I have declared Matt Hasselbeck dead and buried too many times to count. I'm half right.
The Season Is Not Over: Seattle is in first place in the division. No other team in the NFC West appears to be a legitimate contender. Maybe the 49ers turn it around or turn it on and run away with the West, but that seems very unlikely. If it does happen, it will happen regardless of who starts for Seattle.
The Seahawks are not dependent on Matt Hasselbeck to win the NFC West. The formula, as it has been since this team was constructed, is: good run defense, an opportunistic secondary, good special teams and a functional offense. The Seahawks run defense has been superb, ranking third in yards per attempt allowed, 2.0, and allowing only nine first downs (11th tied) in 57 attempts. The secondary converted two interceptions into touchdowns against the 49ers. Marcus Trufant returned one pick for an instant score. Jordan Babineaux returned another pick to the 13, and Seattle scored on the next play. Olindo Mare is still booting them, and Golden Tate has the look of a superstar return man. The formula is in place, and the formula is in no way dependent on Hasselbeck.
Benching Matt Hasselbeck is not an admission of defeat.
The Offense Is Talented: In the past four seasons, every player that has played alongside Hasselbeck has been targeted for blame. Some have been old. Many have been injured. Some have been ineffective. Many have been unpopular. Matt may not play on Warner's Cardinals, but the reflexive excuse that Seattle lacks talent around Hasselbeck, and that he can not hope to succeed because of that talent, seems as thin and old and indefensible as Hasselbeck himself.
Does, for instance, Kyle Orton have better surrounding talent than Hasselbeck? A gimpy left tackle, albeit a talented one; a rebuilt offensive line; a receiving corps led by Brandon Lloyd; a running back committee split between Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter; Daniel Graham -- or Chicago, San Diego; is San Diego better because of Antonio Gates alone? Vincent Jackson has held out. Ditto: Marcus McNeill. LaDainian Tomlinson is gone, and Ryan Matthews missed much of yesterday's game. The line isn't special. The corps is depleted. Philip Rivers finds a way. Kyle Orton finds a way. Not luminaries. Not Manning, Brady or Brees, Rivers, Orton, make the players around them better.
The Seahawks have talent. They have talent on their line, if not a ton. They have talent in their backfield. They have talent at tight end and wide receiver. If Hasselbeck wasn't Hasselbeck, wasn't the quarterback so many once booed, that led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, that is always classy and astute and competitive, it would be almost impossible to look at this team, its roster and its performance and not blame the quarterback.
Sacks have not been a problem. Seattle's starting back, Justin Forsett, is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and as a team, Seattle is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. The run is there. The offensive line, though patched together, has held. Do we dismiss Mike Williams, Deion Branch, Golden Tate, Deon Butler, Ben Obomanu, John Carlson, Chris Baker, and Cameron Morrah as the problem? Again? How many receivers must Seattle run through before it looks elsewhere? And why is it good quarterbacks on other teams find ways to work with their receivers, even the Austin Collies and Legedu Naanees, and every receiver that runs through Seattle, be they first round pick, second round pick, third round pick, Super Bowl MVP or expensive free agent, is dead on arrival?
Even the most stubborn person must admit, after years of trying one thing and only one thing, that maybe they have misidentified the problem. The denial fostered by the Seahawks front office, past and current, the Seahawks coaching staff, past and maybe current, and so many Seahawks fans is like that of an addict. Hasselbeck is the constant, why must we change, compromise and deny everything else to continue that fix?
Now Is the Time to Find Out: Matt Hasselbeck has one year remaining on his contract. Seattle would have to be out of its collective mind to re-sign Hasselbeck. Charlie Whitehurst is signed through 2011. Seattle could limp through 2010 starting Hasselbeck, maybe back into the playoffs, start new with Whitehurst in 2011, discover he is either A) terrible, and suffer a lost season, or B) good, and wonder why the hell it didn't start Whitehurst last season.
If Whitehurst is terrible, and let's face it, he probably will be, then let's find out. Let's find out now, when San Francisco is starting Alex Smith, Arizona is starting Derek Anderson, St. Louis is starting a rookie Sam Bradford, and not next year, when the division might be better, the schedule might be tougher, and Seattle's rivals might be a year closer to contention. What if Bradford develops? What if either San Francisco or Arizona add competent quarterbacks to their talented rosters? Give Whitehurst every possible chance to prove his worth. Enter the 2011 off-season with an honest understanding of his ability and potential. Otherwise, in a division in transition, Seattle could lose a vital step and turn a two-year down turn into a five-year rebuild.
If Whitehurst is good, or even promising, Seattle can attempt to build around him while running through younger, developmental talent. If not, let's know. Let's know for sure.
Now Is the Time to Find Out II: Ryan Mallett is killing it. Short of a total collapse, it's hard to see the 22 year old junior sticking around for another season. Maybe he does, but I wouldn't bet on it. He risks decline. He risks injury. He risks Sam Bradford becoming living proof to not lock into a quarterback that accomplishes nothing in the season prior to declaring.
Factor in Andrew Luck, who is surrounded by senior talent, including his center, one guard, one tackle, both starting wide receivers and his fullback, and 2011 could be one of the most loaded draft classes for quarterbacks in years. The Seahawks could pick from Mallett, Luck, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker and Pat Devlin. The Seahawks could grab that elusive franchise quarterback that it's nearly impossible to win a Super Bowl without.
The Seahawks invested in Whitehurst. 2011 might be an excellent quarterback class. It can either excuse Whitehurst without hardly a chance to prove himself, it can wait until 2011 to give him his shot and skip a very talented looking class, or it can start him now, know what it has, go into 2011 with a clear understanding of its needs and finally break this endless cycle of mediocrity.
Mediocrity is the best Seattle can hope for from Hasselbeck. Whitehurst may never even achieve that. A first round pick may bust. A year from now, two years from now, Seahawks fans may look back to Hasselbeck and feel longing. He was once good. He was once great, greatest ever in franchise history, but Hasselbeck will not recapture that greatness.
Maybe in 2008, Seattle could confidently say that a revival from Matt would give the Seahawks their best chance to compete in 2009. And maybe, as the season collapsed in 2009, Seattle could believe that a revival from Matt would give the Seahawks their best chance to compete in 2010. But in 2010, that hope is over. There is no 2011 season for Hasselbeck. No next year. Seattle made baby steps toward change by acquiring Whitehurst. Matt had his shot. Matt earned the honorary first snap of the season. He is not injured. He is not playing with midget receivers. His line is not a mess. His running back is not an easy target. Matt had his shot and he failed. Again. Seattle must embrace the future, however scary, however likely to fail, because committing to the past, as the Seahawks have done for so, so many years following 2005, is committing to failure with a chance of mediocrity. Committing to the future is committing to failure with a chance of greatness. Failure is always possible. Greatness is why anyone worth a damn gets up in the morning.