Hasselbeck’s effort yielded highlight reel

Maybe Matt Hasselbeck comes back to the Seahawks next season and enjoys a lengthy career renaissance. Maybe he stays healthy and, with improved talent around him, takes the Seahawks back to league prominence.

Heck, maybe Hasselbeck stays on a roll and he and the Seahawks continue to score upsets this week and beyond.

If not, fans now have a flashback performance to remember – an effort that went a long way to preserving his legacy with the Seahawks.

In one of his best and most timely games, he passed for four touchdowns in the Seahawks’ win over New Orleans on Saturday, perhaps the biggest upset in playoff history.

No matter how much he is rightfully admired for all he’s done for the Seahawks over the years, there had been little recent evidence that the Hasselbeck we saw on the field Saturday still existed.

But this was a career highlight reel in one game, a man not only in control of his offense, but also so understanding of the opposing defense that he could dictate the game. He passed deep without qualm and short when required; he gunned it in at times but also lofted it into receivers’ hands with butterfly delicacy.

And on one of his most impressive passes, to tight end Cameron Morrah, he was under such pressure that he had to blindly arc it toward the place he expected Morrah to occupy. The telepathy resulted in a 39-yard completion.

But only a part of this game was about Hasselbeck as a passer. A great deal more was about him being a quarterback, a job that entails so much more than taking snaps and throwing passes.

He barked at teammates when needed, he got in the face of opponents, he chased after refs to plead for calls. He executed a dramatic flop when a defender nudged him, all just to try to gain a few penalty yards if possible.

As impressive as anything else, he also ran nearly 70 yards downfield trying to make a block on Marshawn Lynch’s memorable scoring run.

“I think it was his best football game of the year in terms of being creative, making things happen, running the show and being in command,” coach Pete Carroll said. “This was a fantastic football game.”

Hasselbeck’s season passer rating of 73.2 was his lowest since 2001. His turnovers made him a liability. He knew it more than anybody, and accepted responsibility.

“If I play well we have a good chance to win,” he said Monday. “If I don’t, our chances go way down. My focus definitely was on playing well so we could win.”

The last time we had seen him play before Saturday’s game was at Tampa Bay, where he came up lame without even being hit. He sat out the final regular-season game nursing a sore hip. The Hawks won without him. With his contract up at the end of this season, it was fair to wonder if we’d seen the last of him.

He had a different scenario in mind.

“Matt wanted to prove it; he wanted to be in this situation,” Carroll said of his return to the lineup. “He abhorred last week when he couldn’t play; he couldn’t stand that he could play. He told these guys Saturday night, ‘I hated not playing last week.’ He thanked them for the opportunity to give him another shot this season by winning (against St. Louis).”

His performance had nothing to do with his contract situation, Hasselbeck said, but, yeah, there were things he needed to prove.

“It was important for me to try to get back and play at a high level with my hip,” he said. “More than anything, we’ve got so many new guys on our team, I think it’s important to go through the fire with teammates so you know who you can count on, who you can depend on. (That’s how) you build relationships and respect with guys.”

So, maybe he has more big days with the Seahawks. But this was a fitting valedictory moment if he doesn’t. He played a game he could have been proud of back in 2005.

And at the end, the fans who had been critical cheered him wildly. He ran off the field with his 5-year-old son Henry – a happy little tow-head – on his shoulders.

That’s the image of Matt Hasselbeck worth remembering.