Pete Carroll showed faith in Matt Hasselbeck by giving the veteran QB the start against the Saints on Saturday, and Hasselbeck showed the Seahawks the way to the second round of the playoffs.
The best performance of Matt Hasselbeck’s career was a double dose of gratification.
For the Seahawks’ quarterback, of course, but also for Pete Carroll – the coach who showed faith in him, when others might not have. Despite a turnover-plagued four-game stretch late in the season, Carroll went back to Hasselbeck for the first game of the postseason.
Hasselbeck responded with a four-touchdown pass performance as the Seahawks out-Sainted the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints by scoring 41 points in their wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field.
As a result of the stunning 41-36 victory, the Seahawks are off to Chicago this weekend for a divisional-round playoff game against the NFC North champion Bears.
Asked Monday if it was gratifying to have Hasselbeck repay his faith, and then some, Carroll offered, “Yeah, and I think it was gratifying for Matt, too. Matt wanted to prove it. He wanted to be in this situation.”
Hasselbeck sat out the previous game, when backup Charlie Whitehurst stepping in and led a 16-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams that gave the Seahawks the NFC West title and playoff berth that went with it.
“Matt abhorred that last week he couldn’t play,” Carroll said. “He couldn’t stand the fact he couldn’t play.”
Hasselbeck could have played, but Carroll wisely held him out to give the strained muscles Hasselbeck got in his left hip and buttock the previous week more time to recover. But Hasselbeck didn’t know at that time that there would be another chance.
“Matt told these guys that Saturday night,” Carroll said of what the QB said to his teammates in the locker room. “He said, ‘I hated not playing last week against the Rams.’ And he thanked them for the opportunity to get another shot this season by winning, and he didn’t have to say that.
“Everybody realized that he was going to really go for it and he was going to give them everything he had. Matt’s been on it, and he’s really finishing up beautifully. Hopefully we can take it to the next one and do it again.”
There wouldn’t be this next one – Sunday’s game against the Bears at Soldier Field – if Hasselbeck had not taken advantage of the shot at redemption that his teammates gave him the week before.
Asked about the personal satisfaction that came from getting his team such a big win by outplaying Drew Brees – the Saints’ Pro Bowl QB and MVP of last season’s Super Bowl; as well as a player Hasselbeck respects and a person he considers a friend – the Seahawks QB offered, “I think the two go hand-in-hand, really. If I play well, we’ve got a good chance to win. If I don’t, then our chances go way down. My focus definitely was on playing well so we could win.
“So there was satisfaction in the fact that we were pretty explosive on offense, we scored touchdowns – which is what we needed to do – and I felt good about how I played. I felt really good.”
So did his coach and teammates.
“I think that was his best football game for us during the year, in terms of being creative and making things happen, and running the show and really being in command,” Carroll said.
All of that after sitting out what could have been the final game of this season. As Joni Mitchell put it, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone …”
No one paved Hasselbeck’s paradise and put up a parking lot, it just seemed that way as he stood on the sideline during the Rams’ game.
And he didn’t waste the opportunity for another chance. Hasselbeck’s TD passes went to wide receivers Brandon Stokley (45 yards) and Mike Williams (38 yards) and tight end John Carlson (11 and 7 yards).
Carroll praised Hasselbeck for having “safer” throws but going to his second (Williams) and third (Stokley) options on the long TD passes.
“He didn’t cheat the system or anything, he just took full advantage of the prep and the system and the read and, man, he smoked it when he had his opportunities,” Carroll said.
Hasselbeck attempted to pooh-pooh the praise.
“I didn’t make that call. The Saints made that call by how they decided to play it,” Hasselbeck said. “I pulled the trigger, but that’s not my decision. That’s their decision. They chose how they wanted to cover it and I threw the ball accordingly.”
To throw the Seahawks into the next round of the postseason.
“Matt made big plays at the times that we need it,” Carlson said. “I just got done watching the film. Some of those throws that he made were incredible. So to have a guy like that comeback in the lineup and be healthy and make those kinds of plays for us, it’s huge.
“We needed every one of those touchdowns, so that’s probably as clutch as I’ve seen Matt play.”
Hasselbeck’s performance even impacted the defense.
“It was great, it gave me chills to see the offense play like they’re playing,” defensive end Raheem Brock said. “To see Matt go out there and play like he was playing, it gives us energy, it gives us momentum and it helps us play even better as a defense.”