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Originally published Monday, September 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Hasselbeck's block bowls over Rams, pops up Seahawks

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck underlined his leadership of the Seahawks at a critical time by throwing a key block against the Rams.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Matt Hasselbeck was up field waving excitedly toward Julius Jones as if he knew some secret passageway to the end zone.

"Come this way. Come this way," he hollered to Jones.

From the jumble at the line of scrimmage, Jones had escaped and was running freely, looking for one last block from his least likely source.

His quarterback sprung him.

Hasselbeck, who was supposed to be a decoy on the play, not only took out St. Louis safety Oshiomagho Atogwe, he also blocked cornerback Fakhir Brown, an unlikely twofer that would have made Fuzzy Thurston or Dan Dierdorf or, for crying out loud, Walter Jones proud.

"It was a little bit like bowling," Hasselbeck said after Seattle's 37-13 win over St. Louis. "You get one pin and the other one goes down and you act like you did it on purpose."

And while the quarterback is "bowling," the coach is shuddering.

"I love him [Hasselbeck], but he's not the most graceful guy in the world," coach Mike Holmgren said. "So when he thinks he's making this great block, it's kind of a car crash. But he did it, bless his heart."

Jones ran 29 yards for a score that put the Hawks in front 17-0 and Hasselbeck ran to the sideline, exchanged a celebratory chest bump with defensive end Darryl Tapp, then listened as Holmgren told him, "Please don't do that anymore."

All kidding — and all danger — aside, it is the kind of play a leader makes. The kind of play that lifts a struggling team that is looking for something good to happen.

It was a play that sent a signal that no matter how banged up the Seahawks' are, no matter how disappointing the season's first two losses were, this team still has places to go and this year still has expectations to meet.

It was an autumn awakening.

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"I think he would have done that anyway," tackle Sean Locklear said, "but at the time, with what we're going through, being 0-and-2, and playing in a game where a win was much-needed, to see your quarterback out there throwing his body around, it makes you want to play harder, too.

"You want to go out there and sacrifice your body as much as he does. I mean we love it. He helped spring a touchdown. That's Matt. He's always been a great leader, but he's taken it up a notch."

A great leader does what Hasselbeck did. Instinctively he makes plays that become rallying cries. Plays that inspire faith.

The Hawks came into this game without a win. They could have stocked an expansion team with the number of players who were inactive or out for the season.

More than any time since he arrived in Seattle they needed Hasselbeck's leadership.

"He's never been a better leader than he is right now," Holmgren said.

In the first quarter, when the city was waiting to see what kind of team they would be watching, Hasselbeck scrambled for a 4-yard first down on third-and-three. Then, through a forest of arms, he found tight end John Carlson for a 22-yard gain that set up, "The Block," and Jones' touchdown run.

He finished the day an efficient 12-for-20 passing for 172 yards and a touchdown, the first NFL score for rookie wide receiver Michael Bumpus.

"If we had to follow somebody into a fire, it definitely would be No. 8," Bumpus said. "I mean, he's the franchise and Matt can't get hurt, but we appreciate things like that block. That just shows the kind of character he has and the kind of man he is."

Hasselbeck is throwing to wide receivers whose names he didn't know two weeks ago. Young receivers who should be playing 10 plays a game are getting 60. He's finding new receivers who barely know the system.

Billy McMullen caught four passes. Bumpus caught two. Courtney Taylor and Keary Colbert had one each. Hasselbeck found a way to get all of them involved.

"It's harder than people might think," Holmgren said. "We have to play the game differently."

Because Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and Ben Obomanu, Logan Payne and so many other wideouts are out, the Seahawks aren't using four-receiver sets. They're using more two-tight-end formations and sometimes using three tight ends.

Injuries have forced the West Coast offense to look like a new-school version of Ground Chuck, all bloody noses and north-south runs. Against the Rams, the Hawks ran 46 times for 245 yards.

"I said that we want to be on the I-405 or the I-5," Hasselbeck said. "No 520, no I-90. Always north-south. I don't know if anyone gets the joke. Maybe it's not a good joke."

Let's put it this way, in a game the Seahawks absolutely had to win, Hasselbeck delivered the block better than he did the joke.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 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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