Hasselbeck wants the ball and will score; just not enough

Pigskin Pick 'Em

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2008

Matt Hasselbeck ought to be commended.

In this day and age, with media acting as an ubiquitous force, constantly swirling around athletes and invading their privacy everywhere but the toilet, Seattle's quarterback took an honorable approach.

He broached the topic himself, albeit in a mocking manner, just to get it out of the way.

"I'm just saying it right now: We want the ball and we're going to score," Hasselbeck said to open his news conference following Seattle's 35-14 wild-card victory over Washington on Saturday. "OK, I said it."

He may have gotten the media off his case, for the time being at least, but that's not going to quiet the Green Bay Packers (13-3), who host the Seahawks (11-6) in a divisional playoff game Saturday with an NFC Championship berth on the line.

The Packers aren't about to go as quietly.

The last time Hasselbeck uttered those infamous words came just more than four years ago during the overtime coin flip in a first-round playoff game at Lambeau Field.

After winning the toss, Hasselbeck leaned toward the microphone and boldly informed the entire state of Wisconsin, and a national audience to boot, what his team planned on doing.

On Seattle's second possession of the extra session, though, Al Harris picked off Hasselbeck's pass along the sideline and bolted 52 yards for the clinching, an simultaneously eliminating, touchdown and a 33-27 Packers' win.

"I don't regret it one bit," Hasselbeck said of the quote. "I regret the interception, though."

Since that frantic ending, these teams have met only twice, the Packers handing Seattle just its third loss of the 2005 season before the Seahawks eventually lost to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, and Seattle returning the favor in Week 12 last year.

But that's in the past.

So are Seattle coach Mike Holmgren's days of coaching Green Bay, which he did from 1992 to '98 while guiding the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 1996 and 1997, emerging victorious in the first. He even has a 4-mile road named after him near the stadium.

"It's the only team like it in existence. You could not have a team in a little city like that, typically, now, anymore," Holmgren said. "Owned by the people, and the city. And when they run out of money, or get low in the treasury, the last three times in their history, they appeal to the people. And everybody buys shares. I bought a share for each one of my children.

"It's a very unique place."

Back to the present, Mike.

Brett Favre, coming off an 8-8 campaign last season, didn't return this year, after much debate, to lead the Packers, favored by eight, to a first-round bye only to lay an egg in the playoffs.

"I hate to keep bringing it up because it was my statement, that this team was the most talented team I'd ever played on," Favre said of his early thoughts last year. "As I was saying that, I knew that it sounded crazy. But did I think this would happen? No. It's been put together rather quickly. The chemistry has materialized."

But just as impressive as Favre, although maybe not as publicized, has been the markedly improved play of Hasselbeck, who's headed to his third Pro Bowl after doing more with less this year than any other quarterback in the league.

Having thrown the most touchdowns (28) and owning the second highest completion percentage (91.4) of his nine-year career, Hasselbeck has been forced to throw to a revolving door of receivers.

Heralded wideout and former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch missed five games, D.J. Hackett was sidelined for 11 games and running back Shaun Alexander sat out three games and scored just four times.

That left Hasselbeck with Nate Burleson (50 receptions) and veteran Bobby Engram, who turned into one of the league's top possession receivers with 94 catches, 1,147 yards and six touchdowns.

Still, though, they're not exactly Driver and Jennings.

Then again, Hasselbeck's no Favre, either.

However, he did spend two seasons holding a clipboard and backing up the future Hall of Famer.

Certainly, he had to learn something from the 38-year-old?

"There was a stretch in, I guess it was '98, where he had thrown a bunch of interceptions, so Mike Holmgren made Andy Reid make up a tape of all of his interceptions. We all had to watch it together. ... And so what we learned from the first tape was bad fundamentals, bad decision-making and taking too much risks," Hasselbeck recalled. "Then he popped in the next tape and it was all of his touchdown passes. And it's bad decision-making, bad fundamentals, too much risk."

Favre's probably going to do that again Saturday.

The question is, will Hasselbeck?

Maybe someday.

PACKERS, 31-24.

Jacksonville (plus 13) at New England

Pittsburgh may have been able to run all over the Patriots in Foxborough in Week 14, using Willie Parker's legs to keep them in the game for the first half anyway.

But despite showcasing the second-best rushing attack in the league, averaging 149.4 yards per game, and owning two of the game's best running backs in hard-nosed veteran Fred Taylor and the shifty youngster Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville won't eclipse the 100-yard mark Saturday when the Jaguars try to shock the world.

Beating the Patriots, 6-1 all-time versus Jacksonville, at home nonetheless, is going to require a better set of receivers than Reggie Williams and Matt Jones.

New England's defensive scheme will be as simple as stacking the box, stuffing the run and letting quarterback David Garrard air it out to his mediocre flankers.

Jacksonville's defense, allowing just 43 yards a game, is certainly more than equipped to handle Laurence Maroney and the New England running game.

It's a good thing Tom Brady and Randy Moss aren't running backs.

In fact, as we have all seen this year, they're arguably the greatest tandem of quarterback and receiver in NFL history.

And yes, that includes Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.

Montana won four Super Bowls and three Super Bowl MVP awards.

Brady is well on his way to matching that.

PATRIOTS, 38-21.

San Diego (plus 8 1/2) at Indianapolis

Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the postseason to date.

The defending Super Bowl champs hosting a team that won its first playoff game last week since 1994.

Doesn't sound like much of a matchup, though, does it?

After knocking off Tennessee last week, Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers begs to differ.

"Any team can win it all and any team can get beat as we found out here last year as the one seed. The Colts were in our position last year now as the three seed. Pittsburgh, a couple years ago they were the six seed. I think at this point, why not us?" he said of the last two Super Bowl winners. "We're going to go with that frame of mind. We're going to go in confident but obviously knowing the challenge that's ahead of us."

Rivers should get used to handing off to LaDainian Tomlinson, something he did 21 times last week against the Titans, yet netted a mere 42 yards.

The biggest challenge for Rivers, however, will be avoiding safety and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Bob Sanders.

He managed to do that on Nov. 11, when the Chargers jumped out to a 23-0 lead in the second quarter and held on to beat the Colts, 23-21. But with his favorite target, tight end Antonio Gates, possibly sidelined, that job just got a lot more difficult.

"That's one of the most disappointing games we've had since I've been here," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said following the game. "For us to give up two kick returns for scores. ... We just gave away too many points. It wasn't a good performance."

With the monkey off his back and a ring on his finger, Manning's not about to let that happen again.

COLTS, 35-28.

New York Giants (plus 7 1/2) at Dallas

Eli Manning is playing perhaps the best football of his young career.

Tony Romo is dating and vacationing in Mexico with one of the hottest celebrities in Hollywood.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster for a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 1996.

"If I don't perform well," Romo said, "it has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that the Giants played a better football game."

There's a strong chance that's going to happen.

Combine New York's two best games of the season, a three-point setback to New England in the final regular-season contest and an impressive 24-14 victory at Tampa Bay in a wild-card game last week, with Terrell Owens possibly sitting out with a high ankle sprain, and the Cowboys are going to need a lot more than Jessica Simpson to be lying on a Mexican beach on Sunday.

Mix in a healthy Brandon Jacobs, who made New England defenders look like tackling dummies, bouncing and spinning off them all evening, and Dallas' defense officially has its work cut out for them.

Romo, on the other hand, will be trying to evade one of the most feared pass rushes in the league, with Osi Umenyiora (13 sacks in regular season), Michael Strahan (nine sacks) and Justin Tuck (10 sacks) swarming him every chance they get.

Beating a team three times in one season is never easy, either, as Dallas toppled the Giants in Week 1, 45-35, and again nine weeks later, 31-20, making the Cowboys' chances at vindication even more formidable.

"If you get (a third chance), you have to take advantage. We were playing a team we had beaten regularly, had already beaten twice that season, and if we lose at home, that's devastating," said former Giants coach Jim Fassel, referring to his 2001 squad which beat the Eagles three times. "You feel like you've wasted a season. We couldn't let it get away."

New York doesn't plan on it.

GIANTS, 24-21.

PLAYOFFS: 2-2 (spread); 3-1 (straight up)

SEASON: 137-109-12 (spread); 162-98 (straight up)

Comments and criticisms may be sent to sports reporter Matthew Carroll at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.

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