I flip-flopped quite a bit on the title of this article and finally settled on the positioning of ‘is’ after ‘Matt Hasselbeck’ and not before it. I’m in a declarative mood, I guess.
On Monday, Pete Carroll announced that Matt would remain the starting QB going into week 16 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite a three-turnover third quarter against the Falcons. I was about as surprised as a KFC employee selling a bucket of fried chicken to a poorly-disguised Oprah Winfrey. Listen, this is easy. It’s not rocket science. If you step back, all the way back, Pete Carroll has two goals as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks: to win games and keep his job. And playing Matt Hasselbeck, regardless of outcome, will likely contribute to both. Let me explain with two very plausable scenarios:
1. Matt Hasselbeck plays the final two games of the season and the Seahawks miss the playoffs. An old adage states we begin our lives in diapers and we see the end of our days in diapers; I wonder if there’s an equivalent for the professional life of a NFL Quarterback. Some kind of inverted bell curve, perhaps. Because Matt Hasselbeck is doing a marvelous job playing like a rookie: he’s getting easily spooked, he’s making boneheaded throws and he doesn’t appear to be adept at reading defenses as he once was. He continues to cough up the ball at a terrifying pace (I have a theory about this: when preparing for Jeremy Bates’ offensive scheme, I think he mistakenly studied Jay Cutler’s 2009 game tape instead of 2008’s. Simple, yet critical mistake). Yet Seattle’s backup QB, Charlie Whitehurst, has only taken the field for one quarter this year due to Hasselbeck’s poor play. In the wise words of the Keenan’s famous character on SNL: “What’s up with that?”
After this theoretical week 17 loss and official elimination from a playoff berth, Pete Carroll will confidently look into the camera and say: “Matt Hasselbeck was our guy, we were confident in his abilities, and that I, along with the rest of the coaching staff, didn’t feel that Charlie Whitehurst was prepared to start and win games for the Seahawks.” It’s a simple, plausible and believable explanation. And completely defensible. No one knows Charlie Whitehurst’s abilities better than Carroll and the coaching staff. Who’s going to argue with him? The great unwashed (read: me, you, and every other fan) has seen Charlie play all but a few mostly meaningless quarters both in pre-season and the regular season. And his performances weren’t exactly cause for salivation. In this scenario, Carroll knew his quarterbacks best and sticks by his decision to to play the veteran over the rookie (close enough). It’s the defensible position.
Scenario 2: Charlie Whitehurst plays the final two games and the Seahawks miss the playoffs. Carroll is sitting on a comfy seat. In just the first year of his tenure as coach, he’s drafted or signed a high number of players that are (in theory) slotted as talented, effective starters for the coming few seasons. The team has already won more games than the previous two seasons and the Seahawks are in the thick of a playoff run. Fast forward to the theoretical now: Whitehurst blew it. Carroll’s gamble backfired and now that nice comfy seat is suddenly feeling hot. Here’s the question Carroll will undoubtedly receive during the post game-press conference:
“Coach Carroll, why did you decide to play Charlie Whitehurst, a young, inexperienced quarterback that hasn’t had much of any positive impact in his time in the NFL over the experienced veteran Matt Hasselbeck?”
Is the picture becoming clear now? It’s a calculated risk with the short term in mind. Has Matt throw away games this season? You bet. It’s arguable that he’s the primary reason the Seahawks lost to the Falcons, 49ers, Broncos and Chiefs. I rag on Matt. I do, because I’m a realist, and I’m not a fan that’s still clinging to the Matt we knew and loved back in 2005; he’s a VERY high paid athlete and by my count, and he’s performing quite poorly. I want him to succeed every game, but it’s difficult to support Matt Hasselbeck as the Seahawks starting QB seeing as he’s knee deep into his third downright terrible year in a row.
Would Charlie Whitehurst be any better if he were to start the two final games of the season? Maybe. Maybe not. But if he’s the reason the Seahawks lose games and miss the playoffs, Carroll will be in a position far less defensible than if he just stuck with Matt Hasselbeck.