Let’s say that on Sept. 20 at Candlestick Park, Matt Hasselbeck slides toward the end zone late in the first half against San Francisco, avoiding a shot to the ribs by 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.
Hasselbeck pops up intact and runs back to the huddle rather than having Willis’ helmet fracture ribs in his back.
How would this season for the Seattle Seahawks have been different? Just for the sake of argument. Just as a reminder what Hasselbeck means to this team.
They were down only 13-10 at halftime, but with backup Seneca Wallace at quarterback in place of Hasselbeck, the Hawks generated nothing offensively and were outscored 10-0 in the second half.
The next week, again with Wallace in place of Hasselbeck, the Hawks lost a home game against Chicago, 25-19. They picked up 346 yards of offense, so there were other factors involved, granted. But, again, with Hasselbeck in there, this game looked imminently more “winnable.”
Every team can do some degree of retrospective revision, but let’s just go with it today.
Win those two games with a healthy Hasselbeck and the Hawks are 7-5 right now instead of 5-7. Would president Tim Ruskell have been fired? How differently would the final four games of the season have felt while the team remained in contention?
The hypothetical situation is timely as it illustrates a fact that has been fairly obvious around the Seahawks for a number of years: The value of Matt Hasselbeck is hard to overstate.
Last Sunday, in a neck-and-neck rematch with the 49ers, Hasselbeck completed 11 of 12 pass attempts in the fourth quarter. On the critical play to set up the game-winning field goal, he read a quirky coverage, detected the most favorable matchup, and dropped a perfect sideline pass to rookie Deon Butler.
He finished with a passer rating of 107.2 and ended up apologizing in the postgame press conference for not having performed better.
When asked about Hasselbeck at his Wednesday press conference, coach Jim Mora listed the qualities that make a top-flight NFL quarterback: Leadership, smart decisions, accuracy, mobility. Hasselbeck, he said, has all those.
But there’s more. And these are the things the fans don’t get to see during the week, in the preparation for the games on Sunday.
“He’s stayed very positive,” Mora said of his reaction to the team’s offensive struggles. “He’s stayed upbeat and positive. “Matt comes in every Tuesday and spends time with Greg (Knapp, offensive coordinator). Tuesday is a day off, typically, but if you’re a quarterback in this league, it’s a work day. He comes in every Tuesday and watches film and meets for a couple hours with Greg on the game plan so when he comes (to practice) on Wednesday he’s got a feel for what we’re going to do.”
This is Knapp’s ninth season as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, but this is the first time he’s spent these Tuesdays with his QB.
“This has been really good for both of us,” Knapp said. “It’s helped us get on the same page faster, and I get a feel for what he’s really comfortable with.”
Hasselbeck was “limited” in Wednesday’s practice because of soreness. It was mainly due to a shoulder injury, but he’s taken a beating pretty much everywhere this season, and getting a little practice time off has helped him be ready for Sunday games.
Such is the life of an NFL quarterback, at least as Mora sees it.
“He’s a pro; he’s getting paid a lot of money,” Mora said.
“He’s a leader of the offense; he’s going to have to play through some pain. There’s no a quarterback in this league that doesn’t take some shots … unless they’re holding a clipboard on the sidelines.”
Hasselbeck has taken other “shots,” too, in the way of pain-killing injections to help him keep going. Again, another expectation of NFL quarterbacks, Mora said.
Beyond that, though, Hasselbeck was aggressively prompt in his return from the rib injury, and his teammates noticed.
“He missed a couple weeks with the ribs,” Mora said. “But he came back pretty quickly. He could have, if he wanted to, taken another week off there. He could have said, ‘Hmm, I’m not ready.’ He did what he had to do to play. … He pushed to get back on the field and I think the players respect that.”
Doctors determined he was not in a situation where he was liable to be hurt worse because of the painkillers, Mora said. It is obvious, though, that the Seahawks have to protect him better to limit his exposure to further damage.
But there are some things that can’t be controlled. Hasselbeck’s instincts, for instance.
On a play in the third period, on third-and-short, Hasselbeck took off running for the first down only to open himself to a big hit.
“That shot he took the other day was him,” Mora said. “He said, ‘I’m going for it.’ One side of me said, ‘Gosh, I wish he wouldn’t do that, but one side of me said, ‘Dang, I respect him for that.’ You love the attitude, you just don’t necessarily like to see your quarterback get hit like that.”
But that’s what you get with Hasselbeck, and Mora is happy what it says about his competitiveness.
“I’ll take that over a guy who taps out,” he said.
Still, we’re left to wonder what might have happened to this season for the Seahawks if Hasselbeck had, for once, thought about self-preservation and dodged the hit that broke his ribs.