No joke: 7-9 Seahawks dare to dream

The Seahawks will have to win the Super Bowl in order to finish the season with a winning record. Joe Nicholson/US Presswire

SEATTLE -- The mind wandered as time passed and Pete Carroll did not immediately appear for his postgame news conference Sunday night.

I pictured a public-relations staffer running the Seattle Seahawks' first-year coach through a series of tests to see if Carroll could keep a straight face after claiming the NFC West title and a wild-card playoff berth with a 7-9 record.

Would Carroll transcend the national laugh track accompanying Seattle's snoozer of a 16-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams? Or would this two-time NCAA champion and outspoken proponent of "doing things better than they have ever been done before" publicly succumb to the sheer hilarity of it all?

Yes and no.

Carroll smiled upon arriving at the podium, mustering an opening line as improbable as Charlie Whitehurst to Ruvell Martin for 61 yards (that just happened).

"Was that fun or what?" Carroll said. "Geez."

Geez is right.

Now comes the hard part for Carroll and the Seahawks: convincing themselves of their playoff worthiness before the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints visit Qwest Field for a 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff Saturday.

It's a tough sell, but the Seahawks were in a buying mood.

"We're in the tournament," Whitehurst said. "Anything can happen."

The Seahawks are proof.

"I hear that this has never happened before and I think that is kind of cool," Carroll said. "Wasn't it TCU that won for all the little guys?"

One slight difference: TCU went 13-0 this season. Seattle trailed 14-0 at home to Carolina. The Seahawks lost nine games by double digits this season. They lost by a combined 64 points during one two-week stretch.

"I would say this," Carroll continued, unsolicited. "If you have followed my track record about the systems you play in, whether college and the BCS or here and the NFL system, this is the system. I don't give a crap about that."

You tell 'em, Pete.

"We just played it out and this is what happened," Carroll said. "I'm sure some other teams are a little disappointed in that. But, there's some teams that are disappointed in the BCS system as well. But, you just play it out the best that you can. I don't have a suggestion on how to fix it. This may never happen again."

The folks at USC must be pleased to know Carroll and Reggie Bush are bowl-eligible.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants, not so much. Tampa Bay missed the playoffs despite going 4-0 against the NFC West and 10-6 overall. The New York Giants, 41-7 winners at Qwest Field in Week 9, also missed the playoffs at 10-6.

Seattle would have to win the Super Bowl to finish this season with a winning record.

"Getting to the playoffs, that's all you want -- just to have a shot," said Seattle linebacker Will Herring, whose fourth-quarter interception helped seal Seattle's fifth NFC West title in the past seven seasons. "We got a home game next week, we're going to have our fans behind us and there's no better place to play in the country."

The Saints are about to play the first trap game in playoff history.

"Seeing New Orleans lose to Tampa Bay today, we don't know how they feel coming in next week," said Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons, who finished the season with 11 sacks. "They're last year's champs, so there's always that championship hangover that a lot of guys have going into the first postseason game."

Carroll paid his respects to Saints coach Sean Payton and "their program" before joining Clemons in the land of make believe.

"Sean is an incredible coach and all that, but they're coming here," Carroll said. "It's a short week and they have to fly across the country and figure all that stuff out. They have a lot of stuff to get organized. We're going to have a really cool week of preparation."

The Seahawks also figure to have Matt Hasselbeck back in the lineup at quarterback. Hasselbeck could have played against the Rams, by all accounts, but Carroll said he didn't want to rush the 35-year-old back from a the hip/back/upper butt injury Hasselbeck suffered while running into the end zone against Tampa Bay last week.

Translation: The Seahawks figured they could win the NFC West title with their backup quarterback. Whitehurst's mobility did make a difference against the Rams, but this was a struggle. Seattle converted four times in 15 chances on third down. Whitehurst did avoid turnovers, something Hasselbeck hasn't done nearly well enough.

"I think the plan worked out perfectly," Hasselbeck said. "We got the win. Charlie did a real nice job and mission accomplished. I felt like all the work I did to try to get back this week was money in the bank. If we had to make a withdrawal, we could, but we didn't have to."

Hasselbeck said he has played with more serious injuries, but this one made life tough in the short term. He couldn't even walk up a flight of stairs when the week began. Doctors drained fluid from the injury Monday and again Sunday. Trainers began getting Hasselbeck ready for the game about five hours before kickoff.

Hasselbeck looked good during warm-ups, I thought.

"A lot of that is adrenaline," Hasselbeck said, appearing stiff after standing on the sideline in the Seattle cold. "It's not a serious injury. It is something that will heal. It's just hard to get it to heal in six days. But we took it pretty far."

Carroll had committed to Whitehurst early in the week, but suspicions mounted when Hasselbeck practiced Friday and warmed up Sunday. Carroll said he assured Whitehurst behind the scenes that there would be no last-minute change of heart.

Will Hasselbeck start against the Saints? Carroll wasn't saying. He was presumably too busy trying to keep a straight face.