By chance, Matt Hasselbeck was in Arizona last winter watching one of his daughter’s lacrosse training sessions when the former Seahawks star recognized a new Seahawks star going through an offseason workout at the same facility. So Hasselbeck introduced himself to DK Metcalf.
“I had a couple conversations with him, and I was so impressed,” Hasselbeck recalled this week. “So I called all my friends in Seattle that work there still, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, dude, I love DK Metcalf. Tell me — please tell me — that I’m right.’ And they just gush about the guy.”
Who isn’t gushing about DK Metcalf these days, right?
What struck Hasselbeck most in his conversations with Metcalf wasn’t the young receiver’s obvious athletic gifts. It was Metcalf’s humility and maturity, and Hasselbeck pointed to two recent social-media posts — when Metcalf was propping up fellow receivers Tyler Lockett and David Moore — as examples of the kind of selfless outlook that has helped the Seahawks offense excel this season.
Hasselbeck recognizes that quality in these 2020 Seahawks, because he said it was an essential characteristic of the Seahawks’ makeup when he was the quarterback of the 2005 NFC championship team. That’s one of several similarities Hasselbeck senses with the 2005 and 2020 offenses.
“They can do it all,” Hasselbeck said of this Russell Wilson-led offense. “And it doesn’t seem like this team, like our ’05 team, is overly concerned with who gets the credit. I love how unselfish they are. You don’t see that on a lot of teams, and you rarely see that at wide receiver.”
The Seahawks, now 6-1, enter Sunday’s game at Buffalo having matched their best start in franchise history in large part because of an offense that leads the NFL in scoring, at 34.3 points per game. The last time the Seahawks led the league in scoring was, yep, 2005, when they set a franchise record at 28.3 points per game and rode Shaun Alexander’s MVP season to the franchise’s first Super Bowl berth.
Can these 2020 Seahawks follow a similar blueprint?
One notable difference between then and now? At the outset, the 2005 team wasn’t quite sure how good it could be. Expectations were further muddied when the Seahawks lost their ’05 opener at Jacksonville, 24-16, on a hauntingly humid day. It was a sleepy start for the offense, which committed five turnovers. “Err ball,” read the headline in The Seattle Times the next day.
“We got spanked,” Hasselbeck recalled.
After another loss on the road — in overtime in Washington, D.C. — the Seahawks were just 2-2 after the first four weeks of the season.
Hasselbeck had a personal epiphany right around then. He was, at the time, 30 years old and in his fifth season as the Seahawks’ QB. But ’05 was his first season in Seattle without veteran backup Trent Dilfer, a mentor to Hasselbeck and a respected presence in the locker room. There was a void, Hasselbeck had come to realize.
“I needed to grow as a leader,” he said.
He’d always had good relationships with his wide receivers and running backs. What he needed to do was start communicating better, and more often, with the veteran offensive linemen; he needed to hold them accountable, and he needed to be accountable to them.
The offensive line was the team’s backbone. That remains the best line in franchise history, featuring two Hall of Famers in Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson, and a Pro Bowl center in Robbie Tobeck, whom Hasselbeck called the “tone setter” for the entire team.
The breakthrough came Week 5 in St. Louis, against a Rams team that had beaten the Seahawks three times in 2004. Hasselbeck remembered being “so angry” about the game plan that week. The Seahawks hadn’t yet found their offensive rhythm, they were banged up at receiver, and now the offensive plan included, much to Hasselbeck’s surprise, a lot of new wrinkles to install in just a few days.
The quarterback did come around to trust the plan from coach Mike Holmgren, who demanded precision and preached a “do your job” mentality. Hasselbeck also heeded advice from quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, who wrote a phrase on a whiteboard that week — Throw it where the wide receivers are, not where you know they should be — that was so simple and so obvious that Hasselbeck rolled his eyes and teased Zorn about it initially. But Zorn was right. It was a basic reminder Hasselbeck needed to hear, and one he would repeat later in his career to Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
Hasselbeck threw for a season-high 316 yards and two touchdowns, and the Seahawks beat the Rams, 37-31, for their first win in St. Louis since 1997. “It’s always tough going to St. Louis,” he said. “And to beat ‘The Greatest Show on Turf,’ that was a lot of fun.”
That was the first of 11 consecutive victories — a streak that still stands as the franchise record — that put the Seahawks on the path to their first NFC championship.
MVP for ‘Mr. Touchdown’
The 2005 Seahawks had a roll-call ritual in the locker room before every game. They would go around the room, and each player would holler out his presence, usually by saying his own nickname or doing something to hype up teammates.
When roll call got around to Shaun Alexander’s locker, the star running back had a routine. “Mr. Touchdown is here!” he would yell.
How fitting. Alexander broke the NFL record that season with 28 touchdowns, rushing for a franchise-record 1,880 yards and winning the Seahawks’ first — and only — MVP trophy. Midway through that ’05 season, Holmgren made Alexander’s MVP chase a rallying point for the team, which then became a collective goal for everyone.
“We took so much pride in our offensive line, and I thought Mike did an outstanding job of sort of letting those guys know, ‘Hey, this is your MVP too,’ ” Hasselbeck said. Not to be overlooked, he added, were the contributions of All-Pro fullback Mack Strong, tight ends Ryan Hannam and Jerramy Stevens, and the physical blocking of receivers Joe Jurevicius, Bobby Engram and D.J. Hackett.
When the Seahawks drove near the goal line, there was no doubt about who was getting the ball. Hasselbeck usually knew what the play call was going to be before it came through his helmet — usually “64 Lead or 62 Counter,” with Alexander following Strong’s lead into the end zone. It wasn’t much of a secret what the 2005 Seahawks were going to do when they got close to the goal line. They barely tried to disguise it from the opposing defense.
“If we ever got to the 1-yard line, we were scoring. There was no doubt about it,” Hasselbeck said. “It was like, ‘You know it’s coming, and we’re not even going to disguise it.’ ”
A new MVP chase
Hasselbeck was named the Pro Bowl starter for the only time in his career in 2005 after putting together one of the best seasons by a QB in franchise history: 3,459 yards, 24 touchdowns, nine interceptions.
Wilson, of course, has reset the bar for Seahawks QB play, time and again, and at age 31 is in the midst of the best season of his career and the midseason favorite to win the MVP.
Hasselbeck, now an analyst for ESPN, has been watching Seahawks games closely this season and said he’s been particularly enamored with Wilson’s deep passing.
“I love it. I absolutely love it,” he said. “Receivers who are covered for most QBs are open for him. He is in lockstep with his receivers in terms of understanding situations, and whenever a play starts to break down that’s when you go, ‘OK, now something good’s about to happen.’ ”
Hasselbeck’s final season with the Seahawks, in 2010, was coach Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle. He understands why it took Carroll until now to come around to the idea of an offensive shift under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer the past two seasons.
“Early on, it was a struggle for them,” Hasselbeck said. “There were people in Seattle who wanted Schottenheimer’s head on a platter, which I thought was really unfair. It just takes time to blend the philosophy of your team, and Pete has a very specific vision for what his team wants to be, and that’s very different from the rest of the league. So it took them a while to figure it out.”
It was just two years ago, remember, when the Seahawks led the NFL in rushing.
“I thought it was probably an overcorrection when (Carroll and Schottenheimer) were getting to know each other,” Hasselbeck said. “What’s happened is, now they’re good at everything.”
And they have a young receiver who seems to get better every week.
“I think DK could be the best receiver in the game,” Hasselbeck said. “That’s an attainable goal for him — like, soon. Very soon.”