Maybe it’s caused by intoxication from breathing all that rarefied air atop the anthill that is the NFC West, but this decision seems out of character.
The Seattle Seahawks brain trust that has been quick to issue tickets out of town, and shake up rosters and lineups at the drop of a pass, is sticking with Matt Hasselbeck, a quarterback a month into the worst slump of his career.
Consider what’s at stake. Good heavens, if it’s the wrong decision, the Seahawks (losers of six of their last eight games) might not make it to the playoffs. And what a travesty that would be.
So, the quarterback who has had 13 turnovers in the past month, and a passer rating in that span of 57.2, is expected to start again on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Coach Pete Carroll made the announcement Monday afternoon, about 24 hours after he benched Hasselbeck in favor of backup Charlie Whitehurst in the second half of a loss to Atlanta.
Whitehurst didn’t exactly cause jaws to drop, but he didn’t turn the ball over, either, whereas Hasselbeck had two more interceptions and lost a fumble. The move led to speculation that Hasselbeck would be seated the final two games of the season, ending a tenure that was the most successful stretch in franchise history.
Carroll decided Monday that Hasselbeck “gives us our best chance to finish off right.” He said he thought Hasselbeck really only had one interception that was dubious: a third-period pass that was forced into coverage.
For his part, Hasselbeck said after the game that he’s learning some lessons. We might note that he’s 35, and has started here most of the last 10 seasons, which generally is not considered learning-curve territory.
Carroll and Hasselbeck both theorized that he presses too hard and makes shaky decisions when the team is behind. But the team has lost 31 games in the last three seasons, so he should have experience in these matters.
It leaves us to evaluate whether this will be a shortsighted, misguided decision by Carroll, or insightful and justifiable loyalty to a respected veteran.
Some thoughts on why it might be the right thing:
• Hasselbeck is a team leader, a fiery competitor who has played in big games down the stretch. He has bounced back from slumps before and he had a few games this season in which he performed at peak efficiency. No one can question his effort or intent toward making corrections.
• Now that this decision is made, and some of the issues identified, it might cause the offensive staff to do a better job of scheme preparation to help Hasselbeck deal with the specific problems that have arisen.
• Any decision on Hasselbeck has to be viewed in light of the alternative. Had Whitehurst lit up Qwest Field, this probably would not have been an issue.
Why it might not work:
• Hasselbeck has not shown consistent command of this scheme. Is he going to grasp it better in the final two games than he has up to this point? It does not sound as if the quarterback and offensive coordinator are always operating on the same frequency. How can that improve in a few days?
• He has quarterbacked only two wins in the last eight December/January games he’s started. Oh, yeah, and he’s playing with a cast protecting a broken left wrist.
• As the staff has preached not making turnovers, Hasselbeck has quarterbacked too cautiously at times, and without sufficient caution at other times. And now he’s being told “you’re our man … just don’t throw an interception.” That should make him really comfortable and confident, right?
And, finally, here’s why it might not make a difference:
• This is not irreversible. Now that the precedent has been established, Carroll can more easily pull him and try Whitehurst again.
• And maybe the biggest factor in reducing the relevance of this is that the Seahawks might be able to continue along the current path, playing poorly and losing, and still get into the playoffs with a last-game revival win over St. Louis.
It might not really matter who is playing quarterback for them as long as they’re in the NFC West.