KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -Since becoming the league MVP two seasons ago, Shaun Alexander has missed games with the first injury of his football life.
A broken foot caused him to miss six games and play hurt through three others last season. Now, he is playing with a cast on his left wrist.
Alexander has run for 89 yards per game with 11 touchdowns in 12 regular-season and two postseason games since leading the Seattle Seahawks into the Super Bowl 19 months ago. During the 2005 season, he averaged 117.5 yards while setting the NFL touchdown record of 28.
Late in last Sunday's game, he got fooled that a fake audible by Matt Hasselbeck was real, causing the running back and quarterback to botch a handoff. Arizona converted the fumble into the winning score. And last month he turned 30, an age after which many running backs slow down.
Yet it appears Seattle will become completely decaffeinated before anyone loses faith in Alexander. Or even so much as admits his career has changed since he became the MVP.
``I don't think that has had anything to do with anything,'' coach Mike Holmgren said with a fiery look, as if offended. ``He got the award. He deserved the award. To me he is the same guy.
``He came into camp this year really in good shape. ... He has practiced well. Shaun will be fine. At the end of the year he is going to have a fine year.''
Even Bengals coach Marvin Lewis thinks Alexander is still very much a premier threat.
``He's a guy who is as fine a running back as there still is in the NFL,'' Lewis said. ``He played last week with a little padding and wrap on his hand. There were people who felt, 'Well, he wasn't the same.' Well, I don't know, he still makes a lot of free defenders miss in the hole, and that's what a good back wants to do.''
Some of the evidence and the testimony haven't jibed recently.
Alexander was stopped twice on third-and-1 this season, before breaking for a 16-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 last week against the Cardinals. He was stopped just once in 20 carries on third-and-1 or third-and-2 during the 2005 season.
His first eight carries last week netted 10 yards. His first 12 carries against Tampa Bay in the opener gained 39 yards before he finished with 105 as Seattle rallied to win 20-6.
``For my own self, think a little bit too excited early in games, and trying to do too much. Then we get to halftime, 'OK, Shaun. Calm down,' `` Alexander said Thursday.
``When you get it taken away from you for so long, like I had last year - and never having that happen before - you're just excited to be out there and you want to go out there and do great things, even more than I did before.''
The loss to Arizona was Seattle's fourth consecutive inside the NFC West after a run of 10 wins there for the three-time defending division champions. Since the '05 season, Alexander has rushed 3.2 yards per attempt, more than a full yard below his career average entering this season. Seattle has gone 1-4 in those games.
Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson bolted for Minnesota in free agency before last season. The Seahawks are on their third replacement, second-year man Rob Sims. Former Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck retired, yielding to Chris Spencer, a third-year veteran. Walter Jones, the perennial Pro Bowl left tackle, played all last season hurt and then had offseason shoulder surgery.
``Those boys play hard, and they are starting to jell,'' Alexander said of his remade line. ``If they can get the running back to play well, then we'll be OK.''
Then there was the instant celebrity status Alexander got from the MVP award and the Super Bowl last year.
``It, of course, is a whirlwind. I did the whole Madden (video game) cover, the big Nike shoe commercials. And with all that, the MVP circuit, and signing the big contract. All that happened within a month,'' said Alexander, who welcomed the birth of his third daughter this past March. ``My life was whirling around. By the time we got to last year, Seattle, as a family, we were all excited to be in the situation - but didn't know how to handle it.
``I set goals for myself, and each time they are a little higher. And then I look at myself in the mirror and I say 'How in the world am I going to accomplish those?' ... That's how I look at this season. I think we are off to an OK start running the ball, and there's definitely things we can do better. And I think we'll be there.''
Now, the native of Florence, Ky., gets to face the team he was watching while growing up. The Bengals allowed Cleveland's Jamal Lewis, supposedly on the downside of his career, 216 yards rushing last week in a 51-45 loss.
That could have Alexander dreaming of finally getting back on track Sunday.
Or not.
``Jamal did really, really, really too good,'' he said, chuckling. ``Now they will probably fix all the things that were broken. Now, I am going to have my hands full.
``Thanks, Jamal.''

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