Matt Hasselbeck lifted his son, Henry, and placed the boy on his shoulders. Then, with daughters Annabelle and Mallorie flanking him, the private quarterback allowed himself a moment of public celebration, waving and smiling and yelling to a thrilled crowd that wouldn’t dare boo him on this day.
Guess it’s safe for Matt Hasselbeck to be Matt Hasselbeck again.
Hard to figure what’s more shocking: The Seahawks pulling off one of the greatest playoff upsets? Or the fact that Hasselbeck, the aging franchise QB that many left to rot after a string of poor late-season performances, served as the conductor of this victory with a monster comeback effort?
Three weeks ago at Qwest Field, Hasselbeck listened to boos and then mock cheers of “Char-LEE! Char-LEE! Char-LEE!” when Charlie Whitehurst replaced him. The next week, he hurt his bum in Tampa. Then he watched as Whitehurst captained the Seahawks to a playoff berth.
The end seemed predetermined for Hasselbeck, who is in the last year of his contract. The writing wasn’t just on the wall; the words were scribbled in a red marker with underlines and exclamation points. His critics anticipated he was one preconceived bad performance from concluding his 10-year Seahawks run in embarrassing fashion.
Well, guess what? It’s not over. Not for Hasselbeck. And definitely not for an unorthodox Seahawks team that refuses to be the undeserving playoff team that the rest of the nation expected it to be.
In leading Seattle to an unthinkable, unforgettable 41-36 victory over New Orleans, Hasselbeck was incredible. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns. He recovered from throwing an interception on his third pass of the game and played almost flawless football after that.
He did all of this while playing with a hip/buttocks injury, and he admitted after the game that doctors have had to drain fluid from that area three times since he was injured against Tampa Bay two weeks ago.
“That was fun,” Hasselbeck said of the victory. “It didn’t start out so good, but we hung together, and it was fun.”
The Bald One rallied the Seahawks from a 10-0 early deficit with a kind of efficient quarterback play that he had failed to show the last month of the season. Hasselbeck endured a four-game stretch in which he committed 13 turnovers (10 interceptions, three fumbles). In this game, however, he was brilliant after that early pick.
He directed an offense that had struggled to find the end zone with stunning accuracy. John Carlson, the underutilized tight end, caught two touchdown passes, the last one coming on a beautiful, gimmicky play-action pass in which Carlson pretended to chop block, only to rise and find himself wide open. Later, Hasselbeck threw two perfect deep balls, hitting Brandon Stokley for a 45-yard score and Mike Williams for a 38-yarder.
While it would be a stretch to say Hasselbeck outplayed Drew Brees, who threw 60 passes and amassed 404 yards, No. 8 more than held his own against the Saints quarterback.
“He played great,” Brees said of Hasselbeck. “He played phenomenal. I think he just showed what a veteran quarterback does, and that’s come back and throw four touchdowns. He played exceptionally well, and that’s what you expect from a guy like him.”
That’s what the Seahawks expected all along. For all the debate about whether Hasselbeck or Whitehurst would start this game, the players knew Hasselbeck would be ready. They listened as Hasselbeck told them after the playoff-clinching victory over the St. Louis Rams, “Hey, guys, I appreciate the opportunity to play again.” Hasselbeck was determined to make the most of this second chance.
“I never worry about Matt,” Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said. “He’s a veteran. He’s been there. I just tell him to keep leading us because I’m going to follow. When Matt steps in the huddle, you know we’re going to be all right.”
Hasselbeck was confident because he had thrown for 366 yards against New Orleans earlier this season. The Seahawks wide receivers like playing against the Saints because that defense tests their pride, playing aggressive and challenging them to win a lot of one-on-one situations. Seattle did that for a second time this season and defied the belief that you can’t win a shootout against the explosive Saints.
“We think, ‘What about our offense?’ ” Robinson said. “Why can’t we be the high-powered offense that makes teams have to score with us? Why not us?”
“Why not us?” could have been the theme for this game. The Seahawks dreamed big, ignoring those who joked that this game would seem like a bye for the Saints. The Seahawks settled into their underdog role, nice and cozy, and quietly relished the chance to pounce on the reigning Super Bowl champions.
And so the team that entered the playoffs with a losing record now probably feels like it can’t lose. They’re hot — at the right time. And Hasselbeck is back, a hero again, kids by his side, loving his own remarkable comeback.
“I remember as a kid always wanting to go down on the field with my dad,” said Hasselbeck, whose father, Don, was an NFL tight end. “But I don’t know if I ever did.”
The Hasselbecks can cherish this moment. For about three hours Saturday, Daddy owned this city again.
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