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One win away
In Matt Hasselbeck’s first game for the Seahawks, he passed for 178 yards and threw two interceptions in a 9-6 victory over the Browns in Cleveland.
That was in the 2001 season opener, six months after then-coach Mike Holmgren orchestrated a trade with the Green Bay Packers that brought the unproven Hasselbeck to Seattle as his handpicked passer.
|WHEN 8 BECOMES 1|
Matt Hasselbeck already is the Seahawks’ all-time leader in pass attempts, completions and yardage, and he’s close to taking the lead in victories and TD passes. Here are the top three in each category:
Flash forward 9¾ seasons, and Hasselbeck needs one more win entering Sunday’s important matchup with the 49ers in San Francisco to tie Dave Krieg’s franchise record of 70.
After such a pedestrian start, who could have envisioned this run?
Hasselbeck, for one – and maybe the only one, other than Holmgren.
“I did. I kind of did,” Hasselbeck said Thursday after practice. “But again, I was probably really naïve. It’s a big jump, going from being the No. 2 quarterback to being the starter. And to come here on a brand new team, where you don’t know your teammates, so you haven’t earned their respect.
“I think on the third play of that Cleveland game, (left tackle) Walter Jones went down with an injury and everyone panicked. And I was like, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s just one guy.’ ”
After Hasselbeck and everyone gathered around him laughed, the former backup to Brett Favre with the Packers added, “Because I didn’t know him. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand.”
The understanding process came full circle last Sunday, when Jones’ retired No. 71 was added to that of Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent in the rafter at Qwest Field and Hasselbeck picked up win No. 69 by rallying the Seahawks to a 31-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
A lot of players – and coaches – have come and gone since Hasselbeck took that first snap in Cleveland. And not just this season, when the roster-move count has reached 263. Hasselbeck is on his third head coach (Pete Carroll), third offensive coordinator (Jeremy Bates) and third position coach (Jedd Fisch).
The turnover around him only makes Hasselbeck more appreciative to still be here, and leading the Seahawks toward what could be their fifth division title with him as the QB.
“It falls in line with just the feeling of pride that I have just for being with this organization for so long,” Hasselbeck said when the chance to reach another milestone was broached. “There’s been a lot of turnover. There’s been a lot of people just kicked to the curb – run out of town, so to speak.
“So it hasn’t been easy, weathering the storms of all the changes and all that.”
One thing Hasselbeck has provided during all this change has been steadiness at the most pivotal position on the team.
“First and foremost, what Matt has brought is stability,” said vice president of football operations Will Lewis, who came to the Seahawks in 1999.
“Once he got into a rhythm and was comfortable in his position, for the most part, he was the leader. Basically, he added stability to your offense and the scheme. It was a scheme he was familiar with, a scheme the coach had run forever. And here was a guy who could put all those things into play, to make the coach comfortable and the player comfortable.”
In his victories, Hasselbeck has fashioned a 94.3 passer rating by completing 64 percent of his passes (1,372 of 2,138) for 15,948 yards with 113 touchdowns and 51 interceptions.
He won a game by throwing five touchdown passes (in 2006 against the New York Giants). He also has won eight games without throwing a touchdown pass, including Sunday’s win over the Panthers. He has won when he passed for 449 yards (in 2002 against the San Diego Chargers). He won when he passed for only 98 yards (in 2005 against the Philadelphia Eagles). He has won when he threw the ball 53 times (against the Chargers) and 44 times (in 2007 against the Chicago Bears). He has won when he threw the ball only 15 times (against the Eagles) and 19 times (in 2003 against the Arizona Cardinals). He had a season when he won 13 games (2005) and another when he won only one game (2008).
Through it all, he has tormented opponents – especially when Hasselbeck settles into that rhythm which allows the offense to hum.
“I hated Matt for a long time. He beat me more times than I can remember,” said Jeff Ulbrich, the Seahawks’ first-year assistant special teams coach who faced Hasselbeck twice a season from 2002-09 while playing linebacker for the 49ers.
Actually, Hasselbeck has his most victories against the 49ers with 10 – one more than the other two teams in the division, the Rams and Cardinals.
“Now, knowing him from this side of it, he’s a great leader. He’s well-respected in the locker room. And he’s a guy the team really looks to, just to be led.
“What has he meant to this franchise? What does he mean to this team? Shoot, everything. I’m just extremely happy to be on this side, to be with him.”
Because Ulbrich remembers what it’s like to be on the other side, when Hasselbeck is rocking and firing.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s not good. I remember many times where he got that hot hand, when he had Darrell Jackson and all those guys and they were doing all that little zone-option stuff. It just seemed unstoppable.
“It didn’t matter what you did. You could play perfect technique. You could have the perfect call. Everything could be in line. And he’d still beat you.”
Beating the 49ers this week would mean a lot to Hasselbeck. Not because of his personnel achievement, but because his team needs this game so badly. The Seahawks are 6-6 and tied with the Rams for the NFC West lead, with four games to play – including the season finale against St. Louis at Qwest Field on Jan. 2.
“I just feel a sense of pride because I feel like we’re getting back on track to where we were,” he said. “It was really hard when I got here to become a team that was in playoff contention, to become a team that could win our division. It was hard to turn the corner.
“We turned the corner and then we were good for a while, and then we struggled a little bit. Now we’ve kind of gone back to the drawing board and are trying to build something back up. To be a part of that – and I feel really, really good about the direction we’re headed – is cool.”