Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons’ rising star Matt Ryan is the quarterback Matt Hasselbeck used to be. Thanks to a litany of injuries to his linemen and receivers and a generally inept running game, Hasselbeck now presides over a Seahawks attack with no balance and little punch. He’s thrown eight interceptions in the past three games, and is playing with a fractured left wrist. (Ouch.) Opposite him today, the Falcons’ third-year signal caller recalls the Hasselbeck of five years ago, who led Seattle to its only Super Bowl. Ryan completes 63 percent of his passes, keeps mistakes to a minimum, and displays poise under pressure: He’s led six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime this season. An NFC-best 11-2, Atlanta’s well-balanced offense features 1,100-yard rusher Michael Turner, 1,200-yard receiver Roddy White, and tight end Tony Gonzalez, whose next stop is the Hall of Fame. Yet there’s hope for Hawks fans, even after Sunday’s 40-21 bad trip in San Francisco. Tied for the NFC West lead with St. Louis at 6-7—with every loss by at least 15 points—Seattle has the good fortune to play in one of the most mediocre divisions in NFL history. Only two teams have the dubious distinction of making the playoffs with a losing record, both in the strike-shortened 1982 season. With one win in their final three games, the Hawks could be the third. MICHAEL MAHONEY

Sun., Dec. 19, 1:05 p.m., 2010

 
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