BY Art Thiel 08:22PM 12/19/2010

By default, it’s Whitehurst’s time

Still absurdly in the race, change at Seahawks QB can’t hurt

Falcons defensive end Jamaal Anderson prepares to sack Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the end zone, causing a fumble. (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)

It’s been almost a decade since the last Seahawks quarterback controversy – Matt Hasselbeck vs. Trent Dilfer – so it’s going to take a little time this week to remember how to line up in the proper camp and begin hollering stuff.

Unless everyone is already in the same camp.

Including Hasselbeck.

“Looking back, I seem to do stupid things when we’re losing,” he said. With one statement, he took the words away from every writer and Seahawks fan, and the pressure off head coach Pete Carroll.

At least for the moment, it’s the Charlie Whitehurst era with the Seahawks. Following a 34-18 home loss to an Atlanta Falcons team that was efficient but far from formidable, Hasselbeck’s admirable honesty and less than admirable football judgment have made the switch to the unproven backup as inevitable as it is desperate.

Changing starting quarterbacks in week 16 of the 17-week NFL season is done almost exclusively because of injury or because the team is out of the playoff picture and needs playing time for backups.

But Hasselbeck remains physically able, and the Seahawks remain, ahem, physically eligible.

Try as they have – their six losses in the last eight games have been by a 22-point average margin of defeat – the Seahawks, at 6-8, have yet to elude the misguided clutches of the playoffs.

Not only are the Seahawks so far disqualification-proof, they control their fate. By winning the final two games, at fading Tampa Sunday and against fading St. Louis at Qwest Field Jan. 2, they will be champions of the NFC West and host a first-round game.

The Seahawks could lose Sunday and STILL have a chance to represent – as the worst post-season sports team in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

A 7-9 team in the playoffs scares the haughty NFL because it thinks such a vagrant would warp the space-time continuum, reversing time, polarity and climate. I tend to look at it a little more modestly, like a closeted gay guy being hotly pursued by a supermodel. Flattering, but it probably isn’t going to work.

Hey, it’s the NFL’s system. The qualification rules weren’t imposed by the Taliban. It’s barely different from the college game that allows the University of Washington, three last-second plays from a 3-9 record, from being in a bowl game.

So the Seahawks betray no outward shame in their pursuit. But they aren’t stupid either.

“Awkwardly,” said safety Lawyer Milloy, “we still have a shot.”

The awkwardness started ramping up Sunday afternoon after Hasselbeck turned a competitive game into a rout with turnovers on the first three possessions of the second half, which led directly to 17 Atlanta points. At 12-2, the Falcons hardly needed charity. But the three drives consumed all of 51 yards.

The worst one took no yards, when Hasselbeck was sacked in end zone, turning a safety into a Falcons’ touchdown when he fumbled away the ball. It was one of the worst plays of Hasselbeck’s career. The groan grew larger afterward when it was learned from Hasselbeck that receiver Ben Obomanu was wide open and could have gone for a touchdown.

“A 14-point swing,” he said. “When we’re down by two touchdowns or more, that’s where I have to be way smarter. That’s where I really failed recently.”

The previous week against San Francisco, Hasselbeck’s turnovers led directly to 21 points in a 40-21 defeat. Carroll’s aggravation level was high then, so it was little surprise when he pulled Hasselbeck late in the third quarter after the third turnover.

Afterward, without prompting, Carroll predictably dodged the quarterback issue by saying no decision will be made until after evaluations this week.

“To point it all at one guy isn’t the right thing to do,” said Carroll. “So we’ll figure it out (this) week and let you know.”

But it does come down to one guy, because the Seahawks have changed out nearly every other position this season, and still managed just 234 yards total offense Sunday. It has never been exclusively Hasselbeck’s fault – in fact, the playcalling by offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates contributed to Hasselbeck’s travail – but the QB mistakes are so grievous that the confidence of teammates is being lost.

Whitehurst helped push the decision in his favor with a touchdown drive of 88 yards in 11 plays, scoring himself and adding a two-point conversion pass. But the game outcome was already decided. It was a mop-up score.

Still, it inspired parts of the crowd to modest chants of “Char-lee! Char-lee!” When they heard the chants, some Seahawks players along the sidelines, apparently embarrassed for their benched leader, tried to wave the crowd into silence.

A pointless gesture. There are no secrets after eight turnovers in two games.

Hasselbeck is on a downward spiral, the play-calling and some teammates aren’t helping. The short-term solution is a change to a quarterback who throws a decent deep ball.

Hasselbeck could not have done better than he did on the Seahawks’ opening possession, a 12-play, 80-yard drive in which he was five-for-five. His third-quarter could not have been worse.

The inconsistency is crippling the offense. If Whitehurst starts and fails Sunday, Carroll can always go back to the other camp (population one).

Even if the maneuver fails, it may not cost the Seahawks the playoffs. In the NFC West, forgiveness is free, limitless and unending.


  • the gaffa

    No doubt Matt is struggling, however why didn’t Caroll put Whitehurst in during the pasting in SFO? He needs the experience & the game was over, that was a wasted opportunity. I thought it was “all about competition” Pete? Caroll needs a quicker hook. Matt needs to only throw it when he is sure we will catch it, (a la Brady) the riky stuff is not working out.