With the Seahawks fighting for their lives, Matt Hasselbeck tries not to let an up-and-down season, dropped passes and his uncertain contract status discourage his December. He enters today's game off of his best performance of the season.
The pressure is on.
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The Seahawks are 6-6 and fighting for their playoff lives. Coach Mike Holmgren is answering questions about his future in Seattle. Players are more on edge.
Exhibits A, B, and C: the three separate flare-ups between several players that interrupted practices this past week at team headquarters.
Through it all, Matt Hasselbeck has remained as calm as he can. He has become so accustomed to Holmgren’s rage at his players that he doesn’t miss a beat when answering questions, even as Holmgren chastises his special teams, as was the case on Thursday.
Monday night’s game will tell you that Hasselbeck is back to his Pro Bowl form despite a 43-39 loss to Dallas. The past week of practice, which saw the quarterback zinging pinpoint passes all over the field in a display of touch and consistency, will tell you that Hasselbeck has found whatever he lost earlier in the season.
But is one good week enough to say that he is back on track? The Seahawks hope so. They’re counting on Hasselbeck to lead them to a division title, or the playoffs, over the final four games of the regular season.
He doesn’t appear to feel the weight of Seahawks Nation on his shoulders. And that might be a good thing, even if the team must play this stretch of games with a sense of urgency.
“I know that I want to play as well as I can, and that’s really my focus,” Hasselbeck said. “For the first time in a long time, last week I was feeling pretty good. I was able to use my legs and move around a little bit. I know that that helps. I know it helps my throwing mechanics and also helps create opportunities when you’re able to run around. But I don’t necessarily feel anything bigger than that.”
More than one thing has to go right for any quarterback to complete 28 of 40 passes for 414 yards and three touchdowns. Those were Hasselbeck’s numbers on Monday.
More than one thing did go right, at least on offense. The Dallas Cowboys spent so much effort keying on Shaun Alexander and the running game that their pass coverage suffered. Hasselbeck’s offensive line made an adjustment in the second half and allowed him what seemed days to throw.
Hasselbeck was fully recovered from a deep thigh bruise that cost him mobility over the previous three games and made things happen out of the pocket. His receivers made difficult catches, namely Jerry Rice. And perhaps most important, no wide receiver or tight end dropped a pass for the first time since the second game of the regular season.
The drops have bothered Hasselbeck, perhaps more than he lets on.
“Sure it hurts,” offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said. “He’s trying harder than anybody on this team, and we have a ton of guys that are really try-hard guys.
“He’s the first guy here in the morning studying. Now he’s here all the time getting his body put back together, and if you think that when he throws a pass and I drop it, that it doesn’t bother him … ”
Haskell trailed off, shaking his head.
“It’s going to happen,” Hasselbeck said. “There’s so much focus on each play trying to get first downs or trying to make opportunities. But you realize you’re only going to get so many opportunities to make a play. If you misfire on a play like a drop or anything like that, you say to yourself, ‘You know what? That was an opportunity to make a play and we let that one go.’ ”
Hasselbeck has admitted frustration with the Seahawks’ offensive execution at times. But in his true form, he feels worse for the coaching staff, which he says puts in double the amount of time to make sure mistakes don’t happen.
There is also the lingering contract issue in the background. Hasselbeck is scheduled to become a free agent after this season unless the Seahawks elect to re-sign him before March.
Rumors have it that the team passed on an opportunity to extend Hasselbeck’s contract earlier this year. Hasselbeck’s numbers haven’t been as good as they were in 2003 he is on pace for fewer touchdown passes and completions, a lower completion percentage and a lower passer rating than last season but he shrugs off any notion that the contract issue is affecting him.
“I don’t think it’s affected my play, is what I’ll say,” Hasselbeck said. “I mean, it is what it is. It’s by no means a bad situation. It’s just there. I don’t think it’s really anything major. It’s not something I think about often.”
Teammates have faith in Hasselbeck, including the outspoken Alexander, who believes his quarterback can carry the team.
“I told everybody that I like being right,” Alexander said. “Matt does a good job of making me be right when I say he gets hot in December. He’s going to continue the rest of this month, and all it takes is for our defense to jell and all the guys on offense to jump on his back.”
For the Seahawks’ sake, Alexander and company had better be correct. Because the pressure is on.
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org