Injuries deplete Seahawks' defense

DETROIT -- From Ken Hamlin being an off-the-field assault victim to the stroke suffered by defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, the Seahawks' defense has struggled with injuries and misfortune all season.

Super Bowl XL was no exception. During the course of the game, the Seahawks lost three players -- cornerback Andre Dyson, safety Marquand Manuel and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard.

The Seahawks didn't make any excuses after their 21-10 loss to the Steelers, but missing so many key players in the secondary played a big role in the loss. The first injury came to Manuel at the 10:44 mark of the second quarter. Hines Ward ran a reverse for 18 yards after the Steelers had gone 19 minutes without making a first down. The reverse caught the Seahawks' defense napping.

Manuel raced to the Seahawks' sideline and tackled Ward out of bounds. He felt a pop and his game was over.

"I pulled my groin," Manuel said. "I made the hit on Hines and I felt it go. I tried to go over to the bike and loosen it up, but it got tight. I knew I had pulled it."

Enter Etric Pruitt, a former Falcons practice-squad player who signed in December. Sometimes, teams run out of luck with injuries, and this was the case with the Seahawks. Hamlin was the starting free safety, but he suffered head trauma outside of a Seattle bar when he was hit over the head with a street sign after the Seahawks' Week 6 win over the Texans.

Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took into account the injury to Manuel and the presence of Pruitt. On a scramble play to the left on the Steelers' next second-quarter possession, Roethlisberger bought enough time with his feet and hit Ward with a 37-yard pass between Pruitt and strong safety Michael Boulware, who was playing a two-deep zone to prevent the big play.

The Steelers scored three plays later to take a 7-3 lead. That play might not have happened had Manuel been in the game.

The third quarter opened more holes for the Seahawks. Dyson had been bothered by a quad injury for weeks and he reinjured it early in the quarter. Enter Kelly Herndon, the Seahawks' third cornerback. Herndon intercepted a Roethlisberger pass at the Seahawks' 4 and returned the ball 76 yards -- a Super Bowl record -- to the Steelers' 20.

But at the end of that run, Bernard pulled a hamstring and his day was over.

In three quarters, the Seahawks lost their second-best safety (Manuel), their best pass-rushing defensive tackle (Bernard) and a starting cornerback (Dyson).

"We can't use injuries as an excuse," middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. "The next guy has to step up."

The Seahawks took the high road during their postgame interviews. They tried not to use injuries as an excuse.

"That was probably a factor, but our motto has always been that the next guy goes in and the next guy plays," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "Sure, losing Manuel and Dyson, that hurts. But guys have to step up and play."

Even though they lost Bernard for most of the second half, they had Chuck Darby, Marcus Tubbs and Craig Terrill to use in the defensive tackle rotation. They lost some pass rush with Bernard out, but they had enough run-stopping ability with the other three.

Losing Dyson hurt to a certain degree but Dyson and Herndon missed time during the regular season, which allowed safety Jordan Babineaux to get some experience at cornerback. He was used as a third cornerback after Dyson went down.

The big loss was Manual. Pruitt wasn't ready for the pressure of playing in a Super Bowl and the Steelers knew it. It's no accident the biggest offensive plays of the game came when Pruitt was at safety. Pruitt was in the two-deep zone when the Steelers drove for their first touchdown. Ward caught the ball when there was enough breathing room between Boulware and Pruitt.

Pruitt was on the field when Antwaan Randle El took a reverse and threw the ball to Ward for a 43-yard touchdown. Though Pruitt wasn't directly beaten on the play, there was enough confusion and lack of reaction when Randle El made his moves.

"I don't think we can use that as an excuse," defensive end Grant Wistrom said. "We shouldn't blame this loss on anybody but ourselves."

And the injuries.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.