The Seahawks must start Charlie Whitehurst next week. Call it momentum, call it riding the quarterback that got you there, call Matt Hasselbeck still too injured to play if he must, whatever Pete Carroll calls it, the Seahawks must start Whitehurst this Saturday against the New Orleans Saints.
Jeremy Bates runs a fundamentally different offense with Whitehurst under center. From the moment Whitehurst booted right and tossed it across the field to Mike Williams running a drag towards the left, it was clear: Bates needs a quarterback that can spread the field horizontally with his legs. For weeks Bates was attempting to bludgeon his playbook into something Hasselbeck could execute, but Hasselbeck could not execute. He could not roll out without becoming a liability. He could not scramble. Whitehurst scrambled for four, seven and nine yard gains on first down, and scrambled for a nine yard gain to convert second and six. Minor as it might seem, those runs are valuable, and those runs keep defenses honest against bootlegs. Whitehurst's mobility, arm strength and ability to pass down field while on the move are all integral to Bates's offense working.
With the offense driving, improving field position and chewing clock, the defense looked fresh. The Rams field one of the worst offenses in the NFL, make no mistake, but the Seahawks field one of the worst defenses in the NFL. After being run over, through, and around, the Seahawks stopped the run by controlling the lead. Steven Jackson was quietly effective, but St. Louis couldn't sustain drives and eventually had to pass. Maybe the Seahawks defense was better. It performed better. Maybe the Seahawks defense controlled the lead against a rookie quarterback and did enough.
This was a grinding affair. Most of the excitement came from the context. Seattle played hard. Seattle played better than it has in a long time. Seattle did not play well enough to consistently beat a team as good as the New Orleans Saints. But the Seahawks did play well enough to give me hope that a win is possible.
The Seahawks are in the playoffs. The top ten pick is gone. Will Seattle be one and done? Very possibly. I can stomach that. I can't stomach Carroll reinstalling Hasselbeck. I can't stomach Seattle making the playoffs only to embarrass themselves. The latter may not be a choice. The former is. Whitehurst competed and won, and by winning earned his shot.
Okung is a good left tackle. Some offensive tackles have struggled in their rookie seasons but still developed into great players, but as much as we want to be slow on the bust trigger, it's always better to be good right away. Okung is a good left tackle with two bad ankles. That's pretty damn impressive. When he heals--which won't be until next season--his agility will improve, his ability to plant and drive will improve, and he won't have to handle defensive ends with will and upper body strength. Yet holy hell did he do a pretty damn good job stopping James Hall with will and upper body strength. Okung is the first franchise talent of the next great team. Game ball.
Brock got a lot of looks at strongside end, with the Seahawks run defense showing something closer to early season form, creating more third and longs; and with Seattle protecting a lead from the opening drive. Crazy that Seattle scored the deciding points with 11:43 left in the first quarter. Brock was beastly. He had a tipped pass, a tackle assist against the run and two sacks and an assist. His forced fumble was the dagger. Brock is one of the lesser heralded talents acquired through the constant roster churn, and though he doesn't likely have much of a future with the team, he's had a hell of a season.
The tip drills worked. The Seahawks have been healthier than in seasons past. I don't know if that's Carroll's different approach to injury prevention, rehab and conditioning, but the Seahawks made the playoffs by the finest of margins, and almost any injury could have prevented that. Everything isn't rosy. Everything isn't wnfreva. But Carroll seems like a passionate, skilled leader and a quality football coach. The Seahawks played their heart out all season. The Seahawks made the playoffs more through will and circumstance than talent and execution.
Typically, Herring is Mr. Little Things. He doesn't flash but he does do almost everything asked of him and he does it well. He was Seattle's best linebacker tonight. He exploded an end around for a nine yard loss. He tackled Steven Jackson as Jackson received. And, of course, he disappeared in front of Sam Bradford's eyes and reappeared in front of Bradford's pass.
Herring played safety for much of his career at Auburn and though he's bulked up, he is likely to stay a special teams gunner and situational linebacker. But he's a good one, and cheap, and between him and David Hawthorne, the Seahawks have a damn good linebacker.
For most of the season, Whitehurst was just "not Matt." He wasn't sterling tonight. His method of operation appears to be one read and run. That's bad, and that has to change if Whitehurst is ever going to develop. But tonight he showed there's something within in him to give a damn about. He's not quick but he can leg out a run. He doesn't have a cannon but he throws a nice deep pass. He played a modest game, within his abilities, and though the Seahawks will need a lot more from Whitehurst if they want to make any kind of run, competence is a necessary hurdle on the path towards quality. I am not excited about Whitehurst, but I am no longer settled on him failing either.
Justin Forsett and Leon Washington
Neither saw many touches, but both were valuable when they had the ball in their hands--especially Forsett. Seattle's offense was so very close to inadequate. Without Force and Washington, I think the Seahawks would have collapsed.
Honorable mention: Jordan Babineaux in the field of big plays; Brandon Mebane for quality penetration most of the night; Lofa Tatupu for heads up play and his typical fullback smashing; and Marshawn Lynch, who wasn't good, but finally wasn't awful either.