SEATTLE (AP)—For months, Matt Hasselbeck wondered when his sputtering, injured Seahawks would start playing like their old selves again.
“I knew it would happen, I was just hoping it would happen in time,” he said.
It did, with three weeks to spare.
Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes—the most of his soaring season— and Seattle clinched its fourth consecutive NFC West title with an emphatic 42-21 victory over Arizona on Sunday, ending the Cardinals’ quest for their first division title since 1975.
“He played unbelievably,” linebacker Lofa Tatupu said of Hasselbeck, who ensured Seattle will play at least one home playoff game.
The Seahawks (9-4) stormed to a 24-0 lead midway through the second quarter, intercepted Kurt Warner five times and sacked him five times while cruising to their fifth consecutive victory. It’s their longest streak since a team-record 11-game run two seasons ago that helped them reach their first Super Bowl.
This current streak has come since coach Mike Holmgren declared he was ditching most of a stalled running game and relying on Hasselbeck’s passing.
“He is doing everything I have asked him to do—and probably a little more,” Holmgren said.
Moments earlier, team owner Paul Allen gathered all in the locker room and presented Holmgren with the game ball for passing Chuck Knox with his team-record 84th victory as Seahawks coach.
“It’s pretty cool,” Holmgren said.
So are Seattle’s white T-shirts and caps proclaiming them NFC West champions. Patrick Kerney, the NFL’s sack leader with 13 1/2 , was wearing his as he walked off the field to fans’ chants of “Ker-NEY!” He had his third three-sack day in four games.
Shaun Alexander was wearing his cap with a coat and tie as he left the locker room. The league MVP in 2005 had 38 yards on 10 carries and is becoming almost irrelevant in Seattle’s offense with the way Hasselbeck is playing
Hasselbeck, who threw three touchdowns in a runaway first half, was 22-of-33 for 272 yards and no interceptions to stay on pace for team records in attempts, completions and yards. He is completing 63 percent of his passes and has 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions during the winning streak.
“This is as big a game as we’ve had around here in a while,” Warner said. “And (I’m) just disappointed that I cost my team the win today.”
Yet the Cardinals are not finished, even after this pratfall. Arizona (6-7), in search of the franchise’s second postseason berth in 25 years, is one game behind Minnesota for the final wild-card spot in the NFC with three games left.
“We have to win out to have a chance,” rookie coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
This one looked like most of the Cardinals’ Sundays for the last quarter century. They still haven’t been above .500 after 13 games since 1988.
The interceptions by Warner, who was 28-of-46 with three inconsequential touchdowns, killed what little momentum Arizona mustered. Marcus Trufant had the last three picks. He returned his second one 84 yards for a piling-on touchdown with 5:29 left.
Arizona made it 27-14 in the final minute of the third quarter on Warner’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Jerheme Urban. Neil Rackers then recovered his own onside kick to stun Seattle and momentarily halt the early celebration of another division title.
“Some ill-advised throws on my part trying to make a play, trying to get us back in the game,” Warner said.
Arizona’s frustration peaked on Seattle’s ensuing drive. A third-down incompletion would have forced a field goal, but Dockett, a defensive tackle, and Seahawks center Chris Spencer threw each other to the turf and took referee Tony Corrente with them. Corrente had an up-close look at Dockett ripping off Spencer’s helmet in the scrum and called a 15-yard penalty.
Seattle turned that gift first down into Hasselbeck’s fourth scoring pass, a 4-yarder to Marcus Pollard, and a 34-14 lead. Pollard gave the ball to Spencer, who spiked it in the direction of the Cardinals to celebrate the clinching TD.
Spencer said Dockett was angry because he had just flattened Dockett with a block.
Dockett refused to be specific, adding, “I know the consequences behind it if I really do speak my mind right now.”
Notes@ Kerney, signed from Atlanta as a free agent to provide exactly what he’s giving, set a career high for sacks in a season. … Edgerrin James had 46 yards on 13 carries to move into 13th on the all-time rushing list, past John Riggins. James has 11,353 yards. … Fitzgerald had six receptions for 79 yards after missing last week with a groin injury.