By BRADY HENDERSON
No forced throws into the waiting hands of defenders. No costly fumbles. No chants from a frustrated fan base calling for the backup.
Nothing but vintage Matt Hasselbeck.
The Seahawks embattled quarterback shook off an unfortunate start before throwing a season-high four touchdown passes and leading Seattle to an improbable 41-36 upset of the defending champion New Orleans Saints, doing it all on a hip that he later revealed had to be drained of fluid three times in the last two weeks.
"I thought that Matt Hasselbeck was ridiculously good today," coach Pete Carroll said.
He was, even despite an early turnover that threatened to bury the Seahawks. Trailing 3-0 on their first offensive possession, Hasselbeck's third pass of the game was intercepted after it bounced off the hands of Ben Obomanu, leading to a Saints touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Though hardly Hasselbeck's fault, it was a inauspicious start for a quarterback who had thrown 10 interceptions in his last five games.
"Not exactly how you want to start a game," he said.
Especially not when you consider that Hasselbeck himself has attributed his second-half struggles to pressing, forcing passes in an attempt to rescue his team from an early deficit.
"I give Pete a lot of credit. I give our team a lot of credit," Hasselbeck said. "Pete came to up to me and said, 'hey, listen, there's nothing you could have done about that first one' ... He basically just showed me some confidence, I think. And I appreciated that. It allowed me to really focus in on what we needed to do, and then what I needed to do. We needed to get a score so the game could still be balanced."
Hasselbeck caught fire immediately after, rattling off seven straight completions including a pair of touchdown passes to tight end John Carlson. Mid-way through the second quarter he had completed nine of his first 10 attempts.
"I think we got on a roll there; we got a rhythm going," said Hasselbeck, who broke Dave Krieg's franchise record for most touchdown passes in a playoff game, the other two to Brandon Stokley and Mike Williams.
Hasselbeck finished 22 of 35 for 272 yards, arguably his best game since Seattle's first meeting with the Saints.
After that Week 11 loss in New Orleans is when the wheels began to come off for Hasselbeck, who committed 13 turnovers in Seattle's next four games. He was yanked during the second half of a blowout loss to Atlanta, exiting the field with much of the Qwest Field crowd chanting backup Charlie Whitehurst's name.
His status as the starter was momentarily in doubt. And just as soon as Carroll decided to stick with Hasselbeck, he hurt his hip in Seattle's Week 16 loss to Tampa Bay, forcing him to watch from the sideline as Whitehurst quarterbacked the team into the playoffs the following week.
With Hasselbeck set to be a free agent after the season, it all underscored the Seahawks looming quarterback question.
"Matt is just a warrior, man," said Williams, who was on the receiving end of Hasselbeck's 38-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. "He's had a bad little stretch a little way through the year with interceptions and everything, and everyone jumped on him. But in our locker room, and especially in our wideout group, we trusted him and we knew he'd get it done."
When asked whether he thought beforehand about this possibly being his last game in a Seahawks uniform, Hasselbeck said he has conditioned himself not to worry about that.
"As a football player, you never know when your last play is going to be," he said.
Thanks to a vintage performance, we haven't seen Hasselbeck's last play just yet.
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