Charlie Whitehurst saved a season. In a 9-1-1-kind of night Sunday, Whitehurst played as if he were born for this game; as if starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s bad left hip really was no emergency at all.
The quarterback who looks like he came out of central casting — tall and lanky, long black hair, the good-looking gunslinger — Whitehurst rescued the Seahawks’ season.
He made plays, and just as important, he didn’t make mistakes. In the second start of his career, Whitehurst set the tone early with a spotless, 87-yard touchdown drive on the game’s first possession, then he settled into the game like a veteran.
He was all swagger and no stagger. He played safe, smart, clean quarterback.
This was the biggest moment of what has been an uneventful NFL career and the 28-year-old Charlie Whitehurst played with a Joe Willie-kind of surety.
With the NFC West title there for the taking, Whitehurst was unflinching. He was the best quarterback on the field, better than the Rams’ prized rookie quarterback, Sam Bradford.
On this night he was better, much better, than he’s ever been in his life.
He made plays with his arm and with his feet. When the Rams brought the house on his virtually untested head, Whitehurst hung in the pocket.
And when his protection broke down, or his receivers couldn’t break free of their coverage, he tucked the ball and ran, taking the Rams’ best shot.
In the game-clinching, fourth-quarter drive, for instance, Whitehurst scrambled for 9 yards and took a vicious hit from St. Louis cornerback Bradley Fletcher.
Whitehurst bounced right up. It was the kind of play Hasselbeck would have made. The kind of play that inspires teammates on both sides of the ball.
In the Seahawks’ 16-6 division-championship victory, he completed 22 of 36 passes for 192 yards. He found 10 different receivers. He also ran eight times for 30 yards.
“He came through in a beautiful way for us,” coach Pete Carroll said of Whitehurst.
With this one game, Whitehurst flung himself into serious contention for the starter’s role in next weekend’s playoff game against New Orleans, and for all of next season.
On that first drive, he flung a swing pass to Justin Forsett for 13 yards. Then he stood in the pocket, looked left, then right and tossed a perfect pass to Ruvell Martin for 61 yards on a deep ball down the right sideline.
“This is what we love to do,” Whitehurst said. “This is why we’re here.”
Give offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates credit for putting together the right game plan to accommodate his quarterback.
The Hawks kept the aggressive Rams’ defense off balance with play action and misdirection. They ran the ball like they haven’t run it since October.
And like a point guard running fast breaks, Whitehurst was all sleight-of-hand and head fakes.
“He did a beautiful job of managing the game and playing within himself,” Carroll said. “His ability to run tonight was a huge factor to avoid the negative plays.”
In the first quarter, when he could have swooned in the spotlight, Whitehurst threw for 105 yards.
In the first half, he had a whopping passer rating of 111.5.
“He knew at the beginning of the week that he was going to start,” Carroll said. “I had to remind him a number of times that he was going to start and reminded him again last night.
“Matt did everything in the world to make it back and he made it back. Matt would have been able to play tonight, but it would have put him in a really difficult situation. As much as we saw Charlie run, Matt would not have had that same mobility that was necessary in this game.”
Whitehurst rolled right and threw back to his left for an easy 4-yard touchdown strike to Mike Williams that concluded the game-opening, six-play, 87-yard touchdown drive.
And then he did what he had to do.
On a third-and-four, with only a 7-6 third-quarter lead, Whitehurst stood inside the chaotic swirl of the Rams blitz and found Williams on a 6-yard crossing route.
The Hawks got a 31-yard Olindo Mare field goal on the drive.
Early in the fourth quarter, Whitehurst completed a 13-yard pass to Ben Obomanu that led to another Mare field goal, giving the Seahawks a 13-6 lead.
If Whitehurst never plays another game for the Seahawks; if Hasselbeck returns Saturday; if the Hawks go after another veteran quarterback in the offseason, he will be remembered for this game.
“It was a night that just came together,” Carroll said.
A night when Charlie Whitehurst was the calm, unwavering answer for the Seahawks’ emergency.