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Originally published Monday, November 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Hasselbeck driving Hawks' offense to new heights

Nostalgia for the Seahawks' 2005 offense lingers in this city like fond memories for an old high-school girlfriend. That was the season...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Nostalgia for the Seahawks' 2005 offense lingers in this city like fond memories for an old high-school girlfriend.

That was the season of the march. The season the Seahawks' offense could grind 80 yards all day long. The season of short passes and long runs.

That Super Bowl season, the Hawks punished defenses. They were as uncomfortable as a rash to defend.

It was the offense of body blows. It hurt playing the Seahawks, and this city hasn't forgotten how thrilling it was to see that Seattle team bullying the rest of the NFL.

But that was a different team for a different time.

These Seahawks can't run like those Seahawks, and this offense needs a playbook much different from 2005.

If that was the season of the march, this is the season of the throw. And it is becoming the season of Matt Hasselbeck.

His arm is the best running game the Seahawks have. His decision-making and his throws are keeping alive all of Seattle's NFL dreams.

In this stop-and-start, six-and-four season, Hasselbeck is having an MVP year. In this season of the pass, he is throwing lasers.

"Matt does a lot of things that are under the radar," Seattle quarterback coach Jim Zorn said after the Hawks' 30-23 victory Sunday over Chicago. "With all the different fronts he faces, getting the right play, the right formation, getting the team up to the line of scrimmage, seeing the defense, calling the right protection, the right checks, just running the play, I think it takes a guy who is pretty special.

"He is. He has a wonderful ability to think all those sequences through. The key to a great QB, and I think this is where Matt shines over a lot of others, is he does all that and then he can finish the play as well. I'm not sure there's another quarterback who has as much responsibility and really takes that responsibility and performs with it as he does."

Hasselbeck beat the Bears with his arm and his brain.

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All afternoon he seemed to know what was coming, as if he had seen this show before. He understood the Chicago defense as well as the Bears did.

He outsmarted Chicago's defensive quarterback Brian Urlacher most of the time, making the right calls against his calls.

"Matt did a good job of countering what they did and getting us into some plays where we had the advantage," said receiver Bobby Engram, who, in this career year, had eight more catches for 84 yards.

Sidearm. Over hand. In the pocket. On the run. In the huddle. At the line. Hasselbeck was the complete quarterback. The thinker with a golden arm.

"He knows exactly what he's doing and has great confidence in himself," offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said. "This offense was made to pass and it fits with the way Matt is playing. He believes in this offense. He knows it.

"Right now, it's pretty to watch him. And it's our job to keep the receivers going and get them open, because he'll hit them. He can flat pass. He can pass with anybody and now we, as an offense, are taking off a little bit."

Hasselbeck is handling the ball like Meadowlark Lemon in the old Globetrotters' weave. His play fake and 19-yard throw to D.J. Hackett got the Seahawks into the end zone in the first quarter.

Later, he dodged and danced in the pocket, then threw a sidearm pass that looked like he was squirting a pumpkin seed 4 yards to Nate Burleson for a third-quarter touchdown.

"What a heroic throw," Zorn said.

Maybe Hasselbeck's best pass of the day was a risk-taking shot at the end zone late in the first half. From the shotgun, he beat the Bears deep and found Hackett open for an apparent 22-yard score, but Hackett dropped the ball.

"This was a defense that wasn't going to let you take those longer throws down the field," Zorn said. "But that was one that was there and he hit it. We're in field-goal range. We were going to go for the field goal, but he went for it. It was just a drill shot and I was pretty excited about that."

At this point in the season, at this point in his career, Hasselbeck is the portrait of a quarterback in control, a combination of smarts, grit and a lot of game.

Against the Bears, he completed 30 of 44 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. He completed passes to eight different receivers and had a quarterback rating of 106.

"Matt's playing with a lot of confidence and he's playing tough too. He's standing in the pocket, running for first downs. That kind of tough," Engram said.

"We're passing the ball very well and we can easily use the pass to set up the run in this offense. I think you just ride your strength right now and that's what we're doing."

Hasselbeck is that strength. The arm that is the engine of this offense. A different kind of nostalgia in the making.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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