Countdown to kickoff

Greetings from Qwest Field, where some of the Seahawks already are out preparing for today’s extremely important game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

But before we get into the ramifications of this matchup, let’s start with a question: What’s gotten into Matt Hasselbeck?

The Seahawks’ quarterback has returned from sitting out the game against the New York Giants because of a concussion not only in rhythm but in control. In the past two games, he has completed 69 percent of his passes while throwing for 333 yards against the Arizona Cardinals and 366 yards in last week’s game against the Saints in New Orleans – when he matched Drew Brees stat for stat, expect touchdown passes (four for Brees, one for Hasselbeck).

But it hasn’t been just in the games. Hasselbeck has been just as sharp – or sharper – in practice. He’s throwing the ball more, and deeper. What gives?

It’s all about trust, and confidence. It’s the trust that coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates have developed in Hasselbeck. After throwing six interceptions in the first four games, he has thrown one in his past five starts. That’s why they allowed him to put the ball up 34 times against the Cardinals and a season-high 44 times against the Saints – that and the fact that the running game has produced 47, 49 and 58 yards in three of the past four games. It’s also the confidence Hasselbeck has developed in the offense and what he’s being asked to do, and that which his teammates have in him.

It’s a situation reminiscent of two previous periods in Hasselbeck’s tenure as the Seahawks’ quarterback.

The first came in 2003, when Hasselbeck admitted that he stopped questioning – and even fighting – what the coaches were asking him to do. He just did it. No questions asked. Hasselbeck said at the time that the approach made things easier for him – not to mention the coaches. He passed for 3,841 yards and 26 touchdowns that season, as the Seahawks went 10-6 to earn a wild-card playoff spot – their first since 1999, and second since 1988.

The second came in 2007, when a running game that had averaged 153.6 yards in 2005 and 120.2 in 2006 was running on empty. A frustrated Mike Holmgren hoisted the fortunes of the offense on Hasselbeck’s right arm, and he responded by throwing for 3,966 yards and 28 TDs – as the team again went 10-6 and won the last of its four consecutive NFC West titles.

The Seahawks are going to need everything Hasselbeck can muster today – and more – if they are going to beat the Chiefs.

This game begins a pivotal stretch for the team in Carroll’s first season. The Seahawks are 5-5 and play four of their final six regular-season games at Qwest. They will need to win three of them to insure getting to 8-8, and all four to guarantee a nine-win season – and the likely division title and first-round home playoff that would go with it. But one of those games is against the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 19. The Falcons are 8-2 and have the defending Super Bowl champion Saints chasing them for the NFC South title.

The Seahawks also could get to 8-8 or 9-7 by stealing a game on the road – either Dec. 12 at San Francisco or Dec. 26 at Tampa. But the best way to get there is to take care of business here – at Qwest, as they also play the Carolina Panthers (1-9) next week and the St. Louis Rams (4-6) on Jan. 2.

Easy? Hardly. The Chiefs come in with the league’s top-ranked running game, led by Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. And they’ll be running into a Seahawks’ defense that has allowed an average of 140.4 rushing yards the past five games – after allowing 70.4 in its first five games. They also have a big-play receiver in Dwayne Bowie (a league-leading 11 TD catches) and a QB who epitomizes efficiency in Matt Cassel (a league-low four interceptions and 18 TD passes).

Turnovers have been a big part of the Seahawks’ success – and lack of it – this season. They have forced 14 in their five wins, but only four in their five losses. And the Chiefs have turned the ball over a league-low seven times.

So that’s where Hasselbeck comes in, as well as the need for him – and the entire offense – to do even more this week. The most obvious place to start is the red zone. In their past two games, the Seahawks have been inside the opponent’s 20-yard line 11 times. They have three touchdowns and six field goals to show for it. They need to get into the end zone in those situations, and today they likely will be trying to do it without leading receiver Mike Williams, who strained his left foot in last week’s game at New Orleans and did not practice all week.

We’ll be back later with the lists of inactive players for both teams …


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