By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — This time last week, Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was summing up his team’s furious fourth-quarter rally at Miami as “too little, too late.”
The same could be said for the return of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The Seahawks’ leader is expected to make his first start in more than a month today, but it’s probably too late for the 33-year-old Pro Bowler to make much of a difference. Seattle (2-7) is desperately far from playoff contention, perhaps needing a seven-game winning streak just to get back in the conversation.
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“This is a great opportunity right here, said Hasselbeck, who has missed five games because of a bulging disk in his back. “You’ve got a first-place team — Arizona’s playing great, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence. … A win against those guys would be a great start.”
If nothing else, Hasselbeck and wide receiver Deion Branch — he’s also expected back today after missing five games with a bruised heel — could provide a spark to Seattle’s smoldering offense.
“They’re two of the leaders on this team, so we’ll be happy to get them back,” running back Julius Jones said last week. “They’re the kind of players that are capable of giving us a spark on offense.”
The expected return of the Seahawks’ passing game could open things up for the entire offense. Opposing defenses have been crowding the line in an effort to shut down Seattle’s run game, so the presence of a Pro Bowl quarterback and an established receiver could soften things up inside.
But it will still be up to Hasselbeck to make some plays. When he started four games at the beginning of the season, the veteran showed signs of rust from missing so much time in the preseason. His back problems started in August, and he played in only one preseason game.
Quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor admitted that rust could be an issue — for any quarterback who has missed as much time — but added that Hasselbeck’s experience could override that deficit.
“The one big advantage that Matt has is that he’s been in this offense for a long time and played with (Mike) Holmgren calling the plays for a long time,” Lazor said. “So compared to some other people in other positions, he’s got those things that are positive that will make him feel comfortable.”
Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell is among the people who believe that Hasselbeck will make a smooth transition.
“He’s one of the five best quarterbacks in football,” Haskell said last week. “Now you have him back, so now you have a chance.”
Asked what kind of impact Hasselbeck could have on the Seahawks, Haskell said: “If he plays at his level, we’ll win the game.”
Even before he was sidelined by the injury, Hasselbeck wasn’t quite playing at his level. His 57.7 passer rating ranked last in the NFL. The Seahawks lost three of his four starts. The season was unraveling even before Hasselbeck came out of the lineup.
And now they’re looking to him to help get it back on track.
“He’s had a wonderful week,” Holmgren said when the Seahawks wrapped up practices on Friday. “He’s clearly excited about being back. He had a little spring in his step. He threw the ball well.
“I think everyone enjoyed the fact that he was back practicing again.”