By Michael Silver, Yahoo Sports
December 28, 2007
You know where this is going, just as we know where the Pro Bowl quarterback will soon be heading if all goes as planned. Should NFC West champion Seattle (10-5), already locked in as the conference's No. 3 seed heading into Sunday's throwaway game at Atlanta, dispatch of Washington, Minnesota or New Orleans in a first-round playoff clash at Qwest Field, the Hawks will be on their way to Titletown.
A Seahawks-Packers divisional-round matchup would mean sexy storylines galore, with Seattle coach Mike Holmgren cruising up the street named in his honor on the way to Lambeau Field and Hasselbeck, Brett Favre's onetime understudy, going back to the scene of his signature postseason moment.
No, it didn't occur during the Seahawks' Super Bowl run two seasons ago, when league MVP Shaun Alexander was the focal point of the team's attack. Rather, it happened on Jan. 4, 2004, as the Seahawks and Packers, tied after four quarters of their first-round playoff game, gathered at midfield for the coin toss at the start of overtime.
After winning the flip, Hasselbeck blurted out, "We want the ball. And we're gonna score!"
A few minutes later, Green Bay cornerback Al Harris proved Hasselbeck wrong by jumping one of his passes and cruising 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
"I've done a lot of things in my life that I regret," Hasselbeck said Wednesday while recalling the declaration, "and that is definitely not one of them. I have never once regretted that I said those words."
What Hasselbeck was trying to accomplish then with those words – carry a team beyond its collective expectations through the sheer force of his will – is similar to what he's doing now with deeds. As Alexander's production has fallen off and Seattle's once mighty offensive line has devolved into the realm of the ordinary, Hasselbeck, 32, is happily carrying the offense.
This was made plain in early November when Holmgren, a pass-first play-caller at heart and a first-generation descendant of the Bill Walsh Family Tree, told reporters he planned to "tip the scales" toward an aerial-centric attack. "It puts a lot on Matt's shoulders," Holmgren said, "but in the long haul it might help our running game."
The latter part of that statement has yet to be determined. The Seahawks, who ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing before last Sunday's 27-6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, broke through with 144 yards against a defense that going in was the league's second-stingiest against the run. But Baltimore was playing without star middle linebacker Ray Lewis, and Seattle continued its season-long struggles in short-yardage situations, failing to convert five of seven rushing attempts on second-, third- or fourth-and-1.
The abrupt retirement of Pro Bowl fullback Mack Strong in early October after injuring his neck has been one of many factors that impaired the team's ability to grind it out. Hasselbeck has compensated by assuming a disproportionate share of the burden. He has set single-season Seahawks records for attempts (537) and completions (337), and a franchise second-best 3,819 yards while distributing the ball to an assortment of talented targets.
"I think he loves it," wideout Deion Branch says. "A quarterback should love it when he's getting to throw the ball around. As receivers, we're happy, too."
For all the money the team has invested in the elusive Branch (pried from the Patriots for a first-round pick in September of '06) and deep threat Nate Burleson (signed away from the Vikings as a free agent earlier that year), it makes sense that Holmgren would be comfortable shifting his emphasis. With the prolific D.J. Hackett finally healthy and 34-year-old slot receiver Bobby Engram (90 receptions, 1,082 yards) in the midst of a career year, Seattle has the potential to terrorize any secondary.
Whether the Seahawks can join recent run-challenged Super Bowl champions like the '02 Buccaneers or the '03 Patriots, each ranked 27th in the league in rushing yards, remains to be seen.
If the Hawks can survive their playoff opener, it will take a tremendous effort to roll into Lambeau and take down the Packers, especially given the likelihood that Seattle's offensive strength may be somewhat neutralized by a cornerback tandem (Harris and Charles Woodson) that is arguably the league's best.
But Hasselbeck, for all his self-deprecating humor and lack of pretense, has a cocksure streak that may allow him to pull it off. Deep in his heart, he's still that defiant kid who, after being informed he wouldn't be Boston College's starter, notoriously told coach Dan Henning, "You should wear big red shoes and a big red nose because you are a clown!"
Whereas that outburst was simply an impetuous display of immaturity, Hasselbeck's coin-toss proclamation was somewhat calculated. Earlier in the season, he and veteran defensive lineman John Randle had discussed their shared suspicion that many of their teammates didn't really believe the Seahawks could compete with the league's best. On that January afternoon, in the presence of Favre and so many of the other players he'd befriended as a Packers scrub from 1998-2000, talking trash came naturally to Hasselbeck.
"Part of it was from me having been in Green Bay for three years, and seeing team after team getting psyched out by the weather, the Packer mystique and the legend of Brett Favre," Hasselbeck explains. "I just wanted to make them think we weren't intimidated by all of that, and to show our guys that we didn't need to be. Of course, I didn't realize I was saying it into an open mike. The stadium got real quiet after I said it."
Wanna get away?
"I didn't mind that everybody heard it," Hasselbeck insists. "They're very educated fans in Green Bay, and I think they understood where I was coming from – the strength of their team that season hadn't been the two-minute defense. Then again, it probably riled them up a little, which was understandable.
"The only thing that bothers me is when people say it was a guarantee. Come on! The kid from Syracuse on the Steelers (Anthony Smith) who guaranteed they would beat the Patriots – that was just … I would never do that, just put it that way. But out there with your buddies, in the heat of battle? Sometimes that's the way you talk."
Hasselbeck is hardly daunted by the possibility of going back to Lambeau … or leading a one-dimensional offense. The Seahawks' near future is riding on his right arm, and you won't hear him complaining.
Take it to the ATM
Yes, the Pats will do it, and Tom Brady and Randy Moss will get their records, and CBS and NBC will sell lots of ads, and they'll all live happily ever after. … The Titans and 'Skins must win to get in – and they will, against teams (Colts and Cowboys) laying low before the real games begin. … The Dolphins, doing their best to impress the Tuna, will pull out victory No. 2 against the Bengals.
Please, boss, send me to …
East Rutherford, N.J., to see the Patriots make history … or I could just head down to L.A. and watch all the games at Y! Sports headquarters and eat avocado burritos from Campos (the equivalent of an NFL team which rests its starters to prepare for the playoffs). Hmmm, tough decision.
Lies, lies, lies
1. Lions president Matt Millen signed umpire Jim Quirk to play linebacker for the season finale against the Packers.
2. Now that Roger Clemens' lawyer is launching his own investigation into the allegations against his client, we'll get to the bottom of all of this steroids stuff.
3. If the 49ers (or Dolphins, or Jets, etc.) can close their season on a winning note, it'll give them momentum heading into next year.
World's simplest pool
Suns general Steve Kerr not only advanced for a third week, he nearly nailed an exact score with his pick of the Seahawks over the Ravens, 31-10 (the actual final was 27-6). He's taking another shot at perfection – and hoping to continue on into the playoffs – with this week's similarly precise prediction: "I'll go with Philly over Buffalo. They're on fire late in the season, and Donavan McNabb looks healthy and strong. The Eagles could be a contender again next year. Eagles 34-17."
My buddy's annoying fantasy football adventure
Though he suffered an inglorious demise in the first round of the playoffs – and won't let me hear the end of it – my friend Malibu ended his season on a winning note last weekend. His team, Beat the Gypsy, eked out a two-point comeback victory over Number 8 or Number 9 in the fifth-place consolation game. Trailing by 34 points heading into the Sunday night game between the Vikings and Redskins, BTG had running backs Adrian Peterson and Clinton Portis going head-to-head. Surprisingly, it was CP rather than AD who played the hero, earning 29 points and putting Malibu over the top by throwing a 15-yard touchdown to Antwaan Randle El. "Whatever," Malibu said. "I should've been playing for the championship. Feel free to use your so-called expertise to help get me there next year." I asked him what the winner's share was; he said he thought it was two-grand. "I'll make you a deal," I said. "Next year I'll pay you three grand to stop whining." Suffice it to say that I'm excited about the offseason.
Oxygen-deprived thought from above
I was all fired up to watch the Flomax halftime report on ESPN during the Holiday Bowl, but then I had to go to the bathroom … and go … and go … and go …
Let's do some Don Julio Silver shots for …
Carlos Sousa Jr., the 17-year-old killed by the tiger who escaped from her enclosed area at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas. Two of Sousa's friends, Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal, were also attacked by the tiger but survived; let's wish them a speedy recovery. Not to compare these tragedies to the plight of the tiger, Tatiana, who was shot and killed by police officers, but I also mourn her passing. What a nightmare.
Yahoo search words of the week
Texas pole tax
Rollin' with the Royals
A wild but productive week for the Reading Football Club ended with four hard-earned points and a 12th-place standing in the English Premier League. Last Saturday, the Royals (6-4-9) scored a 2-1 victory over Sunderland on Stephen Hunt's controversial goal in the final seconds of injury time. Super sub Shane Long completed a brilliant run with a booming cross, and Hunt volleyed it toward the goal, where it was saved on the line by Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon. Did it go over? The linesman put up his flag, and Madejski Stadium erupted as the Sunderland players furiously protested. On Wednesday, Reading traveled to West Ham and looked strong until Brynjar Gunnarsson was sent off in the 29th minute for a two-footed slide tackle. Playing the rest of the match with 10 men, the Royals fell behind late in the first half but equalized in the 60th minute when forward Dave Kitson tucked home a nice finish off a ball from Nicky Shorey. Some stellar saves by Morning Rush regular Marcus Hahnemann preserved the point for Reading, which has now gone a season-best five consecutive games without a defeat. The Royals, still looking for their first road victory, travel to Tottenham for a game Saturday against Spurs, who are a point behind them in the standings.
Lyric-altered song dedication of the week
Last week's unearthing of "Sally Simpson" went over so well that I decided to offer an encore from The Who. Since he is in the process of finding his voice, here's Mercury Morris – backed by the Jim Mandich Manly Singers – to the tune of "My Generation":
People try to say we're lame
My perfect Dolphins
Why don't y'all f-f-f-fumble the ball?
My perfect Dolphins
Trippin' on E(mail)
"Jeff Fisher is quite a character, but I don't believe that the Titans are a playoff team. They might make the playoffs, but do they really deserve it? Just to get in they had to have Derek Anderson have a meltdown and they only put up 10 points on the Jets. The Jets! They will beat the Colts because the Colts have locked up a bye and Tony Dungy will be resting his starters. I mean it is either the Browns or the Titans. I watched the Browns game on Sunday and I was shocked about how awful they looked. Anderson looked like he was afraid of the Bengals defense! For what reason, who knows. I have seen the Titans a couple times this year and I really have no faith in Vince Young. To me, the NFL playoffs is the single greatest thing in sports. I hate when teams that suck make it in because everyone else sucks (the Giants last year)! Do you think that the Titans or the Browns are the better team? If either. …."
I think the Titans are the better team. I also believe that whichever team qualifies will really deserve it. And if that team is the Titans, I expect Mr. Young to elevate his game in a big way. As for the Jets, remember that they recently held the Patriots to 20 points on a day in which New England's coach and players undoubtedly would have enjoyed putting up 80. Don't confuse fantasy numbers with a team's overall worth.
"I can't believe I just read a Titans article off the front page of a major web site! Good work. Us AFC South teams are under-repped and underappreciated, sans that dummy Peyton (Manning). I just hope 3 out of 4 NFC East teams don't make the playoffs. Those markets will eat us alive as to who is the better division. Thanks for all the Titans articles this season."
I've heard of conference pride in college sports, which always seems a bit weird to me, but divisional pride? I admire your solidarity with the good fans of Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
"I'd never doubt Claus – he's got 24 hours to get it done, starts in New Zealand and just keeps going west till he hits Hawaii. I need to have him in my fantasy league with all the points he racks up in those 24 hours – it's always midnight somewhere in the world …."
I hear you, but you might want to take a good, hard look at the Tooth Fairy in the second round.
"As for the Santa thing: Majic Dust."
Now that I can kind of comprehend.
"Santa is real and here's how."
"Your opening statement/question about the Browns playing or not playing Derek Anderson will definitely take the top spot in my 'Stupidist Columns of the Year' list. The Browns still have a chance to make the playoffs. Yes they need the Colts to play on Sunday, but do you honestly think a team would sit their starting quarterback in a game that they have to win to make the playoffs, to avoid the risk of him being injured? Who says they are going to trade him in the offseason anyway? If he manages to get them to the playoffs, and maybe win a game (which I assume you feel is impossible in San Diego or Pittsburgh?) don't you think he may prove to be their quarterback of the future? I stopped reading your column and never made it to your 32 questions. I can only imagine what else you came up with."
I'd rather be "Stupidist" than stupidest any day. (And for what it's worth, as everyone but you seems to know, the outcome of the Browns-49ers game – barring a Titans tie – has absolutely nothing to do with whether Cleveland makes the playoffs. To repeat: If the Titans lose, the Browns are in regardless of whether or not they defeat the 49ers.)
"Cincinnati is definitely not the most-hated team in Ohio, and neither is Florida. Michigan will always hold that special place in our hearts. Does this mean that we root for Florida to beat Michigan in the bowl game? No, we root for both teams to look terrible. For the sake of the Big 10 and the demolition of Florida it'd be nice to see Florida lose, but for the sake of our rivalry it'd be nice to see Michigan lose. Hard to choose …"
You sound like me at the NCAA women's volleyball Final Four, sitting between the USC and Stanford cheering sections, utterly befuddled.
"Hey Michael, I love reading your column … My question is about the announcers on Sunday Night Football declaring that the New York Giants should bench their star players and only play their second-string players against the Patriots on Sunday. Why would they make such a declaration? Shouldn't (Tom) Coughlin want to put his best against the best in the league? I understand that they have the playoffs to get ready for, but the New York Giants are professional football players that (at the most) play 19 games per year. Shouldn't they put every last bit of sweat, blood, and guts into those 19 games? Shouldn't Coughlin play his players? Keep up the good work!"
In my opinion: No, he shouldn't play his best players.
"Why are the Lions mathematically eliminated? If they win their last game and the Vikings lose, they should get the wild card by virtue of the No. 2 tiebreaker. They split the season series, and they would have a better divisional record."
Because, at best, they'd be in a three-way (a term one of your clients, Mr. Chase, could certainly appreciate) tie with the Vikings and Redskins, and they'd lose out on the first tiebreaker: better conference record. And if you have issues with that logic, perhaps you and Roger Goodell should hug it out.
"Mr. Silver, you are a deity among sportswriters and I wish to personally thank you for providing the most entertaining season of football writing I have ever experienced. My question is this: How much fun is it to have people like Terry from the bustling haven that is 'Location Unknown,' do things like say 'comment' and follow with two questions, thus making your job easy? You would think that someone who is passionate enough to call someone he's never met a 'sad excuse for a man' could be moved to say … spellcheck, since they obviously don't teach English at L.U.U. Thanks again and … I'll be Baque."
Thanks, and here's a hint for you emailers: If you call me a deity (even if you don't spell the word correctly), there's a very good chance I'll publish your email.
"When I first started reading your column at Yahoo! I hated your take on almost everything. I found you obnoxious and overbearing. Now, though, I have to admit, your column is the first one I click on. I now find it humorous and interesting. I dunno. I guess I just had to give you a chance to win me over. You are pretty clever. Keep on Keeping on!"
Thanks for sticking with me.
"Ni hao ('You good' or 'hello' in Mandarin) Michael! Had never heard of you until this year when you joined the Y!, but a thousand thanks for the laughs and informative entertainment. As an English teacher I have had so much fun reading you smack quasi-literate idjits (sic) throughout the year. Most Chinese children make less grammatical errors etc. &hellip than many of the readers you hammered. I can also tell you that your CQ (Coolness Quotient) is sky high amongst Expat NFL fans here in the Middle Kingdom. Silver is Gold for Yahoo! Cheers!"
Thanks, and I'm guessing most Chinese children are also far more polite than some of the emailers you reference.
"Not counting that NFC West Champion pick, you are a genius. I love your columns and truly look forward to them every week. Living in Korea, there is little to read in English and even less about football. Thank God for you and Yahoo! Sports. Now for my comment of the week: I am puzzled that the Cowboys and their fans are actually so hyped about home-field advantage. I understand that being home in the playoffs is great for the fans, but the Cowboys are currently 7-0 on the road and 6-2 at home. Seeing how well Green Bay played in snow and wind last week, I am not sure it would be such a bad thing for the Cowboys to have a road game in the playoffs. What do you think?"
Brian M. Kelly
I think they'd rather avoid the frozen tundra … and that, against all odds, I'm becoming the Jerry Lewis of Asia.
"Your pitiful preoccupation with American Football would be laughable if it weren't so sad. Have you ever travelled abroad? There are 271 other sovereign countries out there that don't give a hoot about this afterthought of the world-wide sports scene … This is indeed a lonely place!"
"I'm British and I'm sure theres only one way to spell defence now you guys spell a lot of stuff wrong like colour for example, but thats an argument for another day (hint: the language is English, not American. but defence? enlighten me)."
I could go on about your apparent disdain of apostrophes and punctuation (hint: the sentence is a run-on), or educate you about the lasting ramifications of the Revolutionary War, but instead I'll just ask you this: What is the proper way to spell "defensive"?
" 'The safe move was to keep them uniformed and try to get them to focus on the Jets.' It's true. Did you ever try to play professional football naked? Definitely not the safe move. Damn you, spell check."
Aaaaaaaaah! Say it ain't so! Michael Silver, you're an idiot (at least this once).
"Why are so many critics begging for Brady Quinn to play this year? I have a tremendous problem with armchair, head coaches. These are the ones who never snapped a pigskin, let alone played a meaningful contest on a 100 or so yard field in October or for that matter December and beyond. The Cleveland Browns began this season in disarray. Their faux No. 1 quarterback, Charlie Frye got undressed literally by the Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush in Week 1. Exit Frye to Seattle. Enter Oregon State alum, Derek Anderson. Anderson played decently last season and was thrown into a lion's den. Not only did he have a team in disarray, Anderson had an embattled coach's reputation and job to save and a city to believe once again that their professional (football) team (was) relevant again. Before holding judgment on Anderson 'coughing up' the Browns' playoff hopes, please look at some games and weird calls into question. Browns vs. Arizona (27-21): The Winslow catch was a touchdown and force out. Make the call! … Browns vs. Bengals (19-14): Where was the offensive pass interference that Braylon Edwards made on his 40-yard catch? Talk about phantom! Browns vs. Steelers (31-28): Should I even get into that debacle of an officiated game? I'll call out every ref and say they must've had free dinners and drinks at the restaurant of their choice after that game! Why is the NFL chauffeuring Vince Young into the playoffs? He's not a quarterback. Can you name any Pro Bowl (2006) quarterback, still active, with 10 or less touchdown passes and has played the whole season? Who wants bad football in January? Why do the refs seem to hate giving the Browns a fair shake? …"
"Got undressed literally"? Wow. It seems Charlie Frye did play professional football naked.
Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Friday, Dec 28, 2007 12:53 pm, EST