven possessions inside the Arizona 14-yard line;

  • Five sacks allowed;

  • An average of 3.8 yards per offensive play;

  • More than 100 yards rushing allowed;

  • A 5.7-yard average for opposing running backs.

There was beauty in this "ugly" misunderstanding. Milloy's responses reflected the edge Seattle has developed while remaking its roster. This team plays with attitude, especially on defense and particularly at home. And that is significant.

The Cardinals have been the bullies in this NFC West rivalry, winning the previous four meetings and often beating up Seattle in the process.

Two years ago, a woozy Matt Hasselbeck accused Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson of dirty play after taking a physical pounding during Arizona's 26-20 victory at Qwest Field (Hasselbeck apologized once his mind cleared). Last season, the NFL levied a $7,500 fine against Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett for jamming his elbow into Hasselbeck's throat during a 31-20 Arizona victory at University of Phoenix Stadium.

There were a couple times Sunday when Hasselbeck lobbied officials to throw flags following a couple hard knocks. Joey Porter and Alan Branch roughed him up in the first half.

"They hit him, they tried to be bullies or whatever," Milloy said, cutting off my question. "We got a different team. Things change. Look at our division. It changed."

When Milloy finished, I asked for his feelings on what has changed for Seattle. The team has a 4-2 record and sole possession of first place in the NFC West. This comes after winning just nine games over the previous two seasons combined.

Milloy credited coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider for daring to shake up the roster even when it meant making seemingly risky or unconventional moves. Releasing receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh despite $7 million in guaranteed salary came to my mind as one example, although Milloy did not name names.

"Everybody thought they were crazy when they started making all the moves, even when the season started," Milloy said. "They had a clear vision of what they wanted this team to be, the type of guys they wanted in this locker room, and you're starting to see it pay off. We're still learning each other and we're winning."

Marshawn Lynch (24 carries, 89 yards) continues to give Seattle a physical presence in the running game. Receiver Mike Williams followed his 10-catch game at Chicago with an 11-catch performance against the Cardinals, using his 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame to out-muscle cornerbacks, repeatedly winning at the ball on tight throws. Defensive players Chris Clemons, Roy Lewis, Marcus Trufant, Earl Thomas and others made impact hits Sunday.

The Seahawks held up their end in the toughness department. That was only the half the story Sunday.

The Cardinals have also changed dramatically since last season.

Only Seattle brought back fewer of its 2009 Week 17 players than Arizona brought back. The change from Kurt Warner to Max Hall at quarterback was more profound than any move the Seahawks -- or any NFL team -- made since last season.

The Cardinals appeared lost on offense Sunday with Hall making his second NFL start. The undrafted free agent completed 4 of 16 passes for 36 yards and an interception before the Cardinals switched to veteran Derek Anderson (they cited a head injury to Hall as the reason for the move).

"Let's be frank," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "You understand with a young quarterback in this type of environment, you're going to have to grow and learn with some of those things."

Arizona also played without injured No. 2 receiver Steve Breaston, leaving rookie Andre Roberts to return punts. Roberts muffed a second-quarter punt, allowing Seattle to take over at the Arizona 2-yard line. Hasselbeck's lone scoring pass of the day, a 2-yarder to Williams, followed soon after.

The Cardinals fumbled four times and lost none in their previous game, a 30-20 victory over New Orleans featuring no offensive touchdowns. They fumbled four times Sunday and lost all four. Throw in Hall's interception and Arizona easily could have lost this game by four touchdowns. They avoided the blowout by playing as well or better than Seattle on both lines of scrimmage, at least for stretches, and by making Hasselbeck uncomfortable -- particularly after Seattle lost left tackle Russell Okung to an ankle injury on its first possession.

Hasselbeck's experience was key, however, as the Seahawks adjusted to the unexpected coverages they encountered when targeting Williams. Hasselbeck said he anticipated seeing more single coverage against Williams, but the Cardinals showed two-man looks. Hasselbeck wound up completing all five attempts to Williams for 44 yards on third down alone, producing four conversions. Over the last two games, Hasselbeck has completed 9 of 9 third-down passes to Williams for 87 yards and eight first downs.

"He made some grabs today that very few guys will make," Carroll said. "The good thing is that Matt is giving him those chances by believing in him. That's a great receiver-quarterback relationship started up."

If only Seattle could build more continuity on its offensive line.

Okung missed significant time this season with a high-ankle sprain. He sprained the other ankle less severely shortly after helping clear the way for Lynch's 39-yard run during the Seahawks' opening drive. Carroll would only say the Seahawks would miss Okung for "a bit" -- an indication Okung, the sixth player drafted in 2010, could miss a start or starts.

Losing Okung for any stretch would dim the Seahawks' prospects, but at least they're not breaking in a rookie quarterback.

At least they're not like the San Francisco 49ers, who have a 1-6 record to show for a rebuilding plan that began in 2005.

The Seahawks are leading their division with a 35-year-old quarterback unsigned beyond this season, a receiver in Williams who once weighed 286 pounds and a running back recently deemed expendable by the Buffalo Bills. Their return specialist, Leon Washington, has a metal rod in his leg. Mare, the kicker, was best known last season for having one performance branded "absolutely not acceptable" by then-coach Jim Mora.

Aaron Curry, the player Seattle's previous leadership drafted fourth overall in 2009, is losing pass-rush snaps to 32-year-old Raheem Brock, who had trouble finding work after asking Indianapolis to release him.

Oh, and the Seahawks' starting right defensive end Sunday, Kentwan Balmer, forced his way out of San Francisco after feuding with the head coach there.

An ugly victory Sunday? Seattle should find the view from atop the NFC West far more pleasing.