SEATTLE - Maybe it's because the bearded and long-locked Charlie Whitehurst looks as if he could have quarterbacked at the University of Nazareth, but a faction of fans saw him as the Seahawks' potential savior.
“Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!” they chanted when starter Matt Hasselbeck struggled at times this season. And then Whitehurst got some playing time, and the fans chanted: “Uh, please disregard the previous chant.”
Sunday night, though, in the most important Seahawks game in a few seasons, Whitehurst put together a performance that – in some ways – saved the season. Beyond that, it might have long-term relevance for a franchise trying to figure out the quarterback situation for the future.
The 16-6 win against St. Louis gave the Seahawks a surprise NFC West Division championship, and they’ll be rewarded with a first-round playoff game against New Orleans (11-5) at home Saturday afternoon.
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OK, it’s overstating the situation to say that Whitehurst led them back to being a playoff-caliber team, because it’s only the historic ineptitude of the NFC West that allowed the 7-9 Seahawks to get into the postseason.
But in front of a sellout, screamed-out crowd, this accomplishment didn’t seem to deserve disclaimers or asterisks. Whitehurst’s competent play was a major factor.
Coach Pete Carroll put it best with a simple statement: “Charlie got it done tonight.”
No way around it, the Whitehurst bandwagon had few occupants in recent weeks, as an injured and infirm Hasselbeck was propped up and trotted out in favor of a healthy Whitehurst.
Even this week, when a hip injury kept Hasselbeck out of practice until Friday, Carroll left the door open for his return.
But from the start, Whitehurst had control of this offense and this game.
You might be tempted to say that his biggest accomplishment was that he did nothing to lose the game for Seattle. But that’s significant.
He was far better than that, though. He completed 22 of 36 passess with a TD.
In only his second start in the NFL, Whitehurst played with composure and maturity. When there was nothing open, he threw the ball away. When he was about to be sacked, he usually got rid of it. He managed the game.
Credit goes to the staff, too, particularly offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. He deserves kudos for coming up with a plan that suited Whitehurst’s skills.
It wasn’t complex. There were a lot of short, confidence-building routes.
And, on occasion, the pocket collapsed, and Rams closed in. You might ask: What would Charlie do? WWCD? Well, he’d take off running. In eight carries, he picked up 30 yards.
Carroll pointed out that those are yards the limping Hasselbeck never would have been able to gain. And those kept several drives alive that might have withered with sacks.
The shots Whitehurst took on those carries, on the three sacks, and on hits after passes proved something else about Whitehurst. The guy is plenty tough.
“I ran probably more than I expected to, but a couple times I thought it helped us,” Whitehurst said, addressing the media with a calm demeanor, as if he fully expected this performance.
During the week, Carroll was asked about how he would shield Whitehurst from the pressure.
Carroll almost laughed. Are you kidding? This is his moment, he needs to embrace the pressure.
He did exactly that.
“After the first few plays, it was just business as usual,” Whitehurst said.
It’s easy to be a killjoy, to point out that the Rams are far from a great team. And when we see the Seahawks play with such emotion, intensity and competence: Where has that been all season?
But we’ve scoffed enough already.
On Sunday night, in a game they had to win, the Seahawks competed for 60 minutes and performed well enough that nobody should snicker when anybody calls them division champs.
And maybe they just discovered a QB who can lead them to more of the same.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org