Matt Hasselbeck could do nothing on the Minnesota Vikings' final drive except collapse next to Floyd Womack on the Seahawks' bench. Taking oxygen in giant gulps, he felt and looked...

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MINNEAPOLIS — Matt Hasselbeck could do nothing on the Minnesota Vikings’ final drive except collapse next to Floyd Womack on the Seahawks’ bench.

Taking oxygen in giant gulps, he felt and looked like a host of synonyms for tired — exhausted, drained, pooped, beat.

This is how this season has gone for Hasselbeck, who’s finally winning the battle against his body. He played for weeks with the charley horse to end all charley horses. He played with ribs so tender they required a flak jacket for protection.

And in the Seahawks’ 27-23 win over Minnesota yesterday, he played through fatigue and two interceptions, completing 23 of 34 attempts for 334 yards and three first-half touchdown passes.

“I told everybody, it don’t matter if he has one leg, one rib, it’s December,” running back Shaun Alexander said. “And we all know what Matt’s going to do in December. He’s going to catch fire. All everybody has to do is play their game. Because when Matt gets hot, everything else starts to work.”

For the Seahawks, Hasselbeck’s holiday resurgence couldn’t come at a better time.

The Vikings schemed specifically to stop Alexander, who gained 112 tough yards, one broken tackle at a time. Hasselbeck, on the other hand, serves as the Seahawks’ barometer of success. He played poorly in losses to Arizona and Buffalo and St. Louis. He played well in wins over San Francisco and Minnesota.

They have resigned themselves to this much: This offense and this team will go as far as his right arm — and banged-up body — takes them.

“We don’t talk about injuries a lot, but they are a factor,” said receiver Bobby Engram, the recipient of four Hasselbeck passes yesterday for 79 yards. “If you’re playing hurt, you’re not the same person. If guys are injured on the field, you’re not the same team.”

The signs are everywhere that Hasselbeck is improving. You could see that last week when he completed 28 of 40 passes for 414 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

You could see it again yesterday as Hasselbeck scrambled to and fro, channeling his inner Fran Tarkenton, appropriately, on Minnesota soil.

You could hear it in his voice.

“I was banged up about a month ago,” Hasselbeck admitted. “It finally feels like my leg’s working again. It’s nice to come out on the winning end of one of these.”

It’s also nice to suffer from fatigue instead of injury. Funny enough, one nearly led to the other in a repeat performance of Hasselbeck bumping into Alexander on a handoff.

The last time that happened, Hasselbeck suffered the charley horse that kept him out against Miami. Yesterday, when Hasselbeck said he could “barely breathe,” they bumped again, only this time all the Seahawks suffered was Alexander being dropped for a loss in the backfield.

“I was dying,” Hasselbeck said. “I need to get in shape.”

He laughed when he said this, then hopped off the podium from which he spoke. Landing awkwardly, he grimaced in pain. Less pain, it turns out, than he felt a month ago.

And with that, Hasselbeck limped into the locker room, looking forward to some rest on the plane ride home.

Will the Seahawks make the playoffs this season? So much of that depends on Hasselbeck — and his health.

“The last two weeks, he’s played great,” offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said. “He’s still a little bummed up, but everybody is this time of year. The major bruises are subsiding. He’s getting plays from (Darrell) Jackson and Jerry (Rice). That’s us. When we’re doing that, we’re good.”

Hot Hasselbeck
Matt Hasselbeck’s past two games have been among his best performances of the season. A week-by-week look at his key stats:
Opponent (W-L) Yards TD QB Rat.
New Orleans (W) 246 1 89.2
Tampa Bay (W) 147 1 60.9
San Francisco (W) 254 2 117.9
St. Louis (L) 216 2 94.5
New England (L) 349 0 59.5
Arizona (L) 195 1 18.9
Carolina (W) 201 1 85.6
San Francisco (W) 285 3 130.8
St. Louis (L) 172 0 45.1
Buffalo (L) 185 1 61.8
Dallas (L) 414 3 128.5
Minnesota (W) 334 3 104.3
Note: Did not play Nov. 21 vs. Miami