By Scott M. Johnson
KIRKLAND – When the Seattle Seahawks returned from their bye week Monday, no one seemed happier than Matt Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck certainly enjoyed his free time, spending a rare Sunday off with his wife and week-old daughter. But when Monday arrived, he was ready to be back on the field.
Four weeks after a groin injury forced him out of a blowout loss to the Oakland Raiders, Hasselbeck is expected to return to Seattle’s starting lineup when the Seahawks host the Miami Dolphins this weekend.
“This bye week’s actually been a great thing for me,” Hasselbeck said Monday, “just to get back to basics and fundamentals.”
His most fundamental goal this week will be to avoid messing with success.
There are worse fates that could have befallen the Seahawks than winning two games in Hasselbeck’s absence. He could be returning to a team with a 1-4 record, without much of an opportunity to get into the playoffs. But the situation that welcomes Hasselbeck has pitfalls of its own, namely that many outsiders believe the Seahawks are simply a better team with Trent Dilfer at quarterback.
“It’s not a situation here where you feel like you’re looking over your shoulder: ‘Oh, he hit a deep ball that was complete, so I need to throw a deep ball,’ ” Hasselbeck said. “I’ve been a part of stuff like that, where it’s a little bit tougher. I think this is a pretty good team, we’re a pretty close group, and stuff like that won’t come between us.”
Statistically, Dilfer has outplayed Hasselbeck thus far. Dilfer has started and helped lead the Seahawks to victories in their past two games by a combined score of 58-36. In the previous two games, with Hasselbeck calling the shots, the Seahawks went 0-2 with an aggregate score of 65-17.
Dilfer has a 2-0 record as starter this season and has a 93.0 quarterback rating. Hasselbeck is 1-2 with a 48.9 rating, and the only time he’s been on the field for a Seattle touchdown was at the end of a drive that included a 54-yard pass from Dilfer to Darrell Jackson.
Hasselbeck, however, is not deserving of all the blame, nor is Dilfer of all the credit. The offense has played better during the past two games, due in part to improved play along the offensive line, Shaun Alexander’s addition to the running game, and a receiving corps that has made fewer mistakes.
“They simplified things a lot more,” fullback Mack Strong said. “We obviously ran the ball a lot more. You can point to several things, but that’s No. 1. We ran the ball, kept the chains moving, and that was the difference.”
During the past two games, the Seahawks averaged 38 running plays per contest, accounting for 62.8 percent of the offensive plays. The previous three games, during which Hasselbeck started at quarterback, Seattle averaged 22.7 rushes, or just 34.5 percent of the offense.
As easy as it would be to give Dilfer credit for the offensive turnaround, no one in the Seahawks locker room is oversimplifying it to that degree.
“Trent came in and helped us out a lot, but everything wasn’t on his shoulders,” rookie receiver Koren Robinson said. “I felt like we took it upon ourselves to change how we were executing out there on the field.”
The first quarterback switch did not affect the Seahawks adversely, so they don’t see any negatives in Hasselbeck returning to the lineup.
“Matt’s finally healthy again,” Alexander said. “He was hurt the two games we lost, but he was trying to gut through it. … After giving him time to heal up, he’ll make some great plays.”
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said the injury is still bothering Hasselbeck, even though the quarterback won’t admit it to his coach. But a more severe groin injury to Dilfer means Hasselbeck will almost certainly return to the starting lineup this week.
Of course, getting Hasselbeck back as the starter was Holmgren’s plan all along. He has avoided any quarterback controversy by continually saying that Hasselbeck would start when healthy.
“I really believe he’s a fine player,” Holmgren said of Hasselbeck on Monday, “and given some protection and people around him playing a little bit better than was the case in the two games he got beat up in, then I think he’s going to be fine.”
Hasselbeck appreciates Holmgren’s loyalty.
“He says those things, and I know it’s true that I’m going to start,” Hasselbeck said. “But with that, there comes a huge responsibility on my part. I’ve got to play well and perform at a high level. Stuff like that only goes so far. I’ve got to play well.”
Safety Marcus Robertson (hamstring), defensive end Michael Sinclair (groin), cornerback Shawn Springs (excused absence), Dilfer (groin), running back Ricky Watters (shoulder) and kick returner Charlie Rogers (toe) did not practice Monday.
Sinclair, Springs and Rogers are expected to practice later this week and play in Sunday’s game. … Today marks the NFL’s trading deadline, and although in-season deals are rare, Holmgren did not rule out the possibility of making a move. “We’re looking at a couple things,” he said. …
While the Seahawks enjoyed a bye week, two pass rushers leap-frogged Chad Brown into the top of the AFC in sacks. Baltimore’s Michael McCrary and Cleveland’s Jamir Miller each have six sacks, 0.5 more than Brown. …
Through the first five games of the season, Seattle’s Alexander had the best rushing day of the season: 176 yards against Jacksonville. Trung Canidate of St. Louis (195 yards) and Anthony Thomas of Chicago (188 yards) both surpassed Alexander’s total on Sunday.