Hasselbeck finally benched in another dismal game

The boos did not truly illustrate the depth of Seattle’s loss Sunday.

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It’s when Charlie Whitehurst was cheered upon replacing Matt Hasselbeck in the third quarter that demonstrated just how dismal this Seahawks’ season has become, bottoming out in a 34-18 loss at home to Atlanta.

Not only was Seattle’s starting quarterback benched with a minute left in the third quarter, but Qwest Field was glad to see him go after he committed three turnovers that led to 17 Atlanta points in the third period that sunk Seattle’s chances.

The Seahawks weren’t half bad on Sunday. They scored on their first possession, tied the game 10-10 in the second quarter and had the ball in the third quarter, trailing the NFC’s best team by seven points.

The third quarter, however, was truly awful. Hasselbeck committed three turnovers before he was replaced by Whitehurst with less than a minute remaining in the quarter.

It’s a game no one expected Seattle to win, but the loss was so sudden, so sharp that it could be a turning point for this franchise. Hasselbeck has been the unquestioned starter in Seattle since 2002, but that may no longer be the case.

Hasselbeck fumbled in the end zone on the Seahawks’ first offensive play of the second half, the ball recovered for a touchdown. He was intercepted on Seattle’s second possession of the half, and Atlanta turned that into a field goal.

That was all it took to render the game as lopsided as many expected it to be as Seattle lost for the sixth time in its past eight games.

Hasselbeck completed 10 of 17 passes for 71 yards before he was replaced by Whitehurst. Seattle went three-and-out in its first possession with Whitehurst, but that was actually progress. Seattle didn’t turn the ball over. The Seahawks scored a touchdown on Whitehurst’s second possession, an 88-yard drive that culminated with his 1-yard run. A two-point conversion pass to Ben Obomanu cut Atlanta’s lead to 34-18.

It was an ignominious end to a game that began so promising.

The first half began with Seattle’s longest drive of the season, the Seahawks holding the ball for 7 minutes, 32 seconds on a touchdown drive that culminated in Marshawn Lynch’s 1-yard run.

Seattle didn’t score another touchdown in the half. In fact, the Seahawks didn’t even have another first down. They did manage a field goal, but that was only after Jordan Babineaux’s second-quarter interception of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.

The Falcons never did punt in the first half. They had the ball four times, and each of their three scoring processions lasted 13 or more plays, a demonstration of both ball control and efficiency.

Atlanta faced third down 11 times, and the Falcons converted seven of them. Atlanta also converted two fourth downs, so only twice did Seattle actually stop a drive. The first resulted in a field goal by Matt Bryant, the second on Babineaux’s interception that set up Olindo Mare’s 38-yard field goal that tied the score 10-10 with 2:05 left in the second quarter.

The Falcons came back with an 80-yard drive helped by a pair of Seahawk penalties and culminating in Michael Jenkins’ 24-yard touchdown catch to give the Falcons a 17-10 lead going into halftime.

The Seahawks did force a punt on Atlanta’s first possession of the second half, Seattle had the ball at its own 4-yard line. On first down, Seattle called a play action, Hasselbeck rolled to his right and while in the end zone he tried to step inside of the pressure from defensive end Jamaal Anderson.

Anderson hit Hasselbeck’s right arm, knocking the ball loose. Jonathan Babineaux recovered it in the end zone, and just like that Atlanta doubled its lead to 24-10. Seattle turned the ball over its next possession for good measure, too, as Hasselbeck’s third-down pass was picked off by cornerback Brent Grimes. The following possession ended when William Moore intercepted a pass Hasselbeck intended for Obomanu.