RENTON - In the end, Matt Hasselbeck had to prove he was healthy.
And the Seattle veteran quarterback passed the test, with Pete Carroll finally telling reporters after practice on Thursday that Hasselbeck will start on Saturday against the visiting New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card playoff game.
Hasselbeck suffered a strained hip during the first quarter of the Tampa Bay game two weeks ago, and sat out last week as reserve quarterback Charlie Whitehurst led the Seahawks to a 16-6 victory that clinched a postseason berth.
Carroll said he made the decision that Hasselbeck was ready to go after watching film from Wednesday’s practice. The Seattle coach added that Hasselbeck has been the starter all along, and that he just wanted to make sure that he had recovered from the hip injury.
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“Last week, he did everything he could (to get healthy),” Carroll said. “He was a warrior about it. He would have gone if we’d called on him, but it was better that we didn’t have to do that and in that event. Charlie came through and did a great job for us. So we know we have two really good guys that can play the football game and we feel confident that both those guys can give us a chance to win.”
Carroll said Hasselbeck’s playoff experience was a factor in his decision. Hasselbeck is 4-5 in the postseason, including leading the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl appearance five seasons ago. He has thrown for 2,211 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in the playoffs, and has a 79.9 passer rating.
If Whitehurst had been called upon, it would be his third career start – and his first in the postseason.
Hasselbeck said he’s pleased to be back in the playoffs after a two-year absence. He said making sure he was healthy was the key.
“I really was just unsure about my health, and I was very unsure about that,” Hasselbeck said. “It wasn’t like I was you know, everyone was asking, and I just wasn’t really sure.
“I hadn’t really had anything like it. So that was the big question mark. I just did what I could – I just tried to work hard, and ice a lot, and do all that stuff.”
Although Whitehurst played well last week, receiver Ben Obomanu said it’s good to have Hasselbeck back.
“Matt has looked great in practice,” Obomanu said. “I think he showed determination to get back healthy, to go in the training room and do the things he needs to do. And he also gave us confidence and let us know all week long, regardless of what happens, he wants to give us confidence that if he is playing, he’s ready to go. He’s ready to make those plays and help contribute.”
Carroll said that receiver Brandon Stokley (head) is cleared to play. Meanwhile, offensive tackle Sean Locklear did not make it practice because he’s still dealing with a family matter. Carroll expected Locklear back Thursday evening but is prepared to start Stacy Andrews at right tackle. “Stacy had a great week,” Carroll said. “This is Stacy’s natural position. He was excited about the opportunity to play it all week long. We could play with Stacy right now. He would do fine for us. We still have to see how Sean is when he returns, because he’s been through a lot of stuff. But I’m counting on Sean to play for us.”
HERO OR ZERO?
A look at a player who can influence Saturday’s playoff game between the Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints:
DEFENSE: WILL SMITH
The defensive end is the Saints’ best pass-rushing threat. And yet, in the previous meeting with the Seahawks this season, Smith had little impact. He had two tackles and knocked down a pass. Not only did he not have a sack, but rookie left tackle Russell Okung also never allowed him to get close to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who by no random coincidence had his best game of the season. But Smith’s production was down the entire season. He had 13 sacks in 2009, and this season he has but 51/2. He has been bothered by a sore groin at times this season. But the real problem has been New Orleans’ lack of any other pass-rushing threat that often leaves Smith facing not only the opponent’s best offensive tackle but also a running back helping out as well.
Ryan Divish, staff writer