Did QB play his last game in Seattle? Or did he cement a further stay?
After carrying the Seahawks for much of Saturday afternoon, Matt Hasselbeck left the field with his son, Henry, on his shoulders.
It was a postcard moment after Seattle’s 41-36 victory over New Orleans. The kind you frame for posterity. Except no one knows exactly what it would commemorate. Not yet.
Hasselbeck has never played so well in such a meaningful game during his 10 seasons as Seattle’s starting quarterback, not even during the Seahawks’ Super Bowl season. But this game may have been more than that, too. It could have been the final home game of this season and perhaps his final home game as a Seahawk. It all depends on what happens in Sunday’s divisional playoff game at Chicago.
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The uncertainty is kind of appropriate for Hasselbeck’s season because it’s hard to know just what to make of the future of the Seahawks’ longest-tenured player. He is 35, playing under his fourth general manager, his third offense in three years and his contract expires at the end of this season.
Saturday’s performance was better than a billboard showcasing his talents in a league where as many as a quarter of the teams could be looking for quarterbacks this offseason, and you can bet that everyone from the 49ers to the Cardinals to the Vikings took notice of what Hasselbeck did.
This could be a crossroad in his tenure, could be a standoff or this could be a playoff run that assures he stays right where he is, as Seattle’s starting quarterback. He was the best player on Seattle’s offense this season, but he’s also had a fan throw his jersey at him and heard his home crowd chant the backup quarterback’s name.
Last week, the most productive quarterback in this franchise’s history had to wait until two days before the Saints game for coach Pete Carroll to declare him the starter, but on Saturday, Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes, making sure that no one thinks his 2004 coin-toss call in overtime at Green Bay was his most memorable playoff moment. Hasselbeck didn’t say he wanted the ball nor did he predict Seattle would score, he just relentlessly riddled the secondary of the defending Super Bowl champions.
“Ridiculously good,” Carroll said of Hasselbeck’s game.
So as Hasselbeck’s future becomes a bigger question, let’s look at his year before we try to predict what’s going to happen next:
Jan. 11, 2010: Carroll’s first call at Seattle’s quarterback comes over the telephone, the Seahawks new coach stating that he doesn’t expect to bring in a new quarterback.
“The NFL is a quarterback-driven process,” Carroll said during his introductory news conference, “and so the fact that we have Matt Hasselbeck here is a big factor. He’s played the game, he has been a champion, he knows how to get the thing done.”
March 18, 2010: Charlie Whitehurst sat behind a table in a Seahawks sweatsuit, sandwiched between Seattle’s coach and general manager John Schneider. He wasn’t signed to be Seattle’s starting quarterback of the future, but he was acquired with the belief he could be.
Seattle traded second-round choices with San Diego in 2010 and gave up a 2011 third-round pick for the right to pay Whitehurst about $8 million over two years. That’s a steep price for a restricted free agent who served as the Chargers’ third-string quarterback the past four seasons.
“It’s clear to us that Matt has paid his dues,” Carroll said upon the signing. “And he’s done a great job in the program. We’re excited about him coming and leading this program, but in all phases of our program, in every aspect of it, we’re trying to make it as competitive as possible.
“So Charlie is coming in here to battle. He’s going to show where he fits into the whole thing.”
Hasselbeck remained the starter throughout the offseason, training camp and into the regular season.
Oct. 3, 2010: Seattle’s offense failed to cross midfield in the second half of a 20-3 loss in St. Louis, the Seahawks falling to 2-2. As Hasselbeck left the field, a fan wearing his No. 8 Pro Bowl jersey took it off and tossed his shirt out of the stands, hitting Seattle’s quarterback. It summed up the day’s frustration with an offense that had gone six quarters without scoring a touchdown.
Nov. 21, 2010: Hasselbeck passed for 366 yards in New Orleans, his highest single-game total since 2004. He was not intercepted for the fourth time in five games, and Carroll felt he had found a common ground with his quarterback.
“I think it took some time for us to kind of get together on our thinking,” Carroll said. “Matt understanding and us understanding Matt. I think we’ve really kind of cut him loose.”
Turned out that was a double-edged blade.
Dec. 12, 2010: The ball was spread around Candlestick Park. It’s just that Hasselbeck spread it around the defense as he was intercepted four times, each by a different player, during Seattle’s 27-6 loss in San Francisco. It was the third time in the span of 15 starts he was intercepted four times in a game going back to the final three games of 2009. He was picked off four times only once in his first 114 starts as a Seahawk.
Carroll was unequivocal afterward, and Hasselbeck remained the starter.
Dec. 19, 2010: Three turnovers in a single period earned Hasselbeck the hook, Carroll removing him after his mistakes against the Falcons led to 17 points for Atlanta. Hasselbeck was replaced by Whitehurst, who led the Seahawks to a touchdown on his second possession. The chant of “Charlie” is heard at Qwest Field, and after the game Carroll does not name a starter for the next game.
Dec. 26, 2010: Hasselbeck remained Seattle’s starter, but he suffered a strained muscle in his hip on the second possession of that week’s game in Tampa, Fla.
Jan. 2, 2011: Hasselbeck is available to play in the regular-season finale against the Rams, a game to decide the division championship. Carroll opts to start Whitehurst, saying Hasselbeck’s hip injury would leave him to vulnerable. Hasselbeck is active as the second-string quarterback. Hasselbeck spoke to the team before the game.
“It took a long time to really own our division,” Hasselbeck said when asked to explain why he wanted to talk. “Not just win it, but just own it every year. Year after year after year. And I really want us to get back to that. I thought this year was an opportunity to start that again, even through all the craziness that we had.
“But just knowing that I might not get a chance to play in the game I think it was important that I offer something — something more than little tips as we’re looking at the pictures on the sidelines.”
Jan. 6, 2011: Hasselbeck is named the starter for the playoff game against New Orleans after Carroll had failed to provide a definite answer over the three previous days.
Jan. 8, 2011: After throwing more touchdowns in a playoff game than any quarterback in franchise history, Hasselbeck leaves the field with his son on his shoulders and a smile on his face.
He was asked Monday whether he felt some personal satisfaction beyond just the team’s victory.
“The two go hand-in-hand, really,” he said. “If I play well, we’ve got a good chance to win. If I don’t, then our chances go way down. My focus was definitely 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.”
Everyone in Seattle did, but only time will tell the true significance of that moment.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org