The Morning After: Falcons Beat Seahawks, 34-18

There was a time, about nine years ago, when I mercilessly booed Matt Hasselbeck and begged for Trent Dilfer or Brock Huard to come in the game. Hasselbeck played with such unfounded arrogance that it made my teeth grind. He rolled left or right to avoid a pass rush and then would heave a hopeless pass down field that invariably ended up in the arms of the other team. His arrogance was eventually traded for savvy, his interceptions for touchdowns, his losses for the best wins in franchise history. He left his hometown of Boston behind, and grew roots in this community. He even adopted the Seattle grudge against East Coast bias. There has been no better leader to pull on a Seahawks jersey, and arguably, only one better player. One win from tying the franchise record for wins by a quarterback, Seahawks fan ignored all of that. They showered Hasselbeck with boos, and worse, gave loud Bronx cheers to his backup. Watching Hasselbeck throw away a game this team might have won was aggravating. Hearing fans treat him the way they did made my blood boil. You should be ashamed. This not Alex Smith. Hasselbeck has won for this team, and made Seattle his home. If this becomes his final farewell, it should be done with dignity and respect.

None of that is to say Carroll made the wrong decision in bringing Whitehurst in. Any other choice would have been an indictment on his coaching. Hasselbeck left him with no other choice, and it would be a surprise if Whitehurst doesn’t get the ball in Tampa next week. Carroll has shown amazing commitment to a QB he inherited, especially given the price he paid for a backup. Now the team must find out what Whitehurst is capable of. His first start was a disaster, but was also nearly an impossible situation. He made a few plays yesterday that Matt simply is not capable of. Knowing he will make mistakes has likely kept him on the bench, but even Whitehurst will have trouble eclipsing the number of mistakes out of the QB position the last two weeks. It is a perfect time for a real audition. As much as I believe in Hasselbeck, nothing would be better for this team than to find out Whitehurst could be the next starter. Valuable draft picks, free agent dollars, and time will be spent finding a suitable replacement for Hasselbeck if Whitehurst is not the guy. The only certain thing is that who becomes the next quarterback will be Carroll’s defining decision. Make the right choice, and this could be a franchise heading back to contention as early as next year. Make the wrong decision, and almost nothing else will save the team from being a perennial loser. Just look at Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis to see whether its better to have a good QB and bad rest of roster, or vice versa.

Once you hack your way through the forest of quarterback controversy, you see one of Seattle’s finest efforts. The Atlanta Falcons offense entered the game as arguably the best in the NFC. They have a great quarterback, great running back, great line, great receiver, and a great tight end. They have played Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Green Bay. No team this season held them to 266 yards. No team had held them under 290 yards. Their vaunted running game yielded a paltry 2.6 YPC on a whopping 37 attempts. This team fully expected to come into Qwest and impose their will. Matt Ryan averaged a pathetic 5.0 yards on 35 attempts. The Seahawks played defense, especially against the run, with a heart that deserves celebration. Colin Cole led the team in tackles for the second time this season. He has officially answered the question about whether it was only Red Bryant that was playing at a Pro Bowl level before the Raider game. Cole has been back for two weeks, and the team has gone from allowing over 5 YPC to under 3 when he is in the game. It provides hope that all does not rest on Bryant’s ability to recover from a serious knee injury. Junior Siavii, a career backup, occupied the left end position well. The team got results against a terrific offense, which bodes well for the scheme Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll have implemented. Developing depth will be a critical factor going into next year.

The secondary remains messy. Kelly Jennings may not even get picked up by another team  when he is let go next season. Walter Thurmond has not be as great as people would like to claim, although rookie CBs always struggle. Kennard Cox in Jennings best friend since he gives opposing quarterbacks someone else to pick on. And Marcus Trufant is having trouble staying healthy. Cornerback is rocketing up the charts in terms of need areas. There is at least a two year rebuilding project that must happen before the secondary can be capable of  goodness, let alone greatness.

Watching the first drive by the Seahawks offense was encouraging not only because they scored, but because the play calling looked wise and repeatable. High percentage passes were mixed with hard-nosed runs, and the occasional throw down field. The team ended the drive with 44 yards passing and 46 yards rushing. Jeremy Bates obviously did not like what he saw because he abandoned what was working by the team’s third possession. Seattle took the ball, down 10-7, at their own 28. First down was a deep pass to Mike Williams that fell incomplete. Second down was a deep pass to Ben Obomanu…incomplete. Third down was another deep pass to Williams that was incomplete. Three low-percentage plays that were essentially a vacation for the defense that had not proven it could stop the run or the short pass. Taking shots down field is necessary, but featuring low-percentage plays as often as Bates does will result in horribly inconsistent offense. He deserves major scrutiny this off-season. Nobody wants yet another offensive system installed, but this would be the year to make that one final change if you are Pete Carroll. Bates has done very little to instill confidence as a play-caller, and his bad decisions have had a negative impact on this team.

Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett averaged a combined ~5.0 yards per carry. They carried the ball 14 times. This was not because the team fell behind in the 3rd quarter. As bad as Matt looked in getting sacked for a TD, Bates looks just as bad for calling a deep pass play from his own four-yard line when he has two backs gashing the opposition. That play never had to happen.

That was a game with many of the ingredients necessary to pull off a dramatic upset. A variety of factors conspired to turn that opportunity into another “cover your eyes” defeat. The choices Carroll makes in the coming weeks will reverberate for seasons to come. Right or wrong will only be revealed by the events that follow. As a lifelong fan, I wish the coach clarity and confidence. His success is my success, and I’m growing weary of this failure.

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