These quarterbacks share a first name and an alma mater (Boston College), but are on opposite ends of their careers. Sunday, they will matchup at Qwest Field, when Hasselbeck and the Seahawks host Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons are 11-2 and in control of the NFC, much like the Seahawks and Hasselbeck were in 2005 during their run to the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance. Much of the Falcons’ success has been credited to Ryan, who has thrown as many interceptions this season (eight) as Hasselbeck has in the past three games and also is among the most efficient passers in the league on third downs.
Hasselbeck, 35, is 10 years older than Ryan. So when Hasselbeck was quarterbacking BC, Ryan was in elementary school; and when Hasselbeck broke into the NFL in 1998 with the Green Bay Packers, Ryan was a teenager. This will be the first time they have met in the NFL, and Ryan’s first game at Qwest.
“We talked a little while he was at Boston College,” said Hasselbeck, whose younger brother, Nathaniel, was a wide receiver when Ryan was the Eagles’ QB. “Matt was a great player. He started out slow there and then came on lights out, really on fire, and took that program places it hadn’t been.
“Even if he hadn’t gone to BC, he’s one of the quarterbacks in the league that I like to watch. He does a nice job.”
Ryan picked up with the Falcons where he left off with the Eagles. In 2008, he became only the second rookie in NFL history to pass from more than 3,000 yards (3,440) – and other is Peyton Manning (3,739 in 1998). This season, Ryan already has thrown for 3,147 yards, with 22 touchdown and those eight interceptions. He has been even better on third downs, with 11 TDs, three picks and a 102.4 passer rating.
“He’s a terrific factor for them,” is the way Seahawks coach Pete Carroll put it.
Especially with the game on the line. Six times this season, Ryan has rallied the Falcons to fourth-quarter comebacks – against the Saints, 49ers, Bengals, Ravens, Packers and Buccaneers. They won those six games by an average of four points.
“You can tell he’s a great leader. He’s obviously very talented. It’s just cool to see,” Hasselbeck said of Ryan, who has 13-game game-winning drives in the fourth quarter in his first three seasons.
“He does a nice job. He runs the no huddle and, you know, all those things that quarterbacks like to do. He does them really well, and he’s got great poise.”
Hasselbeck, on the other hand, is coming off a game he would just as soon forget. In last week’s 19-point loss in San Francisco, he turned the ball over five times (four interceptions and a fumble) and the 49ers turned those miscues into 20 points.
“Monday was, ugh, Monday was a bad day,” Hasselbeck said of the day Carroll labels “Tell the Truth Monday.”
The players watch the video and are graded – openly and honestly. What Hasselbeck had to endure was watching his two of interceptions end possessions after the Seahawks at reached the 49ers’ 27-yard line and their own 45. There also was the pick on the third play of the second half that was returned for a touchdown.
“The nice thing always is watching the film – you find out the truth of what happened, you try and find out the truth about where you are,” Hasselbeck said. “The film rarely lies.”
So the truth was? “One of the main things is just wasted interceptions,” he said. “You can’t play one way when the game is tight and the score is close, and play another way when the game is out of reach. I know that lesson, and I’ve learned that lesson the hard way a few other times.”
It’s an even more important lesson this time around, because Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates are sticklers for protecting the football – as evidenced by the signs in the meeting rooms at Virginia Mason Athletic Center that shout, “It’s all about the ball.”
Hasselbeck knows. It’s just that sometimes he falls into the trap of trying too hard to make something happen when it seems on one else is capable of doing it.
That has not been the problem for Ryan. He has a powerful running game, led by Michael Turner; a line that has featured the same five starters the past three seasons; and sure-handed, big-play receivers in Roddy White, who leads the league in receptions, and Tony Gonzalez, one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history.
Hasselbeck? Not so much. The Seahawks rank 31st in the league is rushing offense; the line has had eight different starters each at left tackle, left guard and center the past three seasons; and Hasselbeck has never had a Pro Bowl receiver in his 10 seasons with the team.
But he’s also completed more passes for more yards than any QB in franchise history, is one win from tying Dave Krieg’s club record of 70 and has quarterbacked four of the Seahawks’ seven playoffs win.
“Matt Hasselbeck is a guy that I respect a lot as a quarterback,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said this week. “I think he has a very good understanding of the game, distributes the ball well.”
That’s the reason there has been no panic this week as the Seahawks have been preparing for the Falcons.
“He’s a true pro. He took it personal,” Bates said of Hasselbeck’s performance against the 49ers. “He knows he can’t throw interceptions for us to win. We’ve got to take care of the football. At the same time, we can’t put ourselves in that position and be down 20-something points, because we’re going to be aggressive offensively and try to take some shots you usually wouldn’t take.
“But Matt is going to come back. He’s a true pro. He’s played in a lot of games. He’s going to be aggressive with the ball, and at the same time take care of it.”
It’s imperative this week, because that other quarterback named Matt from Boston College will do just that.