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Sunday, November 21, 2010
Arrow points up for Hasselbeck, Seahawks

By Mike Sando

Matt Hasselbeck
Matt Hasselbeck completed 32 of 44 passes for 366 yards and a touchdown against the Saints.
NEW ORLEANS -- The head coach, Pete Carroll, stood in his skivvies at his quarterback's locker, engaging Matt Hasselbeck in discussion.

Their conversation following the Seattle Seahawks' 34-19 defeat at New Orleans proved revealing in ways unrelated to their attire or even the subject matter (a second-quarter misunderstanding with game officials over administration of a timeout) .

This postgame meeting of the minds supplemented ample on-field evidence that the two men most critical to Seattle's playoff chances have built a healthy rapport on mutual respect and communication. Coach and quarterback are increasingly in alignment.

"I love Pete as a coach," Hasselbeck said.

The Seahawks weren't going to outscore a red-hot Drew Brees in the Superdome on Sunday. Their 2005 Super Bowl team might not have won this one.

The ultimate outcome Sunday became clear in the third quarter, if not earlier. But after watching Hasselbeck turn in his second consecutive brilliant passing performance, the Seahawks head home for two games at Qwest Field knowing they're onto something. They're 5-5 and leading the NFC West with a hot quarterback and only two road games remaining.

See where this is headed?

"We have come together," Carroll said. "It took some time for us to get together in our thinking, Matt understanding us and us understanding Matt. I think we have cut him loose."

The stats say so.

Hasselbeck completed 32 of 44 passes for 366 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 104.9 rating Sunday. He pushed the offensive tempo, pushed a couple defensive players during scrums and basically dictated how the game would be played when Seattle's offense was on the field. The Saints, league leaders in fewest passing yards allowed before Sunday, never sacked him.

A week earlier, Hasselbeck completed 22 of 34 passes for 333 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 106.6 rating during a 36-18 victory at Arizona. He took only one sack.

Play-it-safe Pete finally appears comfortable letting Hasselbeck fire away.

"He was throwing some picks early in the season and he had to get through that and understand how careful he needed to be with the football," Carroll explained. "We almost had to take a couple steps backward. We were very conservative with him for a while, and then we stopped turning the ball over and the protection started getting better and we decided, [coordinator] Jeremy Bates and the offensive coaches, let's go now."

The Seahawks lost to the Saints for a variety of reasons: poor tackling against running back Chris Ivory in particular, a puzzling and momentum-turning penalty against Raheem Brock for roughing the passer, intermittent issues in the red zone, Marshawn Lynch's first career game with two lost fumbles, the sprained foot that sidelined top receiver Mike Williams after six receptions and 109 yards, etc.

Mostly, the Seahawks lost because Brees was on the other team. The Super Bowl MVP, appearing rejuvenated following the Saints' bye, tossed four touchdown passes. He threw with a level of precision that bordered on unfair as New Orleans converted 11 of its 15 chances on third down (73 percent).

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll
Things are looking up for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. "We have come together," he said.
Hasselbeck was not far behind. He had Seattle converting 58 percent of its third-down chances against a defense that had held its previous three opponents to 6-of-33 in those situations. The Seahawks had 424 yards, giving them 914 in their past two games -- more than they mustered in their previous 15 quarters.

This was vintage Hasselbeck.

"Matt works at his best with the tempo we've got and when he is able to control things at the line of scrimmage -- make checks and stuff," right tackle Sean Locklear said. "You hate living in the past, but when he was at his best, we did a lot of our plays with him making checks. That lets him explore some of the options that we don't see, that he sees."

What Hasselbeck sees from Carroll is a vision he can fully embrace at age 35, even without a contract beyond this season. That counts as a mild upset given the way Carroll and general manager John Schneider have turned over the roster. Hasselbeck couldn't be sure where he fit -- if he fit -- when the season was new. Now? He's president of the Pete Carroll fan club.

"His vision, there is such purpose in what he talks about," Hasselbeck said. "He is not just up there talking to talk. ... He really has a vision that he unpacks week to week as we go. Our team meeting last night was one of the best I've been around. I think that matters. Even though that we didn't win today, we grew in some way, shape or form here in this game and even last night, what he unveiled as the vision for this team, of where we're going to go, it was important."

The message?

"Just being uncommon to how things are done in the NFL," Hasselbeck said. "Things are done a certain way, and that is fine, but we want to be uncommon."

NFC West teams had losing in common Sunday. The old-school football adage says a loss is a loss. The standings agree. But how a team plays matters.

What happened to Seattle against the Saints bore no resemblance to the Derek Anderson-led Cardinals struggling through a blowout defeat against a recently slumping Kansas City team still finding its way.

What happened against the Saints bore no resemblance to the San Francisco 49ers getting shut out at home against Tampa Bay, another team in its formative stages.

The way Hasselbeck played and the way his line protected made this performance preferable to the St. Louis Rams' 34-17 home defeat to the Atlanta Falcons, particularly with St. Louis heading onto the road for its next three games.

As the Seahawks head into games against Kansas City, Carolina and San Francisco, they know they won't see another quarterback close to Brees' level. Matt Cassel and Brian St. Pierre are the projected starters against Hasselbeck at Qwest Field over the next two weeks. Troy Smith or Alex Smith will start for the 49ers against Seattle at Candlestick Park in Week 14.

Not long ago, the Seahawks appeared hopeless after getting outscored 74-10 in consecutive defeats to the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants. They've fixed problems in pass protection, welcomed back left tackle Russell Okung and rediscovered their quarterback.

This defeat felt different.

"We have a lot of work to do," Hasselbeck said, "but I like the direction we are headed in."