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Pete Carroll’s weekly news conference quickly turned into a game of Twenty Questions.
Except that the Seahawks’ first-year coach was peppered with what seemed like 20 different takes on the same question: Who starts at quarterback in Saturday’s wild-card playoff game against the New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field.
Carroll emerged as the winner in this game before the game. Just as he had on Monday, Carroll explained that Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst would continue to split reps in practice and he would make his decision later in the week.
“At this point, there’s no reason to say anything more about it from my perspective,” he told the 50 reporters and cameramen gathered in the auditorium at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
“You may think so, be we’re going to keep going and I’m pleased that we’re in the position we’re in there.”
That’s because last week, Hasselbeck did not practice until Friday after straining muscles in his left hip and buttock during the loss the Buccaneers in Tampa the week before. That’s also because Carroll opted to go with Whitehurst in Sunday night’s game that the Seahawks had to win to capture the NFC West title and playoff berth that went with it, and the team’s backup came through in his second NFL start.
So this week, Carroll has a healthier starter in Hasselbeck and a more confident backup in Whitehurst.
Good for Carroll and the Seahawks; not so good for reporters who wanted a definitive answer, and tried to get it by coming at the topic from every possible angle.
“Do you need to see Hasselbeck fully healthy at this point in order to make the decision at quarterback?” Carroll was asked.
“That would be good,” he said. “That would be good, yeah.”
“Is Hasselbeck fully healthy?” came the next question.
“I don’t know that yet,” was Carroll’s next answer. “He’s fully recovered in terms of what the demands of practice have presented for him – he looked great yesterday.”
But he then added the obvious, “You know, we’re not going to hit him in practice; we’re not going to know that. He is running around and moving, so he was able to do everything we asked him yesterday.”
“If Hasselbeck is healthy, will he be the starter?” was the next question.
“We’ll find out,” was Carroll’s next answer.
“Will you take the quarterback decision down to game time, like you did last week?” was the follow-up question.
“I don’t know that,” was Carroll’s follow-through response. “We’ll just leave it open.”
“Do you know who is going to start and you’re just not telling us?” Carroll was then asked.
“Now you’ll never know,” Carroll cracked, igniting laughter from the crowd of inquiring minds.
“Does conventional wisdom say that Hasselbeck will start this weekend?” came an innovative stab at the same topic.
“I don’t know conventional, I don’t know that,” was Carroll’s retort. “I’m not too good at that. If you’re a conventional-wisdom kind of guy, I guess so.”
“How much do Hasselbeck’s nine playoff starts factor into your decision at quarterback?” came a backdoor approach.
“It factors, yeah,” Carroll said, slamming that door, too.
“How much does the way Whitehurst played on Sunday against the Rams help with your confidence in him and making the quarterback decision for this week?” came a side-door approach.
“Certainly it does,” Carroll said, not allowing that door to remain cracked either.
But each of the quarterback’s play in recent games – Whitehurst’s winning effort against the Rams and Hasselbeck’s season-high 366-yard passing performance in the Week 11 loss to the Saints in New Orleans – is a factor in answer the week’s biggest question. Or at least most-asked question.
On Whitehurst, who was 22 of 36 for 192 yards and a touchdown against the Rams, Carroll offered, “Charlie came out a winner in a championship opportunity. That was a great accomplishment. It adds to all our opinions and our expectations to what he’s capable of doing.”
On Hasselbeck, who was 32 of 44 in passing for those 366 yards against the Saints, Carroll said, “It’s a factor that Matt also played well against these guys and has played against this coordinator (Gregg Williams) before. And he remembers. It’s not like he’s blanked on the times he’s played against Gregg. … We’ve talked about that and he understands the kind of stuff that he needs to expect and the fact that it could change – you know, it could be a different game plan than we’ve seen.”
What do the quarterbacks in the crosshairs of this Twenty Questions quandary think? They’re not scheduled to talk with reporters until Thursday.
When offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was asked the same question after practice, he seconded Carroll’s noncommittal assessment.
“They’re both practicing,” Bates said. “Charlie stepped in and did an unbelievable job moving and managing the team, taking care of the football and getting us into the postseason. So Charlie did great. Matt is getting healthier by the minute, so right now it’s a good time for the Seattle Seahawks as far as the quarterback situation.”
During his conference-call interview on Wednesday, Saints coach Sean Payton also took a page for the Carroll book.
Asked if he’d rather see Whitehurst or Hasselbeck, Payton said, “It doesn’t matter what I’d rather.”
Whether it ends up being Hasselbeck or Whitehurst, Carroll likes the way his QBs are handling the situation.
“I feel very comfortable with what we’re doing as far as their turns and reps,” he said. “Both quarterbacks are dead into this as much as they can be and we’ll have them both available. We think they’re both going to be ready to play the football game, so that’s good.”
But which one will start? Don’t ask