Funny that everyone has been writing off Matt Hasselbeck, assuming that the 35-year-old quarterback was finished in Seattle after a tough stretch where he tried to do too much for an undermanned offense and then got hurt again.
Apparently none of those people—most of the fans and media in Seattle—have been paying attention to what Pete Carroll has said all season: Not once has the coach veered from his stance that Hasselbeck is his quarterback.
Even after 13 turnovers in a four-game stretch late in the season, Carroll did not waver. Why? Because he knew Hasselbeck was just trying to carry a bad offense that couldn’t run well behind a banged-up line, couldn’t protect very well, didn’t have healthy receivers, had a rookie play caller and simply couldn’t do much of anything right.
But mark these words: Hasselbeck will be back.
Carroll knows good quarterbacks are hard to come by. He knows his offensive line needs to be overhauled. He knows his receivers need to get better. He knows John Carlson needs to be used more. He knows offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates needs to call better plays. And he knows he needs to find a QB to replace Hasselbeck in the next two or three years.
But he also knows if the Hawks fix the things around the quarterback, Hasselbeck is still the guy who can lead the way. Hasselbeck showed that against the Saints—making up for that horrible four-game stretch that started right after the last Saints game.
There were reasons for Hasselbeck’s struggles in November and December. After he put together a couple of great games in November, it looked like he was hitting his stride, and Carroll and Bates finally had opened up what had been a very conservative offense.
“We have come together,” Carroll said after Hasselbeck threw for 366 yards against the Saints. “It took some time for us to get together in our thinking, Matt understanding us and us understanding Matt. I think we have cut him loose.”
But then the offense began to unravel. Hasselbeck had come to rely on Mike Williams, but the big receiver was hurt again in the Saints game and missed the next week against Kansas City. Hasselbeck threw two picks on passes intended for Brandon Stokley.
He threw two more picks in a win against Carolina. In San Francisco, he was without both starting receivers (Williams and Ben Obomanu) and lost Stokley and Deon Butler to injuries. He threw four picks in that game, three of them coming on balls he tried to force into double and triple coverage. Trying to do too much with too little.
His worst game of the season came against Atlanta, as he continued to force the ball and turned it over three times—leading to 17 points that turned a 17-10 deficit into a blowout.
Carroll obviously understood what had led to Hasselbeck pressing in that four-game stretch.
“We have to keep him in good situations,” the coach told reporters after the Atlanta debacle. “We’ve got to play good football around him. I can’t emphasize that enough.
“For all quarterbacks, they play with a bunch of other guys on the field as well. We have to do well running the football and protecting and all that, and then the quarterback has got to do his job, and he’s got to take care of the ball. We got careless with the football when we fell behind in a couple games here. That was really obvious that we pushed too much and pressed too much with it.”
When the offense was a shambles and the defense was still playing as poorly as ever, Hasselbeck was forcing it too much, and it seemed like a good time for Charlie Whitehurst to start so the coaches could see what the inexperienced but expensive quarterback could do.
But Carroll wasn’t going to do that. His answer was the same as it had been all year: “I don’t have any thought at all about taking the quarterback out. Not at all. We’re going with Matt. Matt’s our guy.”
As it turned out, Hasselbeck hurt himself on a first-quarter touchdown run against Tampa, and we ended up getting to see what Whitehurst could do in that game and then in a high-pressure game in Week 17 against the Rams.
The Seahawks beat the Rams, but it was obvious Whitehurst is still a work in progress, as he missed a lot of chances for big plays in that game.
It was thus a no-brainer for the playoff-savvy Hasselbeck to start against the Saints, and the veteran came through with one of the best games of his career—looking like the Pro Bowl QB he was from 2003 to 2007.
When Hasselbeck is getting protection, when he has a running game and when his receivers are catching his passes, he is still a very solid NFL starting quarterback. Carroll knows it, and that’s why he has been behind Hasselbeck all season.
It’s also why Hasselbeck will be the Hawks starter again next season.