Countdown to kickoff

Greetings from CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks will play the Cincinnati Bengals this afternoon – with kickoff and TV coverage on CBS (channel 7 in Seattle) set for 1:15. It’s the first home game for the Seahawks since Oct. 2, and only their third of the season.

Some of the players already are out preparing for the game, and all eyes will be on QB Tarvaris Jackson, who is attempting to return after missing last week’s loss to the Browns in Cleveland because of the strained pectoral he got in the third quarter of the pre-bye week game against the Giants at the Meadowlands.

Jackson warmed up before last week’s game, as well, but the decision was made to go with backup Charlie Whitehurst because he had gotten all the starter reps in practice and Jackson’s right shoulder was still sore.

That was the case this week, too. Until Friday.

What the coaches had yet to see from Jackson was the ability to plant and put his entire body into firing the ball. He did that early in Friday’s practice – which was held in the indoor practice facility at Virginia Mason Athletic Center, and without helmets and pads for the players. But there was Jackson putting “some mustard” on the ball, as he put it, while playing catch.

Having passed that test without a winch or even a twinge, Jackson then participated in every phase of practice – splitting reps with Whitehurst and even getting all the snaps in one red-zone drill.

To say the rapid progress from his next-to-nothing efforts on Wednesday and Thursday to a just-about-everything performance on Friday was, well, a surprising development. Enough that coach Pete Carroll had to admit, “It’s encouraging. I think he has a chance to play if he can get through these two days.”

That is the key to whether Jackson starts today: How his shoulder felt on Saturday, and how it feels as he goes through pregame warm-ups today.

As Jackson put it after Friday’s practice, “I still kind of feel it when I throw a little bit. But I already kind of got it in my head that there’s going to be some pain when I throw a little bit, there will be a little soreness. That’s not the point. The point is having all my tools in the box so I can make all the throws and not be affected by my pec.”

Is he 100 percent? Of course not. But then which players in the NFL are entering Week 8. Jackson said he was closer to 80 percent. But that’s probably enough to give the Seahawks their best chance to win today’s game, after letting a winnable game slip through their seemingly all-thumbs hands last week in Cleveland.

Before he was injuring on a running play against the Giants, Jackson had thrown four touchdown passes in a four-quarter span – the last three against the Falcons and the first one against the Giants – after passing for two in the first three games. Under Jackson, the Seahawks had shoved their no-huddle offense into high gear, and he looked comfortable directing it.

Then came last week’s game against the Browns, when nothing worked because the offense never found its rhythm while scoring only three points – despite having a first-and-goal from the Browns’ 2-yard line. As good as Whitehurst looked after taking over for Jackson against the Giants, when he led the game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter; he looked that bad against the Browns, when he completed 12 of 30 passes for 97 yards and a 35.0 passer rating.

So rather than should the Seahawks go with Jackson today, the better question might be: Can they afford not to?

Regardless of which quarterback starts, the offense should be better because three starters who also missed the Browns game will return: running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Zach Miller and center Max Unger.

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