Hasselbeck takes frustrations out on Saints

SEATTLE – In the days before the great upset, Matt Hasselbeck(notes) was not happy. This is something people around the Seattle Seahawks have come to cherish over the years – those moments when the franchise quarterback does not smile, his words come short and he grumbles through practices.

Somehow he always plays best when he feels the slights.

And it had been a week of affronts that proceeded Saturday’s 41-36 vanquishing of the New Orleans Saints. Nothing was worse than coach Pete Carroll’s decision to keep him from playing the game last weekend that got the Seahawks to the playoffs in the first place. Hasselbeck’s damaged hip hurt so much that day, yet he begged to play; insisted he could play only to be rebuffed.

Saturday’s contest might have been his last game in the city he’s made his own, so there was no doubt he would play against the Saints. No doubt the old anger would flame. No doubt he would fire passes through the afternoon no one could have ever seen coming.

“We just beat the world champs,” he said after it was over.

“And we worked hard to do it,” he continued.

“We prepared and we believed,” he added.

And finally: “I’m emotionally drained right now, I’m physically drained right now. It was just satisfying.”

All around the Seahawks locker room, players testified about a confidence that boomed through their practice facility these last few days, even as the oddsmakers made Seattle possibly the biggest playoff home underdog since lines had been established. They said this came from Carroll, whose enthusiasm can come off misplaced and overwrought in the NFL, but somehow has clicked in recent days.

On Tuesday, two days after the victory over the Rams that delivered the Seahawks to the playoffs, the players said they were shown a highlight tape of their first game against New Orleans this year – one they lost 34-19 that was just another double-figure loss in a season where all nine defeats were by more than two touchdowns. Yet this time Carroll showed only the positive plays the Seahawks made – the touchdowns and the first downs, as well as the interceptions of Saints quarterback Drew Brees(notes).

They said Carroll told them he did this to make them believe they could indeed beat the team that won the Super Bowl just 11 months before.

“Guys were like, ‘We did make big plays against these guys,’ ” receiver Ben Obomanu(notes) told Yahoo! Sports.

“The thing I took out of that meeting was: Here we are, a young team going up against the world champions and in their house, and they were up only one score on us near the end,” Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy(notes) said. “You could see we definitely changed since then.”

But for all the hope and the positive vibe that so buzzed around the Seahawks – that everyone believed they could take advantage of New Orleans’ aggressive, blitzing defense by having Hasselbeck lob long throws downfield – they had to accomplish the impossible.

Then they did.

“His pride showed up,” Milloy said of Hasselbeck.

Last Sunday had been so awkward for him. The Seahawks tumbled into their locker room, overjoyed at making the playoffs in a season they finished 7-9. Hasselbeck appeared happy about the win, about a chance at another home game, but he did not have his usual cheer. He curtly shook hands with visitors to his locker. He coolly talked about how he could have played the game and seemed put off when a team official put an end to the brief interview.

“My bad,” he mumbled to the official. He was not pleased.

Surely Carroll is learning about the quarterback he inherited, the one with an easy nature, good sense of humor and a voice that does not growl like that of a football player. Still, despite these appearances, few quarterbacks are as aggressive. And even fewer are as irritable when they feel underappreciated.

Hasselbeck and Obomanu celebrate a fourth-quarter TD.
(Kirby Lee/US Presswire)

Ever since Carroll arrived it’s seemed as if he’s been trying to move on from Hasselbeck, yearning to find the next, new thing. In the winter that appeared to be Charlie Whitehurst(notes), a third-string quarterback in San Diego on whom the Seahawks spent a third-round pick in addition to swapping second-rounders with the Chargers. Hasselbeck’s contract expires at the end of the season. He is 35 years old and even though he is undoubtedly the best hope the Seahawks have to win games in the coming seasons, there was a real chance that Saturday was his last game at Qwest Field.

If this was indeed true, what a way to go out, with four touchdown passes, 272 yards passing and a quarterback rating of 113.0.

And when it was over and the Qwest Field speakers boomed the first notes of the Saints’ celebratory song “Stand Up & Get Crunk,” Hasselbeck leaped like a teenager. He wore a cap. He was bathed in the lights of so many television cameras. The roar of 66,336 poured down around him. He smiled.

Then across the end zone came his children: two daughters and his son. He hugged them and then lofted his son Henry, a blond little boy, onto his shoulders. Then they walked triumphant out of the night, disappearing into a tunnel and beneath the stadium stands.

The noise was deafening.

And if this really was the very last time for Matt Hasselbeck in the stadium he opened in 2002 and later made his own, it was the perfect exit in the unlikeliest script.

Les Carpenter is a feature writer and columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Les a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Jan 9, 2011