SEATTLE—It's a chicken or egg quandary for the Seahawks.
And the chicken, like almost everyone else in Seattle, is beat up.
For the last two seasons, the Seahawks have convinced themselves that an epidemic of injuries is what has caused the former four-time defending NFC West champions to go 6-16 since the start of 2008, including 2-4 this season entering their bye.
Once we get healthy, they keep saying, we'll be more consistent.
"I think people have definitely counted us out," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said, days after fans booed their Seahawks while Arizona whacked them 27-3. "There's a lot of negativity around our team. I've heard people say, 'This season is over. We've got no chance.' That's ridiculous. That's absolutely ridiculous.
"This is an opportunity for us to pull together and prove people wrong."
Coach Jim Mora echoes that optimism, saying "while I'm disappointed, I'm certainly upbeat." He keeps reciting the need for consistency. He searched for it while the Seahawks practiced Tuesday and Wednesday - a departure from recent years in Seattle when coach Mike Holmgren gave the players entire bye weeks off.
Yet the Seahawks are finding that gaining any consistency with heaps of starters still hurt as a new coach and two new coordinators are installing a fresh offense and defense is next to impossible. That's why many feel Seattle's playoff chances are gone, too.
After missing nine games in 2008, Hasselbeck missed 2½ more with broken ribs that are still healing. The Seahawks have been without three-fifths of the starting line, and are now asking Damion McIntosh to be their fifth left tackle. Plus, defensive captain Lofa Tatupu is out indefinitely with a torn pectoral muscle.
Seattle had 12 starters miss a combined 35 games through six weeks. Coach Jim Mora says he's never seen anything like it in 26 years of coaching.
Except for last year.
In 2008, six starters and three fill-in starters missed a combined 27 games through six weeks. Seattle endured seven injuries at wide receiver last season and signed guys off the street to start, just like it did last week at tackle with McIntosh. Last season, 13 players started at the five positions on the offensive line.
Even with all the pain, Hasselbeck sees this season's wins of 28-0 over the Rams and 41-0 over the Jaguars and knows his team is just 1½ games out of first place in the mild, mild West. He thinks better mental toughness through this adversity can rally Seattle into the playoffs over these final 10 games, starting next weekend at Dallas.
"All of our goals we set before the season are still there for us," Hasselbeck said.
Yet even when healthy, do the Seahawks have enough to win consistently anymore?
Last offseason, president and general manager Tim Ruskell held off making drastic overhauls to what was a 4-12 team. He believed the inordinate amount of injuries - not flaws - was the primary reason Seattle flopped.
But nine-time Pro Bowler Walter Jones, who has yet to play this season following two surgeries on his left knee in nine months, didn't suddenly become 35. His inability to quickly bounce back from microfracture surgery in December triggered the unprecedented carousel at the most important position on the offensive line. The lack of continuity among blockers led to five sacks and a franchise-record-low 14 yards rushing last week against Arizona.
Ruskell's succession plan had Sean Locklear moving from right tackle to eventually replace Jones, with Ray Willis becoming the right tackle. But Locklear remains out with a high right ankle sprain sustained in the second game.
Seattle has lacked size in the secondary for years. That became more of a liability in July when 2007 Pro Bowler Marcus Trufant, who will try to make his season debut next week, went out with a disk issue in his back.
Last week, it became an embarrassment. The Cardinals and their tall receivers bullied diminutive Josh Wilson and Kelly Jennings all day. Larry Fitzgerald had a career high-tying 13 receptions.
Then there's the biggest elephant in Seattle's locker room: Hasselbeck just turned 34. He does strengthening exercises to keep a bulging disk in his back at bay. He missed the most games of his career last season, and when he was able to play in 2008 with all the fill-ins he had 10 interceptions and just five touchdowns passes. He would have been the NFL's lowest-rated passer (a career-low 57.8) had he played enough.
In the first two games he was able to finish this season, Hasselbeck threw for seven touchdowns and Seattle won. But in the biggest game, against the Cardinals, the new division kings, Hasselbeck completed just 10 of 29 throws for 112 yards against what had been the league's lowest-ranked pass defense. The 34 percent completion rate was his lowest since 2004.
He is in the fifth year of a six-year, $47 million contract with $16 million in guarantees. His salary cap number for 2010 is scheduled to be about $8.5 million.
No one is Seattle is talking about that now, but what Hasselbeck said about his team this week could apply to his tenure in Seattle, too.
"Your chances are a lot worse. You've made it a lot harder on yourself. But it's not over," the three-time Pro Bowl passer said.
"And that's what we've done. We've made it a lot harder on ourselves."