(GAME RECAP) With his hold on the Seattle starting quarterback job hanging by a Gothic Punk hair, it became déjà vu all over again at Qwest Field. Ghosts of 49er games past haunted the Christmas festivities.
Very recent pasts too, like last week in San Francisco!
The game started happy for Seattle fans, with perhaps the best Seahawks drive of the season. A 12-play beauty that consumed just over seven minutes. After starting at their own 20, it ended with a Seattle TD as Marshawn Lynch scored over the right side.
Veteran and Super Bowl Seattle quarterback Matthew Hasselbeck proved the star of the drive, hitting 5-of-5 passes and looked very sharp.
Not to be outdone, the Falcons did similar, marching back with a 15-play drive of their own after a pretty Eric Weems 48-yard return to midfield. And after a couple of Pete Carroll whimperings about ball placement on fourth downs, Atlanta tied the score 7-7, with a scant 40 seconds burned in the second quarter.
Seahawks fans might argue that, had the ball placement been where 70,000 Seahawks fans felt it should have been, the game may have had a different feel to it.
Perhaps, but with a quick three-and-out to follow, it seems unlikely.
Atlanta had the ball again with the game still tied, and as they slowly and methodically burned the second-quarter clock while controlling the ball, they did what Atlanta has been doing to other helpless NFL victims all season.
Meanwhile fledgling career-challenged FOX TV announcers Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan noted that this Atlanta team looked much like the 2005 Seahawks Super Bowl team, in how they chewed up yardage on the ground, patiently waiting and taking only what the opposing defense gave them.
They also noted with painstaking if not adoring detail, that third-year Atlanta QB Matt Ryan had the ball to the receiver before the pattern was cut. Precisely the reason Matt Ryan was destined for the Hall of Fame and perhaps church sainthood.
It was a disturbing epic of nauseating man-crush, played out on national TV, rendering Dads as much embarrassment as our favorite Viagra commercials played in front of our teenage daughters. A bit creepy.
Nevertheless at this point in the contest, horrified Seahawks fans watched in dismay as not one, but two of the most advantageous football bounces known to mankind were bequeathed to the Atlanta Falcon squad.
The first off a perfect helmet-to-ball pummeling by Seahawks David Hawthorne, that miraculously flopped to the ground like a dead salmon full of lead.
And then immediately afterwards on the next play, guilty Atlanta fullback Jason Snelling was saved by a Brian Finneran pounce at the Seattle 31-yard line, saving the drive again for the fortunate Falcons.
Snelling had been hammered on that play, only to have the ball squirt forward half a dozen yards and into the hands of a surprised yet pleased Roddy White for an Atlanta first down, on a play that otherwise would have stopped the drive short.
Six plays later the drive stopped anyway, as Atlanta’s Matt Bryant nailed a 27-yard field goal to make it a three-point lead at 10-7.
Seattle was playing well, and with a few bounces may have been up by a couple touchdowns. But as is the case with this group of luck-challenged Seahawks, they were once again trailing a better team early in the game.
And as Seattle got the ball for the third time, things were about to change for the worse, demonstrating how pathetic it is for a 6-8 team to still be alive with playoff hopes.
It started when Hasselbeck missed Williams by a mile on a 20-yard throw up the middle, followed by another pig to Obomanu that fell helplessly to the ground.
Who should start at QB next weekend?
On third down, Hasselbeck and Williams were thinking different pass routes that somehow didn’t end up as an interception, but within seconds Atlanta had the ball anyway after a Seattle punt with just over four minutes left in the half.
But all was not lost, as Atlanta rolled out their own dog of a drive, ending when Seattle’s Jordan Bainneaux snagged the throw for a "good guy" interception.
But Seattle failed to take advantage of the gift, and three plays later did one of their patented puzzling third-down pass completions eight yards short of a first down.
Their third straight three-and-out before Orlindo Mare barely hit a 38-yard field goal that nearly skipped off the right goal post.
The game was tied at 10, but Seattle was getting outplayed.
Yet when they kicked off with only two minutes left in the half, fans were feeling sort of optimistic, if not downright giddy, because here was an authentic division-leading playoff team struggling to beat the injured and limping Seahawks with only a couple minutes left in the half!
In fact things were going so well for Seattle, that the Seahawks decided it was time to return to the methods they demonstrated at San Francisco the week prior. It started after Atlanta downed the kickoff for a touchback and came out with periodic yet unannounced offensive schemes of no-huddles.
And it worked, because sadly Seattle had no answers, and even helped the drive with two knucklehead penalties for first downs.
Otherwise the Seahawks very well may have been leading at halftime. As it was they were trailing at the break, as Atlanta put together a 13-play drive that consumed the last 1:46 to make it 17-10 with only 19 seconds left in the half.
Key to the drive was the last play, in which the Falcons burned the Seahawks on a failed blitz, where QB Matt Ryan hit Michael Jenkins with a perfectly thrown sweetheart pass.
Still it wasn’t as close as it looked. Atlanta had run twice the number of plays as their beleaguered opponent, and it was about to get significantly worse for the Seahawks.
To open the half, after getting burned on a blitz again, three plays later Atlanta and the nation were stunned when the Falcons were forced to punt for the first time of the afternoon. And on a short punt that landed at the Seahawks 20, the ball mysteriously took an Atlanta bounce and settled at the 4-yard line. Significant for what was to follow.
On Seattle’s first play, they tried a bootleg with Hasselbeck rolling to his right side, but for some reason known only to football gods and Matt Hasselbeck, he pulled up and abandoned the clear path before him, and instead attempted an ill-fated pass to a mystery receiver.
But before he could make the toss, Atlanta’s Jamaal Anderson slapped the ball out of his throwing hand, and big brother hero Jonathan Babineaux (not to be confused with twerp brother Jordan on the other team) fell on the ball in the end zone.
Mom of both danced in the stands, donned in her half-jersey of both teams, beaming with pride as Atlanta suddenly owned a 24-10 lead and the game was effectively over.
Meanwhile all the excitement was replaced by hushed whispers and grumbling. A scattering of boos headed in Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s direction, with TV experts ripping Hasselbeck for making this “rookie play.”
And as we’ve seen this season and especially last weekend, when Matt Hasselbeck gets rattled, bad things happen.
He was clearly rattled in this situation because as the life had been sucked out of the previously buzzing crowd on this crisp cloudless day, Hasselbeck was whisked back to his days of yore, playing as if he were still in high school.
Seattle came out on the next series, and managed to get a first down at their own 34. But two plays later Hasselbeck was leveled by an unblocked Brian Williams of Atlanta. Hasselbeck withered in pain as his broken ribs were taking a beating.
So much so, apparently, that on the next play Hasselbeck was picked off while trying to hit wide receiver Ben Obomanu.
Things had completely unraveled for the Seahawks as Atlanta’s Brent Grimes returned the interception to the Seattle 37.
The Seahawks defense did step up a bit at this point, and Atlanta settled for a 25-yard field goal eight plays later to make it 27-10 with just over four minutes left in the game.
But three plays later, after yet another Atlanta kickoff, a frustrated and baffled Matt Hasselbeck dropped back and mysteriously decided to launch a pass into five Atlanta defensive backs covering Ben Obomanu.
This time it was intercepted by a surprised William Moore who returned it to the Seattle 21, while fans were seen slapping themselves in dismay throughout the stadium.
Security was alerted as several overweight bald guys in agony, attempted to dunk themselves into curly-fry vats.
At that point Pete Carroll had seen enough and replaced Hasselbeck with backup QB Charlie Whitehurst, and Whitehurst actually played OK. But it was too late, even after Whitehurst engineered an 11-play TD drive after a couple of punts, and finished it with a nifty two-point conversion.
As Atlanta wrapped up another Seahawks pummeling, Seattle fans left the game wondering if they had seen the last of Matt Hasselbeck? After leading the team to the Super Bowl five years prior, he sadly has been woefully inconsistent this season and looks just like a nearly retired aging pro.
Hasselbeck fans may argue that anyone playing with cracked ribs and a broken left arm would hardly do better, but after Whitehurst played well, speculation raged in media outlets that Hasselbeck may have thrown his last Seattle pass.
His contract is up after this season, a new sheriff is in town, and new sheriffs tend to want their own deputies. Especially when the old deputy throws several passes into multiple coverages.
Final score: Atlanta 34, Seattle 18. And it wasn’t that close.
Atlanta’s third-year quarterback Matt Ryan finished with 20 completions in 35 attempts and three touchdowns.
Hasselbeck’s stats...not quite as impressive.