An Emer­ald City Exit?

Has­sel­beck would like to stay with Sea­hawks, but with con­tract set to ex­pire noth­ing is guar­an­teed

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY RICKMAESE IN CHICAGO

Seat­tle Sea­hawks quar­ter­back Matt Has­sel­beck knows all too well the re­al­i­ties of the NFL, even if he’s avoided many of the harsher ones over the past decade.

Has­sel­beck’s fa­ther, Don, played six sea­sons as a tight end with the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots be­fore his ca­reer sent his fam­ily bounc­ing across the coun­try. From Bos­ton to the Los An­ge­les Raiders to the Min­nesota Vik­ings and then the New York Giants, all in a three-year span.

In con­trast, Has­sel­beck has been for­tu­nate to­have played the past 10years of a 12-year ca­reer rep­re­sent­ing one team in one city — per­haps for a fi­nal time Sun­day when the Sea­hawks face the Chicago Bears in an NFC play­off game.

When Has­sel­beck dis­cussed the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing his fu­ture with his younger brother last off­sea­son, he noted the itin­er­ant life­style of their youth.

“It’s just what we did,” said Tim Has­sel­beck, him­self a for­mer NFL quar­ter­back. “Matthew un­der­stands that. He said, ‘I’ma foot­ball player. It’s what I do. If Ihave to go­some­where else to play, I’ll go some­where else to play.’ ”

“I feel like we’re get­ting hot right now, get­ting hot at the right time.”

— Matt Has­sel­beck, Sea­hawks quar­ter­back

The win­ner of Sun­day’s Sea­hawks-Bears bat­tle ad­vances to the NFC ti­tle game. If Has­sel­beck finds him­self on the los­ing side, he’s not cer­tain where he’ll play his next game. His con­tract ex­pires at the end of the sea­son, and he hasn’t been of­fered an ex­ten­sion. Though Has­sel­beck has held down the quar­ter­back po­si­tion for a decade, it’s not clear whether he fits into the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s fu­ture plans, and first-year Coach Pete Car­roll of­fers few prom­ises.

“Cer­tainly, it’s a big topic for us,” Car­roll said last week. “Of course, we love what Matt has done and we’re go­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can to keep him here, of course. But we don’t know what the time­lines [are] or how that’s go­ing to work out.”

Told the next day that Car­roll vowed “to do ev­ery­thing we can” to keep Has­sel­beck in Seat­tle, the vet­eran quar­ter­back told re­porters, “I went and gave him a hug.”

He was jok­ing, bu­tit il­lus­trates Has­sel­beck’s strong de­sire to con­tinue his ca­reer in the city where he’s found so much suc­cess. Sun­day marks his 11th play­off start for the Sea­hawks. He’s played in three Pro Bowls. Five of Seat­tle’s eight play­off wins have come with Has­sel­beck lead­ing the hud­dle. In 36 sea­sons, the Sea­hawks have won seven di­vi­sion ti­tles; five were with Has­sel­beck. He’s been there for six of their 11 trips to the post­sea­son and their lone trip to the Su­per Bowl af­ter the 2005 sea­son.

Deal­ing with un­cer­tainty

Be­cause he’s play­ing in a far corner of the coun­try, much of his suc­cess has come with­out the kind of at­ten­tion that seems to fol­low Tom Brady’s ev­ery trip to the gro­cery store.

“If he had his ca­reer with the Jets or the Bears, his ca­reer would be viewed so dif­fer­ently,” says his brother Tim, now an an­a­lyst for ESPN.

Yet when Car­roll came on board last off­sea­son, not only did he withhold any firm com­mit­ments to Has­sel­beck, but the Sea­hawks traded away draft picks to ac­quire an­other quar­ter­back, Char­lie White­hurst, sign­ing him to a two-year, $8 mil­lion con­tract.

So the burn­ing ques­tion that hangs over Has­sel­beck at Sol­dier Field on Sun­day is the same one that’s fol­lowed him ev­ery Sun­day these past 41/ months.

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“ There can’t be a sin­gle guy in the NFL in the last year of his con­tract that doesn’t think about it, doesn’t won­der where he’ll be next year,” says Tim. “And that feel­ing is prob­a­bly only stronger when you’ve been in the same place for nine or 10 years. Cer­tainly you think about it. The big­ger is­sue: Can you con­tinue to play well and not let it be­come a dis­trac­tion?

“I’m sure Matthew won’t talk about it, but it must have en­tered his mind be­cause I know it en­tered mine — Will this be his last game with the Sea­hawks?”

For his part, Matt Has­sel­beck has said the right things all sea­son long, as he faced some va­ri­ety of the same ques­tion. Though he’s 35 years old, he feels he’s earned the chance to start ev­ery week in the NFL.

“I’m very fo­cused on this year,” Has­sel­beck said last week. “We’ve talked all year, even from last year. Pete and I and ev­ery­body here, we’ve been very open about ev­ery­thing and I would love to be back, ab­so­lutely, no doubt about that.

“But my fo­cus isn’t re­ally there, my fo­cus is def­i­nitely on try­ing to get this team win­ning games, try­ing to play well, and if you do that — just like in a foot­ball game — if you fo­cus on just do­ing things right, the score takes care of it­self.”

He cer­tainly did his part last week. Has­sel­beck was “ridicu­lously good,” Car­roll said, against the New Or­leans Saints in the most ad­verse of cir­cum­stances. Just a cou­ple of weeks ear­lier, fans were chant­ing for White­hurst. Has­sel­beck had missed the team’s pre­vi­ous game — the win that sealed their play­off berth in Week 17 — and had to en­ter the post­sea­son against the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl champs with the knowl­edge that no team with a los­ing record had ever won a play­off game.

The Sea­hawks were backed by a rau­cous home crowd, a group so vo­cif­er­ous that lo­cal sci­en­tists said it pro­duced a seis­mic re­ac­tion equiv­a­lent to a small earth­quake. Has­sel­beck threw for four touch­downs in lead­ing the seven-win Sea­hawks over the Saints in one of the biggest post­sea­son up­sets the NFL has seen.

‘Find­ing a rhythm’

De­spite their reg­u­lar sea­son strug­gles — the Sea­hawks lost seven of their fi­nal 10 games, and Has­sel­beck at one point had 13 turnovers in a four-game stretch — the quar­ter­back says his team is com­ing to­gether at the per­fect time.

“I think in sports you can get in a slump and you can get hot. I feel like we’re get­ting in a rhythm,” Has­sel­beck said. “We’re find­ing a rhythm. I think we feel like we’re get­ting hot right now, get­ting hot at the right time.”

The task ahead of them is no easy one. Only once this sea­son did the Sea­hawks string to­gether back-to-back wins. They’re only in Year 1 of a multi-year re­build­ing project, and they lack the of­fen­sive weapons of the other play­off teams.

“We can see what we want. We see the vi­sion of what we’re try­ing to cre­ate,” Car­roll said. “It just hasn’t been con­sis­tent for us.”

But not sur­pris­ingly, the team’s in­con­sis­tency runs par­al­lel to Has­sel­beck’s own. He threw 17 in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son and only 12 touch­downs. He topped 300 yards only twice, 250 yards just four times and posted a passer rat­ing higher than 100.0 in only three games.

“I know that about my­self in gen­eral. Like I can get re­ally hot or re­ally cold at times — I get that,” Has­sel­beck says. “It drives me crazy when it’s other ath­letes that I fol­low, like Ray Allen or some­body. Like Ray Allen, he’s a good ex­am­ple. He can be on fire, and then some­times he’s not on fire. It’s frus­trat­ing as you watch him and it’s even more frus­trat­ing when it’s you. But that’s just it; the only thing you can do about it is just keep work­ing hard, keep prac­tic­ing and hope­fully get hot. As hot as Ray, that’d be good.”

The goal now is sim­ply to play well enough to pro­long the Sea­hawks’ sea­son an­other week. But Has­sel­beck knows that a strong per­for­mance Sun­day against the Bears could be an­other im­por­tant state­ment about his fu­ture.

If the Sea­hawks want him back, they might have to make a prom­ise about play­ing time that Car­roll isn’t will­ing to make. Has­sel­beck in­tends to start in the NFL next sea­son — he just doesn’t know where.

“I know for a fact, if he’s not the start­ing quar­ter­back in Seat­tle next year, he’ll be the start­ing quar­ter­back some­where,” Tim Has­sel­beck said. “It comes down to, does [Gen­eral Man­ager] John Schneider and Pete Car­roll want him to be their start­ing quar­ter­back? If they do, they’ll have a good chance of hav­ing him back. But if they don’t, he’ll prob­a­bly have to look out­side of Seat­tle.”

OTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IM­AGES

Sea­hawks Coach Pete Car­roll has of­fered few prom­ises toMat­tHas­sel­beck.

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