Best offensive player: Matt Hasselbeck. In the end, the team’s 35-year-old quarterback was at his best, passing for seven touchdowns and throwing one interception in the two postseason games. Like the rest of the team, Hasselbeck struggled down the stretch (10 interceptions vs. four TD passes in Weeks 12-15). But he played his best game (four TD passes, 113.0 passer rating) in the biggest game (the upset over the Saints in the playoff opener). Along the way, Hasselbeck passed for 3,000 yards for the seventh time in his 10 seasons with the club and also won his 74th game (including playoffs) – both franchise records. Honorable mention to Mike Williams, who led the team with 65 receptions; and Ben Obomanu, who went from No. 5 receiver to starting flanker and responded with 14 of his 30 receptions in a three-game stretch at midseason and five more in the division-clinching win over the Rams.
Best defensive player: Chris Clemons. He was, in a word, relentless as the “Leo” end in coach Pete Carroll’s defense. No one was quite sure what to expect from Clemons after he was acquired in a March trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, because he never had been a fulltime player in his previous five NFL seasons – with three other teams. But Clemons exceeded expectations by delivering a career-high 12 sacks, a team-high 22 QB hits and also finishing first among the D-linemen in tackles (48). Honorable mention to David Hawthorne, who moved to weak-side linebacker and led the team in tackles (105) for the second consecutive season.
Best special teams player: Leon Washington. He had more competition than Hasselbeck or Clemons, but what Washington did after missing most of last season with a severely broken right leg that needed surgery nudged toward miraculous. Washington led the NFL with three kickoff returns for touchdowns, while also averaging 25.6 yards on kickoff returns and 11.3 yards on punt returns. Honorable mention to Craig Terrill, who blocked three field goals; and Matt McCoy, who led the team with 19 coverage tackles.
Best rookie: Earl Thomas. The obviously talented free safety intercepted five passes to tie the club rookie record. But he actually developed into a better player down the stretch, when he had only one pick in the final 10 games. His tackling improved, and so did his instincts. Thomas was second on the team in passes defensed (10) and fifth in tackles (71).
Best free-agent acquisition: Williams. What a story he turned out to be. A former Top 10 draft choice who was out of the league for two seasons. Invited to a minicamp, on a tryout basis. Not only signed, but replaced the since-jettisoned T.J. Houshmandzadeh as the starting split end. Led the team in receptions, including a two-game stretch where he caught 21 passes. Signed a three-year contract extension last month. Good stuff, from start to finish. Honorable mention to defensive end Raheem Brock, who finished second on the team to Clemons in sacks (nine) and QB hits (21) during the regular season and then added two more sacks and three more QB hits in the postseason.
Best player acquired in a trade: Clemons and Washington. It should one just one, but it’s impossible to pick one over the other. So think of it as one defense, one offense/special teams. Or, one mid-March and one late-April. Washington was acquired in a draft-day trade with the New York Jets, who gave up on him despite the fact that he has been to the Pro Bowl as the AFC kick returner in 2007. Washington could have gone again this season, expect for some guy named Devin Hester.
Best in-season acquisition: Brandon Stokley. With apologies to Marshawn Lynch, who came over in a bye-week trade with the Buffalo Bills and led the team in rushing, Stokley provided the passing game with a missing – and needed – piece: An experienced pair of hands working from the slot. Stokley caught 43 passes, including playoff games, and 30 produced third downs. As Hasselbeck put it, “Brandon was the missing piece, really.”
Player they missed the most: Red Bryant. When just-departed defensive line coach Dan Quinn decided to move the little-used tackle to the five-technique end spot, there were some dubious “what he is doing?” thoughts. The way Bryant played in the first six games it showed that Quinn knew exactly what he was doing. With Bryant, the run defense ranked second in the league. Without him, the run defense slid to 21st. Honorable mention to guard Max Unger, who went out in the opener with a toe injury that needed surgery and ended his season.
Best assistant coach: Brian Schneider. The special teams were the Seahawks’ best and most consistent units all season, and Schneider and assistant Jeff Ulbrich were a big reason why. In addition to Washington, Terrill and McCoy, kicker Olindo Mare scored 106 points in the regular season (25 of 30 on field goals, 31 PATs) and was sixth in the league with 20 touchbacks on kickoffs; punter Jon Ryan had 27 of his punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, with only one touchback; while Kam Chancellor, Jordan Babineaux, Will Herring and a host of others joined McCoy in comprising some of the best coverage units in the league.
Best milestone achievement: Lawyer Milloy. In his 15th NFL season, during which he turned 37, the veteran strong safety continued to play at a level that defied his age – and played to his experience. He tied for second on the team in tackles (88), but even more noteworthy – and, yes, remarkable – were the facts that Milloy became the 11th player in NFL history with at least 20 career interceptions and sacks, and also started his 200th game.
Best performance in a relief role: Charlie Whitehurst. If the Seahawks had not beaten the Rams in their regular-season finale, there would not have been the wild-card playoff game against the Saints at Qwest Field the following week. With Hasselbeck hobbled by strained muscles in his left hip and buttock, Whitehurst made his second NFL start one to remember. He was efficient and, more importantly against the pressure the Rams brought, elusive in completing 22 of 36 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown.
Best win: New Orleans. No one gave the 7-9 Seahawks a prayer against the Saints, not only 11-5 but the defending Super Bowl champs and 34-19 winners over the Seahawks in Week 11 at the Superdome. No one except the Seahawks, that is. They came into the wild-card playoff game with nothing to lose, and played loose. Hasselbeck passed for four touchdowns. Lynch broke his instant-classic 67-yard TD run. The defense made just enough plays to weather the storm that was Drew Brees passing for 404 yards. It was a milestone moment in the 35-year history of the Seahawks.
Worst loss: Oakland Raiders. The 33-3 score was bad enough. But it’s also the game when Bryant and nose tackle Colin Cole when down with injuries – Bryant for the season, Cole for five games. By the time the dust generated by opposing running backs had settled, the Seahawks’ second-rank run defense had slipped to 21st and the team had lost seven of nine games.
Best stat: 3. The number of kickoff returns for touchdowns by Washington, which lifted him to No. 2 all-time with seven for his career. But it’s also the number of blocked field goal by Terrill, which lifted him into a tie with Joe Nash for the club career (eight) and single-season records.
Worst stat: 89.0. The Seahawks’ average rushing yards per game. It was the fourth lowest in franchise history, and not even close to what Carroll envisioned when he talked about having a balanced offense starting from the day he was introduced as coach last Jan. 11.
Most telling stat: Minus-9. The Seahawks’ turnover ratio. As Carroll preaches, “It’s all about the ball.” The sermon fell too often on deaf ears. Of the Seahawks’ 22 takeaways during the regular season, 16 came in their seven wins. Of their 31 giveaways, 23 came in their nine losses. Need we say more?
Most boggling stat: 284. The number of transitions and roster moves made from the time Carroll and general manager John Schneider were hired last January. The term “team in transition” does not do justice to what these two were up to all offseason and all season. Need we say more, part II?