A painful loss, but ...
<p>Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (8) goes down after injuring his hip on a first-quarter touchdown run against Tampa Bay on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.</p>
| December 27, 2010 8:00 PM
TAMPA, Fla. - The surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't wilting under the pressure of the NFL playoff race.
Josh Freeman kept the NFL's youngest team in contention for one of two NFC wild-card berths with a near flawless performance that propelled the Bucs to a 38-15 rout of the struggling Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
"He's clutch. He's a closer. He's a big-time quarterback, and he's developed into it right in front of our eyes," coach Raheem Morris said of the second-year pro - the third quarterback selected in the 2009 draft behind Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez.
"We get a chance to see it," Morris added, "and it's beautiful to watch."
The 22-year-old Freeman threw for 237 yards and a career-best five touchdowns, ensuring Tampa Bay (9-6) will head to New Orleans for next week's regular season finale with a chance to earn its first postseason spot since 2008 with a win and some outside help.
Kellen Winslow and rookie Mike Williams each had a pair of TD receptions for the Bucs (9-6), who guaranteed themselves a winning record after going 3-13 a year ago in their first season under Morris.
Seattle (6-9) played most of the game without injured quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and lost for the seventh time in nine games.
Amazingly, the Seahawks can still win the NFC West - thus becoming the first team in NFL history to earn a playoff spot with a losing record - by beating the first-place St. Louis Rams (7-8) at home next Sunday.
"I don't know if we all understand it, but it's ridiculous the opportunity we still have. It's huge," said Hasselbeck, who left with a hip injury after helping the Seahawks to a 7-0 lead. "We should be saying 'Thank you, thank you, thank you,' because it's amazing.
"There's teams that are having pretty good seasons and they are out of the playoffs and don't get a chance. For us to still have that opportunity, as poorly as we've played at times, as poorly as we performed tonight, is a huge opportunity."
The Bucs remain in the hunt with the Saints, Giants and Packers for a wild-card berth that seemed like an unrealistic goal when Morris declared during training camp that this season was a "Race For 10" victories.
"I know you guys thought I was crazy when I said it. ... It's just one of those things. You set a goal for your team, and you talk about what you want to do and what you can do," Morris said. "And we're very capable of going out and winning 10 games, and I knew that and we thought that way."
LeGarrette Blount had his fourth 100-yard game rushing, finishing with 164 yards that included highlight-reel bursts of 48 yards in which the 250-pound rookie hurdled would-be tackler Lawyer Milloy and a 53-yarder that set up Tampa Bay's last touchdown.
Freeman completed 21 of 26 passes with no interceptions. His five TD passes - giving him 23 vs. just six interceptions this season - tied a franchise record set by Steve DeBerg in 1987 and matched by Brad Johnson in 2002.
"Records, while you're playing and while you're in the heat of chasing, trying to get into the playoffs, it's not that big of a deal. ... I just hope I can come out and have another solid performance next week," Freeman said.
Winslow caught TD passes of 10 and 21 yards, the latter capping a 10-play, 98-yard drive that matched another team record. Williams scored on catches of 7 and 20 yards, giving him a club rookie-record 10 touchdowns.
Freeman left the game after tossing his final TD pass, a 2-yarder to Maurice Stovall midway through the fourth quarter.
With St. Louis (7-8) defeating San Francisco 25-17 to take sole possession of first place in the NFC West earlier Sunday, the Seahawks took the field knowing that a win or a loss against the Bucs would not affect their chances of making the playoffs.
"They know what's at stake," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "After you look at tonight, you're going to wonder how that's going to happen, but we're going to find a way.
"I'm concerned with what that looked like tonight, yeah. I'm concerned about that. That didn't look like the kind of play that would have warranted this situation and this opportunity. We need to leave this here in Tampa, get home and put a week together and do something different."
The Seahawks lost Hasselbeck when the 35-year-old quarterback rolled out of the pocket to his right and scored on a 1-yard TD run in which he went into the end zone untouched with 2:50 remaining in the opening quarter.
The 12th-year pro bent over for a moment, started to walk off the field and then stopped again before sitting down in the end zone. He will have a MRI on Monday, and Carroll said it's unlikely Hasselbeck will practice this week.
Hasselbeck eventually limped to the sideline under his own power. Charlie Whitehurst replaced him on Seattle's next possession, with the Seahawks leading 7-3.
Hasselbeck said he's experienced minor discomfort at times since being hit in the hip by a helmet against San Diego early in the season.
"Today, it just got real tight on me real fast," Hasselbeck said. "That was disappointing."
Whitehurst had little success against a Tampa Bay defense that had not played particularly well the past month.
Hasselbeck's backup went 11 of 18 for 66 yards and was sacked three times. The Seahawks scored on Leon Washington's 16-yard run and a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter, but finished with just 174 yards of total offense.
Note: The Seahawks have given up at least 33 points in their past seven losses. ... Winslow had seven receptions for 98 yards.