From standing and watching the win over the Rams on Sunday night, to rallying the Seahawks to their stunning win over the Saints on Saturday, Matt Hasselbeck seized the surreal to cap what was quite a week.
Matt Hasselbeck never came right out and used that term to describe the Seahawks’ stunning upset of the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints on Saturday, or his starring role in the 41-36 victory in the wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field.
But then he didn’t have to. The path that Hasselbeck had traveled all week to reach this date with destiny had been a bit dreamlike.
It began last Sunday night, when Hasselbeck did not play in the Seahawks’ NFC West-clinching victory over the St. Louis Rams because of the muscles he strained his left hip and buttock in the previous week’s loss to the Buccaneers in Tampa. In his place, backup Charlie Whitehurst played well enough to create some question about which QB coach Pete Carroll would decide to go with against the Saints – at least externally.
Monday, Carroll told Hasselbeck that he would be the starter for the Seahawks’ return to the postseason after a two-year absence – if he was healthy.
Hasselbeck was, so he did – passing for four touchdowns while completing 22 of 35 passes for 272 yards; and basically outplaying Drew Brees, the Saints’ Pro Bowl QB and MVP of last season’s Super Bowl.
“I thought that Matt Hasselbeck was ridiculously good today,” Carroll said after the game. “I’m so proud of him coming back like that, and playing just incredible football. Throw after throw, so many big throws and big catches and runs; the whole thing.
“This day was just a marvelous day of football, it just jumped out.”
But wait, we’re putting the performance before the process.
Carroll did not announce until Thursday that Hasselbeck would be the starter, and that also was the first time the veteran QB talked to reporters since being injured in Tampa while scoring on a 1-yard run. There was something different about Hasselbeck in that post-practice Q&A. Or familiar, actually. He was back to being the old Hasselbeck. Cracking wise. Cracking smiles. Having fun.
“It feels good to be back out practicing,” he said.
It also showed.
But before Hasselbeck got the start, he had fluid drained from his hip Saturday – for the third time in two weeks.
“They aspirated it,” Hasselbeck began, but then audibled. “I don’t know medical terms, but they took a bunch of fluid out.”
Speaking of out, Hasselbeck was the last player to exit the tunnel at Qwest for the pre-game introductions. He pumped his fist. He spun to exalt the already frenzied crowd of 66,336. He sprinted toward the gauntlet of waiting teammate at midfield, waving his arms and pumping his fists again.
“Matt was feeling it,” center Chris Spencer said after the game. “So you just got the feeling that he was going to have a game like this.”
But the game began with that here-we-go-again feeling. The Seahawks fell behind 10-0, as Hasselbeck’s third pass of the day was intercepted to set up a Saints touchdown. Hasselbeck had thrown 10 interceptions, compared to four touchdown passes, in the 1-4 slide that preceded the uplifting win over the Rams. The culprit, Carroll surmised, was Hasselbeck trying too hard to make something happen when the Seahawks would fall behind in games.
That led to a sideline chat between coach and his QB on Saturday.
“Pete came up to me and said, ‘Hey, listen, there’s nothing you could have done about that first one … and even if they score here, there’s nothing you can do about it,’ ” Hasselbeck said of Carroll’s well-chosen words after his pass went off wide receiver Ben Obomanu and was picked off by Saints Jabari Greer.
“He basically just showed some confidence, I think. And I appreciated that. It allowed me to really focus in on what we needed to do, and then what I needed to do.”
Rather than throwing in the proverbial towel, Hasselbeck threw the Seahawks back into the game – and then into the lead.
His 11-yard TD pass to John Carlson cut the Saints’ lead to 10-7. His 7-yard TD pass to Carlson, where the tight end went to the turf and then got up to be wide open on the left side of the end zone, made it 17-14, Saints. Hasselbeck’s 45-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Brandon Stokley gave the Seahawks their first lead – 24-17, and a lead they would never relinquish. His beautifully thrown 38-yard TD pass to Mike Williams made it 31-20, and put the Seahawks in position to hold off the Saints’ frantic 16-point rally in the fourth quarter.
“That was fun,” Hasselbeck said. “We didn’t start out so good, but we hung together.”
The best, however, was what happened last.
As Hasselbeck was doing an interview on the field after stunning the Saints, and the entire football world, there were his kids – daughters Annabelle and Mallory and son Henry. Hasselbeck, the son of former NFL tight end Don Hasselbeck, hoisted his son unto his shoulders as he walked back to the tunnel that leads to the locker room.
“It was awesome, seeing my kids out there,” the proud father beamed as he stood behind the podium in the interview room at Qwest. “I was doing and interview and I saw my son Henry getting carried out by one of the guys. It was really cool.”
“I remember as a kid always wanted to do down on the field with my dad, and I don’t know if I ever did. I don’t know if was a (coach Bill) Parcells’ rule, that you weren’t allowed to, or what. So it was really cool.
“I know it’s special to them. It’s special to me. The atmosphere was just awesome.”
And yes, even surreal.