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Hot-handed Hasselbeck sparks another win
The Seahawks are unbeaten in the preseason, but they’re also a work in progress.
Just look at Matt Hasselbeck’s 2-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh at the end of the first half in Saturday night’s 27-13 victory over the Denver Broncos at Qwest Field.
It gave the Seahawks a 14-10 lead. It also gave a glimpse of what can be for this team when its actually starts playing games that count.
“It was crazy,” Houshmandzadeh said. “Because we were practicing at the University of Washington (on Tuesday night), we probably ran that play three or four times and we didn’t complete any of them.”
Four nights later, however, “We completed the one that mattered,” he said.
It was a simple fade route into the corner of the south end zone – “Just like backyard football,” is the way Hasselbeck put it.
Hasselbeck’s pitch and Houshmandzadeh’s catch capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive in which Hasselbeck was 4 of 4 on third downs for 67 yards – and also completed a fourth-down pass.
No throw was bigger, or better, than the TD toss to Houshmandzadeh. Because of what it meant on this evening, and what he could mean down the regular-season road.
“That’s a good sign that Matt and I are kind of getting on the same page,” said Houshmandzadeh, who signed with the Seahawks in March after playing his first eight NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s early. This is my second game playing with Matt. Obviously we practice a lot. But game tempo and practice speed, there’s a difference just because of the intensity and the adrenalin. We have a little bit to go before we really get there. But so far, so good.”
Actually, better than good, as the Seahawks ran their preseason record to 2-0 before a crowd of 67,052 in their home opener.
Hasselbeck completed 16 of 23 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns in fashioning a 120.0 passer rating. The first TD pass – a 34-yarder to rookie wide receiver Deon Butler that capped an eight-play, 70-yard drive to open the game – was a thing of beauty.
“A great throw by Matt,” coach Jim Mora said. “And it shows that if Deon can get a step on somebody, he’s a dangerous player.”
Now, stop and ponder Hasselbeck’s two TD passes for a moment. A year ago, Houshmandzadeh was catching passes in the shadow of the receiver former known as Chad Johnson and Butler was putting the finishing touches on his record-setting career at Penn State.
Saturday night, they combined to catch seven balls – five for 41 yards for Houshmandzadeh, two for 47 yards for Butler.
After the heroics of Hasselbeck and his new receivers in the first half, the Seahawks turned things over to their special teams and No. 2 defense while ripping off 13 quick points in the third quarter.
The defense set up a 22-yard field goal by Brandon Coutu as cornerback Kelly Jennings forced a fumble on Kyle Orton’s pass to tight end Tony Scheffler on the second play of the half and safety Jordan Babineaux returned it 20 yards to the Broncos’ 8-yard line.
The Seahawks got the ball back quickly, and again with optimum field position, as the defense forced a three-and-out and rookie defensive end Nick Reed got a hand on Britton Colquitt’s punt that went only 15 yards.
Taking over at the Broncos’ 29, backup QB Seneca Wallace scrambled out of the pocket and up the sideline for an 18-yard gain. But it took his 1-yard pass to tight end Joe Newton to give the Seahawks a 24-10 lead.
The next time the Broncos touched the ball, it lasted only seconds as safety C.J. Wallace put his helmet on the ball to force a fumble by punter returner Kenny McKinley that linebacker Will Herring recovered. Coutu cashed in on the big play with 1:52 to play by kicking a 52-yard field. It was Coutu’s 11th consecutive three-pointer over the past two preseasons.
“Any time your special teams can get the offense back on the field, and with good field position, that’s always huge,” Wallace said. “Then our defense was hitting hard, too, so it really set the tone.”
One of the leading tone-setters was Reed. Again. After collecting a sack and intercepting a pass against the Chargers in San Diego last week, the rookie defensive end from Oregon had the big play on the punt and also added another sack and a half.
“He shows up, doesn’t he?” Mora said with a smile. “He does some special things.”
Not everything the Seahawks did was special, however.
The No. 1 defense allowed Orton too much time to throw on the Broncos’ two scoring drive in the first half.
“We just have to be more focused. We just have to play with more enthusiasm. We have to tackle better,” Mora said. “We have to be more on point. We have to be more disciplined. And we will be.”
The running game averaged 3.1 yards on 23 carries, and Wallace was the leading rusher with 20 yards.
“We have some new runners, new blockers, new scheme,” Mora said. “But I think it’s something that will come.”
Just a couple more indications that, despite their unbeaten record, the Seahawks are a work in progress.