Eyes On the Prize

Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander. Just saying those names this week in the wind-driven rain of a soggy Emerald City will brighten the mood of any Seahawks fan. Alexander led the league in rushing and scored an NFL-record 28 touchdowns in a magical season. Hasselbeck led the NFC in passing efficiency and has led this team with the will and desire to succeed.

Both spoke with the media this week about a myriad of things, including the Redskins’ defense, the maturity of their team and peanut M&M’s.

“Obviously you want (the playoff game) to go smoothly,” an understated Hasselbeck told the media surrounding him. “We started a few games out this year where we have gotten the ball and taken it 80 yards or whatever and scored a touchdown. That is probably not going to happen against these guys. These guys are very good defensively.

“I think we need to be ready to weather the storm a little bit in terms of not being as successful as we’re used to being. These guys, when you watch them on film, they create problems for every offense that they face and if that happens to us we just have to stay the course and not get too upset about it and just keep plugging away and hope for the best.”

Hoping for the best would be an understatement for the fans of a team that hasn’t won a postseason game in 21 years. The players, some of whom haven’t been with the franchise for an entire calendar year, tend to downplay the importance to them, but they know fans are clamoring for a win and Alexander said he and the team are ready for the challenge.

“I have never heard that,” a chuckling Alexander said regarding getting a win for the city of Seattle. “No, it is a great responsibility that we have but the thing I am proudest of this team is that we have accepted every challenge. This is the new challenge, try to go out there and be the first since 1984 to win a playoff game.”

Hasselbeck had similar thoughts.

“Initially it didn’t matter to me at all, it’s not something I’ve dwelled on or thought about,” Hasselbeck said. “The thing that I’ve learned I guess through the course of this week is that it means a lot to a lot of people. Some of those people are former players here; some of those people are coaches that have been around or people in the building. Or maybe it’s just some of the people from Seattle that have followed the team since 1976.

“It would mean a great deal to them. For that reason to see the kind of support that those people have given our team makes it a little more special if in fact we are able to get it done.”

Alexander is one player who needs to continue his play during the postseason. His 1,880 yards during the 2005 regular season was a career-high, but in two playoff games, Alexander has been anything but special rushing for only 40 yards last season in a 27-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams and 45 yards in a 33-27 loss to Green Bay in 2003.

“I don’t even think about the postseason games,” Alexander admitted. “I think the first one I scored a bunch of touchdowns but the game was just weird. This last one against the Rams, it was just one of those ball control things.

“In postseason games every time you get the ball you try to make something happen, sustain long drives and not turn the ball over. I think those are games more than any that it might be a different guy who wins it for you. The best thing I can do is prepare for whatever happens.”

Preparing for a Washington run-defense that finished the season ranked 15th in the league. Will they key on the league’s leading rusher? Alexander thinks so.

“I just try to have fun,” the ever-confident Alexander said. “I’ll eat my same peanut M&Ms and then go see what happens. Football is a fun sport and I think the thing about us is we have kept it there. Of course everyone has to be intense and get ready to play but we’re also going to go out there and have fun and be ready to go.”

Intensity is something not missing from the relationship between head coach Mike Holmgren and his starting quarterback. Several times, during his five-year stint in Seattle, Hasselbeck and Holmgren could be seen in heated conversations along the sidelines. Were they fighting?

“Fighting is a very inaccurate word,” Hasselbeck said adamantly. “I think sometimes as a player you think you understand what the coach is looking for and you’re wrong.

“A coach starts to coach you or starts to explain something to you and its very easy for me, I’m not a good listener, to say ‘yeah, yeah, I got it’ but you don’t really got it, you’re missing the point exactly.

“Some of it is arrogance; maybe you’re just thinking you know more than you do. I think when I did a better job of being a little more humble and really being a better listener and being more coachable, I think that made our relationship better.”

Good enough that the Seahawks were ranked second overall in total offense at 369.7 yards per game.

Coaching philosophy is something that can help with the productivity of a team. Holmgren has been at the helm of the “Good ship Seahawk” since 1999 and Alexander says he knows a good coach when he sees one.

“I just think having a good coach is always good,” Alexander said. “You can always tell the good coaches because they find ways to get their players to win games and get into the playoffs. Once you get into the playoffs anything can happen. It is exciting to be playing against a legendary coach like Joe Gibbs in a situation like this and knowing that we have a pretty good coach too. It is going to be exciting.”

Hasselbeck also agreed having the same players in the same system makes the Hawks that much better.

“Obviously continuity and consistency helps any team. We are definitely a good example of that,” Hasselbeck said.

“The same guys playing together for a while and being coached by the same people for a while you get to be on the same page a lot easier when you’ve been with people. I don’t know, obviously the head coach sets the tone for the team.

“At the end of the day you need the players also to buy into it though and to step up and to pull the team together in tough times and not pull apart and I give Mike Holmgren and his staff a lot of credit. We have great assistant coaches here that have done a great job. But if the players don’t buy into it, you can have the best coaches in the world and it doesn’t matter.”

Since this is the second game against the Gibbs led Redskins this season, Alexander said the first game was a turning point in the season for the Hawks.

“We realized what it takes to beat good teams,” Alexander said. “We got to see one in a crazy environment. D.C. has some loud, great fans. I think after that we changed some things that were going to make us better for the long haul. That was an eye-opener game for us and from then on we switched some things and changed some things to make us better.”

“(Washington is) a good defense. They made us grow up as an offense I guess I would say,” Hasselbeck said. “They made us mature in some areas; learn how to handle some things. They give you a lot of different things to prepare for and it was a good learning experience for us. Sometimes you learn more about yourself through adversity than you do through success. There was certainly enough adversity to go around in that game.”

Adversity is something the Hawks have been able to handle this season. If you need examples look no further than the road game against St. Louis this season or the two home games against Dallas and the New York Giants.

This team keeps trying to make the die-hards believe they are a different squad. This weekend they get the chance to show it on a national stage.

Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.

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