Without Jackson and with Alexander banged up, Hasselbeck off to one of his best starts Print
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Thursday, 27 September 2007 01:37
NFL Headline News

 KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -One of the most important players to Matt Hasselbeck's success this decade is gone. The other is wearing a cast.
Hasselbeck missed much of the offseason after surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, prompting a summer of rust. He has a new, third-year center, a new tight end and is playing behind his third left guard in 12 months.
So what?
Without trusted receiver Darrell Jackson, who was traded to San Francisco, and with runner Shaun Alexander sputtering with a broken wrist, Seattle's quarterback has put together perhaps the best opening stretch of his career.
If he can maintain his completion percentage of 64.9 through Sunday's game for the NFC West lead against the 49ers, it would be his highest for a full month since he became the Seahawks' starter in 2001.
``He's off to a good start,'' said coach Mike Holmgren, Hasselbeck's notoriously exacting mentor. ``I'm reluctant to compliment him too much, but he knows.
``He's reached a point in his career where he should be good. And we're lucky to have him.''
Since arriving in 2001 in a trade with Green Bay, Brett Favre's former backup has thrown 72 touchdown passes and just five interceptions inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Since 2005, Hasselbeck leads the league with a 104.4 passer rating in the last two minutes of a half.
Holmgren even used the word ``perfect'' to describe Hasselbeck's three touchdown passes in a rally past Cincinnati Sunday. He never said that during the 2005 season, when Hasselbeck was the NFC's highest-rated passer and started the Super Bowl and then the Pro Bowl.
``Hey, those were perfect throws,'' Hasselbeck said Wednesday, with a wry smile.
Against the Bengals, the quick-witted quarterback delivered a dart before Bobby Engram's break outside, an exquisitely placed throw to Deion Branch and then a precisely lofted throw down the sideline to Nate Burleson with a minute left for a 24-21 victory.
His 751 yards passing are his second-highest total through three games, behind 2005. Both of his interceptions came against the Bengals, on passes off the chests of Marcus Pollard and Nate Burleson.
Pollard, who caught passes for seven seasons in Indianapolis from Peyton Manning, had this summation of Hasselbeck after Sunday: ``Awesome.''
This offseason was like no other for Hasselbeck. He trained fiendishly in the spring and got back on the field in May - two months earlier than the Seahawks estimated - following the surgery in January to repair torn labrum cartilage in his left shoulder. Hasselbeck wanted to get back early to work with his new receivers. Branch is replacing Jackson as the top man, Pollard is replacing Jerramy Stevens at tight end and Burleson is entering his second season with the team.
``I feel like all that hard work was just necessary to get back to the baseline,'' Hasselbeck said.
But then Holmgren held Hasselbeck completely out of two preseason games. It was against his wishes, though now he admits he feels unusually fresh.
The only problem with this stronger, sharper Hasselbeck is the same reason Seattle is not 3-0: He's too smart.
``I think once you master a system - which he has pretty much - and you have the physical tools, then it's all about judgment,'' Holmgren said. ``He has a tendency, because he's very bright, to overanalyze just a little bit: They're giving me A, B. I should do C.
``What we're working on hard now is just being real confident in your decision, make the decision, then live for another day. Just make the call.''
That work accelerated after Week 2. The Seahawks were close to trying a game-winning field goal with 1:55 left and the score tied at Arizona. Hasselbeck called a ``dummy'' audible - hand signals but no words - in an attempt to cross-up the Cardinals. Instead, he outsmarted Alexander. He thought the quarterback had changed a basic, off-tackle run call to a pass.
The two ran into each other and fumbled the handoff. Arizona recovered and kicked the winning field goal a few plays later.
So even though he's in his ninth season, Hasselbeck is learning. Now, he knows what Holmgren means when he calls a running play into his helmet headset and at the end throws in, ``Tell Shaun to get the first down.''
``That translates into 'Under no circumstances do I want you to audible.' Now, I know that,'' Hasselbeck said, sounding proud to know the coach's subtlety. ``Early on, I didn't know that.''

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