So the story goes that Matt Hasselbeck was still in coach Pete Carroll’s ear to start Sunday’s playoff-for-the-playoffs even as the Seattle Seahawks made their way through the tunnel canopy just before kickoff.
One can only imagine.
“C’mon, Pete, I’m ready … You’re not seriously going to go with ol’ ‘Passion of the Christ’ here, are you? … Pete, I’ve started 131 NFL games … Hey, my butt’s healed – although you’re really starting to make it ache again … What, are you trying to re-enact ‘The Last Supper?’ … Be serious, Pete – you want a quarterback who’s been there or a guy you signed straight out of a BeeGees tribute band?”
But Carroll went with his gut over Hasselbeck’s glute and put the game into the hands of backup Charlie Whitehurst.
The Seahawks tested the elasticity of reality by snuffing the St. Louis Rams and earning a playoff berth – a home game, mind you – with a record of 7-9, and the NFL’s competition committee is probably cooking up measures right now to prevent a re-occurrence.
So, now what?
Carroll insisted on Monday that he doesn’t know now-what. Hasselbeck and Whitehurst will split the practice reps and a decision on the starter for Saturday’s first-round game against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints will be decided … eventually.
“We’ll figure it out,” Carroll said.
Well, that’s a load off.
He also said that “I think we’ll have Matt full speed,” or whatever gear he operates in, and if indeed that’s the case, then it should be settled: Hasselbeck starts.
If Carroll did not turn the offense over to Whitehurst against Tampa Bay the week before until Hasselbeck was hurt because there was still something to play for, then circumstances are no different now.
“I’d love to play the game,” Whitehurst admitted, “but I’ll do what they tell me to do.”
Which is pretty much what he did against the Rams.
He did not screw it up. Other than the badly underthrown bomb to a stunningly uncovered Ruvell Martin that went for 61 yards on the first series, Whitehurst completed only one other pass downfield for more than 15 yards. When pressured, he threw it away or scrambled. He did not risk a pick. He was sure with snaps and handoffs. He didn’t, unlike Hasselbeck of late, try to do too much because he could barely manage just enough.
Standing on the Qwest Field turf as a fist-pumping Whitehurst charged back up the tunnel after the victory, columnist Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest was moved to call it the “football equivalent of the Bob Wolcott game” – and the analogy is apt. It was the nervous rookie Wolcott, those with long memories will recall, who was nominated to start – and won – the 1995 American League Championship Series opener for the Seattle Mariners against Cleveland after Edgar Martinez had doubled home Ken Griffey Jr. and all the pitching had been spent subduing the Yankees.
Difference was, Wolcott walked the first three batters before escaping the first inning without yielding a run. Whitehurst, in contrast, had the Seahawks in the end zone six plays after the kickoff for a lead they never gave up.
However, the M’s didn’t make it to the World Series and the Seahawks aren’t going to the Super Bowl, no matter who’s quarterbacking.
If Carroll isn’t ready to name a starter for Saturday, he’s certainly not ready to talk about one for next year. Although that’s the only question we should be asking.
Hasselbeck’s contract is up, and it’s become evident his erratic ways the second half the season have not captured Carroll’s confidence. He has served the franchise well and deserves a few years as well-paid relief of one of the league’s young guns, though of course he likely still sees himself as an elite starter. That’s a decision the market will make.
As for Whitehurst, aside from the warm story of Sunday’s victory, his principal distinctions as a pro are: A) that he was never able to unseat Billy Volek as the No. 2 quarterback at San Diego, and B) that he could not dislodge Hasselbeck as the starter in the first year of Carroll’s rebuild. It’s his cross to bear – sorry – that he is not the guy, and not likely to become the guy, even though the Seahawks overpaid for him.
He didn’t win the game Sunday, he managed it, missing numerous opportunities to break it open, to the point where you can see him being the perfect guy to get the Seahawks to 7-9 again next year. Or maybe 6-10.
And playoff reality will never be that elastic, even in the NFC West.