BY Art Thiel 06:57PM 01/14/2011

Matt: A premier guy for the big moment

After a year of more downs than ups, Hawks QB is man of the hour, again

After being booed often this season, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is the right man in the right place Sunday in Chicago (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)

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 there’s probably not five other NFL quarterbacks that a knowledgeable fan would pick ahead of him to start a playoff game in Chicago.

He’s 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 hasn’t 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 we’re going to do is keep our emotions in check a little bit, because it’s 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.

Matt Hasselbeck remembers his first playoff start from Doug Farrar on Vimeo.

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 he’s like, ‘This is what I like. This is what I want to do. This is what you need to do.’

“Some games, he’s kind of let the game come to him . But this past weekend, he was definitely aggressive in his reads and aggressive with the throws.  We’re just happy to stretch the field and get down the field (having) Matt making great plays.  We’re 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.


YourThoughts

  • Dave J

    Amen! Go Get ‘em Matt!

  • Lucky Infidel

    We need a huge game out of Hasselbeck. Not necessarily statistically, but leadership-wise. No big mistakes. Steady movement of the ball. Hard to believe this guy will almost certainly be coming back next year as the presumptive starter unless Carroll decides he wants to blow up the position and start over or Hasselbeck actually makes the decision to go elsewhere this late in his career. Either way, Whitehurst is, at best, an unproven commodity with, in my opinion, downside potential. Will say, though, I was feeling a bit better earlier in the week about the Hawks chances this weekend. Not sure why I am not quite as certain of absolute victory. Hasselbeck, though, might very well be the deciding-type factor when weighing these two teams. Go Hawks!

  • Jeff

    keep this going Hawks. It reminds me of ’83 when the unknown Seahawks shocked the NFL before falling to loaded (and angry) Raider team. That team had at least one hall of famer with at least 2 other should be’s. Not sure if this team has that type of talent but if they have the same kind of heart it should be enough against this playoff field in NFC

  • nick

    How fun and kick ass it would be if the Hawks win. Playing the NFC championship game back in Seattle would be truly awesome and stun the entire nation.