Until he was ambushed Saturday night by a blitzing linebacker, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had gone 267 days – since last Thanksgiving Day – without taking a sack.
Avoiding NFL contact for 267 days has been good for the back Hasselbeck tweaked in the 2008 preseason opener, the first and most significant injury the team sustained during its Aches and Pains drudge march to 4-12. The sabbatical hasn’t been so good for any Seahawks fans concerned about Hasselbeck’s ability to pick himself off the ground.
But there’s only so much replicating to be done in spring minicamps and summer training camp, where quarterbacks are outfitted in red jerseys that warn defenders to steer clear of the precious cargo. At some point Hasselbeck would have to face the reality that there are no quick whistles in real games, even those that don’t count.
That point came Saturday night, when Denver’s D.J. Williams shot through a gap in the first quarter and put down Hasselbeck. Before Hasselbeck was replaced at halftime, the Broncos would celebrate two more sacks of the 33-year-old veteran.
Behind an unsettled line grappling with new zone-blocking schemes and a plodding ground game that has seen less daylight than Miss Havisham, the Seahawks offense remains what head coach Jim Mora calls a “work in progress.” But progress was achieved Saturday night, if for no other reason than Hasselbeck appeared unruffled by the Broncos’ three-sack attack.
“I forgot how hard people hit here,” he said after the 27-13 victory. “It’s just like a car wreck.”
A fender bender, perhaps, compared to the demolition-derby exhibition the Cowboys put on during the final Thanksgiving game played at Texas Stadium. Hasselbeck was overwhelmed – Dallas sacked him seven times – and his already ailing back finally gave out, putting him on the sideline for the remainder of the season.
Mora, the Seahawks’ secondary coach under Mike Holmgren, witnessed the longest day of Hasselbeck’s career in person. And yet he had no qualms about watching the Broncos take aim at his quarterback on Saturday.
“I just haven’t worried about Matt because he’s been so good through the offseason,” said Mora. “I guess if there’s a silver lining in taking a sack, it’s the fact he got right back up.”
Hasselbeck did more than get right back up. He resisted the temptation to turn trigger happy when the pocket collapsed.
“This is a guy,” said Mora, “who’s going to hang in, hang in and hang in, trying to make something happen downfield.”
Hasselbeck took responsibility for the each of the three sacks, insisting they were less indicative of protection breakdowns than his determination to make a play in the hope that his receivers could break free from their coverage. As for the collisions that found him powerless to escape the likes of Williams (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) and the 6-3, 300-pound Kenny Peterson?
“I really was not at all concerned about it, not one bit,” he said. “The fact that it happened, maybe now I won’t have to answer these kinds of questions anymore.
“In fact, in a way I feel stronger. Last year, I was a little on the delicate side. It feels good to be back to normal.”
Hasselbeck’s arm certainly appeared to be back to normal. After finishing 2008 with his lowest passer rating (57.8) since he was acquired by the Seahawks in 2001, Hasselbeck completed 16-of-23 for 171 yards and two touchdowns against Denver. It’s significant that both scores were in tandem with a newcomer: Rookie wideout Deon Butler (whose 34-yard reception gave the Seahawks a 7-0 lead in the first quarter) and free agent T.J. Houshmandzadah (whose 2-yard catch on a fade route completed a crisply orchestrated two-minute drill before halftime).
Meanwhile, Justin Forsett, limited to returning punts and kicks as a rookie last season, pulled in seven passes – most of them screens – for 57 yards.
“We’ve been putting him out there in different situations against our defense, giving him opportunities to catch the ball,” said Hasselbeck. “He’s done a real nice job with it. It’s been practice – it’s not the game – but it’s something he brings to the table. Whether we choose to use it or not, I don’t know. But he definitely is capable of doing it.”
The possibility of throwing to three fresh targets, of three different skill sets, invigorates Hasselbeck. He’s also pleased that his back issues are, literally, behind him.
The sacks didn’t faze him, although it should be noted that Hasselbeck survived some serious contact drills long before the Broncos showed up in Qwest Field.
“While you’re sleeping in bed,” said the father of three small children, “you get cannonballed every morning. Happens daily.”