Argue all you want, but Matt Hasselbeck still is the Seahawks’ best hope

Conversation topics that are inappropriate for local bars:

Religion. Politics.

And Matt Hasselbeck.

You can almost come to blows discussing the Seahawks quarterback over iced tea, let alone bourbon on the rocks. Amazingly, we’re already past the point of rational discussion when it comes to Hasselbeck.

If you don’t like him anymore, you scrutinize his every move and turn every shortcoming into a reason the Seahawks should bench him. If you still respect him, you’re using a mixture of history, nostalgia and patience to support your argument. And if you don’t have an opinion about him, well, you need to check the obits to make sure you’re not mentioned.

The best quarterback in franchise history has turned into the most polarizing sports figure in Seattle. And the debate is still in its infancy. It will only increase in volume, complexity and venom as the season progresses.

But here’s the thing: The argument is irrelevant. Hasselbeck is clearly the guy. And if there comes a time this season when he isn’t, it will mean the Seahawks’ season is over.

Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst isn’t ready. At 28, he’s seven years younger than Hasselbeck. He has a stronger arm. He has infinitely more hair. But get past those superficial traits and watch Whitehurst in practice, and you see a raw quarterback who has never thrown a pass in a real NFL game for good reason. He’s a project, and when you put the two quarterbacks side by side at the VMAC, it’s ludicrous to suggest the Seahawks would be better off making a switch.

Hasselbeck must remain the starter because he easily gives the Seahawks the best chance to win. They have a 2-2 record in a poor NFC West division, and considering the all-out manner in which Pete Carroll coaches, it’s more important for this franchise to chase a suddenly achievable playoff berth this season than to let Whitehurst learn at the expense of the rest of the team.

Yes, Hasselbeck must play better. He has a 70.7 quarterback rating through four games. He played outstanding in the season-opening win against San Francisco after an early interception. Then he was awful at Denver, solid in a victory over San Diego and only so-so last week against St. Louis in a game that included a catastrophic performance by the Seahawks’ offensive line.

It’s fair to challenge Hasselbeck to fine-tune his game, but the vitriolic calls for change are premature. Just ask his teammates.

“I think one phrase can really sum up how I feel, and I want to be emphatic with it: Football is a team sport!” said running back Leon Washington, who dealt with quarterback controversies all the time when he played for the New York Jets. “With an offense, everything is like an engine. Every part has to be working correctly, and we have a ways to go to get to that level. That’s all I’ve got to say. Matt is not a problem. He’s still a very good quarterback. He’s more than capable of leading us to where we want to go.”

Wide receiver Mike Williams took to Twitter to defend Hasselbeck after Sunday’s loss to the Rams. He wrote: “Its crazy how out of 53 dudes, 1 guy is blamed for a loss. @Hasselbeck I’m ridin w/ u bro.”

Asked Wednesday to expound on his comments, Williams said: “Matt’s a good dude. He’s a leader. He’s done that in this league. Just like it’s my job to catch passes, it’s my job to protect the team. People can say whatever they want, but they’re wrong. You can be an armchair quarterback or an armchair coordinator, but our play isn’t all Matt’s fault. It’s about all of us. We’re still working to get this thing right.”

It’s too early to make a definitive Hasselbeck judgment because, through their constant roster shuffling, the Seahawks have been telling you that their offense has big problems. That’s why they traded for running back Marshawn Lynch this week and signed wide receiver Brandon Stokley last week. That’s why they swap out offensive linemen like dirty socks. They have found neither the consistent weapons nor the continuity to be a good offense. Ultimately, the quarterback’s play is going to reflect that.

So neither Carroll nor general manager John Schneider is panicking about Hasselbeck. And the quarterback is keeping his nose in the playbook, trying to figure out a solution. He doesn’t plan to rest much during this bye week.

“We clearly need to be better,” Hasselbeck said. “We know that. It’s been made clear. It’s evident.”

Asked about the criticism he’s receiving, Hasselbeck gave a typical stately answer.

“I think it’s just part of the deal,” he said. “If you allow it to affect you, you’re not going to play well. If you lose your confidence even just a little bit, you’re not going to be yourself. You’re not going to look like yourself. It’s a real thing, but it’s the difference between the guys that make it and don’t make it in the league. Everyone’s watching you when things are tough — your teammates, your coaches, everybody — so it’s important how you handle it.”

The debate rages, but Hasselbeck remains cool. He can’t sweat. He still gives the Seahawks their best chance to succeed.