After all the caterwauling this season about the decline of 35-year-old Matt Hasselbeck, including the (correct) decision to keep him out of the do-or-die game against the St. Louis Rams, turns out theres probably not five other NFL quarterbacks that a knowledgeable fan would pick ahead of him to start a playoff game in Chicago.
Hes a guy who grew up frostbitten in Boston, stayed frostbitten with his first NFL team in Green Bay and has played in airborne water throughout his time in Seattle.
He started 10 playoff games, winning five (should have been six, but the NFL had other plans five years ago) and beat the Bears in Chicago already this year. Despite playing with a broken wrist bone and a torn butt, he’s coming off the best game of his season and one of the best of his career.
He is suddenly playing exactly as a pro athlete should in his contract year — so well that for the first time this season, head coach Pete Carroll, unsolicited, felt compelled to endorse his return for next season.
There is nothing the weather, the crowd or the Bears defense will throw at him that he hasnt seen in his 12th NFL season. He is neither the greatest quarterback nor the best athlete. But all the Seahawks are looking for is the right note Sunday, not a symphony.
Here’s the note:
“You can just feel the electricity in the building every day,” he said this week. “I think one of the things were going to do is keep our emotions in check a little bit, because its going to be so much fun.
So much fun. As with last week against the defending NFL champion New Orleans Saints, he’s a man with no pressure on a team with no pressure. House money. Get this man to the craps table and hand him the dice.
This is not to say Hasselbeck’s experience or demeanor is all the Seahawks need to win the playoff game. It just happens that it’s the most important thing, especially compared to the playoff debut for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Wide receiver Mike Williams has been Hasselbeck’s teammate for only a season, but he has seen what virtues accrue when his teammates play well enough that Hasselbeck’s biggest liability — his impulse to attempt to do everything — is thwarted.
Speaking of the win over the Saints, he said, I think maybe the second touchdown, when we drove down the field and he was just: Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. Coming to the sideline hes like, This is what I like. This is what I want to do. This is what you need to do.
“Some games, hes kind of let the game come to him . But this past weekend, he was definitely aggressive in his reads and aggressive with the throws. Were just happy to stretch the field and get down the field (having) Matt making great plays. Were definitely looking forward to some carryover this week.
As much as can be told by wins, even more can be discerned from losses. Such as the one exactly four years ago Friday at Soldier Field.
In another second-round playoff match-up with Bears, the 9-7 Seahawks were defending NFC champions, yet nine-point underdogs. Yet they took Chicago, a No. 1 seed with a 13-3 record coming off a bye, into overtime before losing, 27-24. The Bears went on to succeed the Seahawks as NFC champions by beating New Orleans 39-14, then lost in the Super Bowl to the Indianapolis Colts 29-17.
Four years of roster and coaching turnover have left the Seahawks with only five regulars from that game besides Hasselbeck — center Chris Spencer, tackle Sean Locklear, defensive backs Kelly Jennings and Jordan Babineaux and linebacker Lofa Tatupu (maybe). So the comparison between teams is mostly pointless. But Hasselbeck is still Hasselbeck, albeit four years older, slower and more injured — yet none of that was apparent Sunday.
In ’07, he was a modest 18 of 33 for 195 yards, one TD and one interception. But his leadership was enough to collapse down the game to a deadlock into the 58th minute. A couple of failed plays not of his making in the final two possessions — either one of which could have led to a game-winning field goal by Josh Brown –forced the overtime.
After that game, a distraught Hasselbeck said, “I knew we believed that we could do this. It was right there for us.”
Again Sunday, it is right there for the Seahawks. Again Sunday, the right man is there for the Seahawks. And this time, it’s with house money, no expectations and pure fun.