Coach puts game in QB's hands after Seattle falls into 17-0 hole.
The game, the season, all of the goals the Seahawks set in training camp, all of it, was evaporating in the swelter of their mistakes.
The deficit was growing: 7-0 … 14-0 … 17-0. The Seahawks were losing to the Detroit-Freaking-Lions. And coach Jim Mora was at the end of his patience.
“It was like a ‘You’ve-got-to-be-kidding me,’ ” Hawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said of Seattle’s embarrassing start.
Finally, after another Hawks drive stalled, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp went to Hasselbeck and told him about Mora’s Plan B.
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“Jim said he wants to throw it,” Knapp told Hasselbeck.
And Hasselbeck did. Threw it like he rarely has thrown it before. Threw it like a rubber-armed pitcher who isn’t tied down by a pitch count.
Hasselbeck dinked passes to his running backs, dunked passes to his tight end, dropped passes to his wide receivers. In Sunday’s 32-20 escape from infamy, Hasselbeck broke records with his right arm and kept his team’s fading playoff hopes alive at least for another week.
“It stinks that we had to put ourselves in that situation,” Hasselbeck said of the aerial circus. “That wasn’t the plan.”
But finally, at 3:23 in the afternoon, he rolled to the right, and found T.J. Houshmandzadeh by the pylon, just inside the goal line, for a touchdown that gave the Hawks a 23-17 lead late in the third quarter.
The Hawks had completed the long slog back from the brink. Hasselbeck had rescued this inexplicable day.
“I just have so much respect for Matt Hasselbeck and his toughness, both physical and mental,” Mora said. “I think today was about both of those things for him.
“He showed his true leadership to me. He showed everything that he is. I don’t know if I have any more respect for any player that I’ve ever coached than I have for Matt Hasselbeck.”
Put simply, the Hawks couldn’t have won this game without a quarterback who has the cool and the smarts of Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck broke his own record for completions in a game and broke Dave Krieg’s franchise record for career completions. At one point, Hasselbeck completed 15 passes in a row. Only Warren Moon, with 17 consecutive completions, has done better as a Seahawk.
“He’s calm. He’s confident. He has great command of the game,” Mora said of Hasselbeck. “He’s a special kind of man.”
A little perspective on this game: The comeback came against the Lions, who over the last two seasons, are 1-23. If there is one team in the NFL you can spot 17 points and still cover the spread, it’s Detroit.
Houshmandzadeh said it best: “I thought we were going to win. It could be that we were playing Detroit.”
But down 14-0 in the first quarter, Mora was seething on the sideline. He had ripped into his team last week after its dolorous performance in Dallas, and they responded with an interception and a lost fumble.
Mora was so angry, he kept the offense on the field in the first quarter, on a fourth-and-one on its own 38. The Seahawks didn’t get the yard, and it led to a Jason Hanson field goal that gave Detroit its 17-0 lead.
“That was probably not a good decision to make,” Mora said, being brutally honest. “As a matter of fact, it wasn’t a good decision to make, but it was a decision that I made because I just felt like I’d had enough. Sometimes you do that. Even if we’d have made it, it wouldn’t have been a good decision.”
That’s Mora. Letting his team know that he expects more. Trying to light a spark. Trying to create some aggression in a team that had become too passive and too soft.
But after that flubbed fourth down, Mora made a wiser decision. He gave the ball and the game to his quarterback.
“I really didn’t feel like I played my best,” said Hasselbeck, who completed 39 of 51 pass attempts for 329 yards. “I feel like there were a lot of opportunities that I missed, but there will be a lesson that will come from this. I was really just keeping it simple, trying to take what they gave me. I think this offense works best when we spread it around, instead of trying to force it in certain situations.”
This win felt more like a stay of execution than a turnaround. The Hawks were sloppy, even muffing a snap on an extra point. It was a win that should be greeted with sigh, not a celebration.
It was a win for a team in a state of desperation. A victory that, for the moment at least, saved the season.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists