- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

The New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks are the only teams to win three straight division titles and make the playoffs four consecutive seasons.

While the Patriots and Colts — who have combined to win three of the last four Super Bowls — always receive a good deal of adoration from fans and attention from NFL analysts, the Seahawks get little respect. So little, in fact, that despite their 2005 NFC title, Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said he wouldn’t be surprised if his 10-6 NFC West champions were home underdogs in Saturday’s playoff opener against the 9-7 Redskins.

Seattle beat Washington 20-10 to advance to the NFC Championship game in 2005, but the Seahawks have seen their share of changes.

“We might have been more talented in places, rolling a little bit more, in the zone a little bit more [in 2005],” said Hasselbeck, in his seventh season as Seattle’s quarterback. “This time around is a little different. At least the guys who were here then know what it takes to get it done. We might not be as talented or as productive at certain positions, but we’ve gained that in experience.”

The Seahawks do have nine starters who were regulars on the 2005 Super Bowl team, but the 2007 team hasn’t been nearly as dominant despite its typical 7-1 excellence at Qwest Field.

Coach Mike Holmgren watched his team fall 44-41 to the awful Atlanta Falcons even though the offensive starters played until halftime and the defensive regulars played well into the fourth quarter. The loss came two weeks after Seattle fell to a mediocre Carolina team with an undrafted rookie quarterback.

With 2005 MVP Shaun Alexander banged-up the last two seasons, the Seahawks have crashed from third to 20th in rushing, putting more pressure on Hasselbeck to carry the offense.

Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs, who played for the Seahawks from 1997 to 2003, said that can be a problem for Washington.

“Don’t sleep on Matt,” Springs warned of Hasselbeck, who this season put up career highs of 3,966 yards and 28 touchdown passes. “I don’t think any [other quarterback] we would face [in postseason] has had to carry as much of a load as he has.”

Holmgren, whose has won five division titles in nine years, said his team hasn’t been as reliable as it was in 2005.

“The 2005 team, we were a little more balanced,” Holmgren said. “We’ve had a slight shift in emphasis that started when Shaun got hurt. He’s healthy again, [so] now we have the full arsenal. Defensively, we have a whole flock of new guys. We’ve been very good at times and sometimes a little disappointing [they rank 15th]. We have to have our ‘A’ game going. Otherwise, it doesn’t work too well for us.”

But as Hasselbeck sees it, a regular season in which the Seahawks beat just one winning team — Tampa Bay — and faced the NFL’s easiest schedule is simply history.

“All that’s kind of out the window,” Hasselbeck said. “It’s kind of a fresh start.”

Which might be just what the unpredictable Seahawks need.

KEY MATCHUP

REDSKINS RT STEPHON HEYER vs. SEAHAWKS DE PATRICK KERNEY

About Heyer: Heyer, who blew out a knee before the 2005 season at Maryland, was a long shot when he signed as an undrafted rookie this spring. But Chris Samuels’ sprained knee made Heyer a preseason regular on the left side. At 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, Heyer is probably better suited to the right side, where he replaced Todd Wade four games ago.

About Kerney: An All-ACC pick at Virginia where he tied the school record with 15 sacks in 1998, Kerney recorded three years with double-digit sacks in six seasons as a starter for Atlanta. He signed with Seattle in March and produced an NFC-high 14½ sacks, the most by a Seahawks player in 22 years.

Analysis: Since becoming a starter, Heyer stoned New York Giants Hall of Fame lock Michael Strahan and did a good job against Dallas veteran Greg Ellis. Heyer also didn’t falter in the extremely loud Metrodome. But Kerney thrives in noisy Qwest Field (10½ sacks), and his four games of playoff experience should make a big difference.

David Elfin

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