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Seahawks' Whitehurst readies for NFC West title fight vs. Rams

RENTON, Wash. -- Well, at least Charlie Whitehurst isn't getting peppered with questions about making his first NFL start.

Now it's all about his second start -- with a division title on the line.

"That's the only thing positive that came out of that game," Whitehurst joked.

With questions lingering about Matt Hasselbeck's health, Whitehurst is prepping to make the second start of his career Sunday night when the Seattle Seahawks host the St. Louis Rams with the NFC West title at stake.

But it's not as simple as Whitehurst starting and Hasselbeck sitting. Coach Pete Carroll, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and seemingly everyone else is refusing to close the book on Hasselbeck being out for the division deciding matchup.

Hasselbeck strained his hip in the first quarter last week against Tampa Bay. From the start, Carroll said he's preparing as though Hasselbeck won't be available against the Rams and that Whitehurst will be the one asked to lead Seattle to its first division title since 2007.

For his part, Whitehurst said he's not worrying about Hasselbeck's status.

"It's not in my mind. If it happens, it happens," Whitehurst said. "I'm prepared to play and start and you do what the coach says, but I'm ready to start."

But will he? Hasselbeck hasn't participated in practice Wednesday or Thursday. Carroll indicated the decision on Hasselbeck's hip might not be made until Saturday or early Sunday.

"Matt is getting healthy -- he's moving around better every day," Bates said. "It'll be interesting to see what happens on game time."

Based on track record, Hasselbeck would clearly be the better choice in essentially a play-in game. He's got nine career playoff starts, versus Whitehurst who has just one career start -- and a mess of a start at that.

Whitehurst's first start came in Week 9 against the New York Giants, a 41-7 blowout loss where Whitehurst went 12 of 23 for 113 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. He's played three times since, all in some sort of mop-up or injury replacement duty.

Whitehurst replaced Hasselbeck two weeks ago against Atlanta and played well, scoring on a 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that prompted chants of "Charlie" from the fans who remained. But he followed that up with an unimpressive 11 for 18 for 66 yards in three quarters last week against Tampa Bay after Hasselbeck was injured.

Whitehurst missed on his first four throws and never got Seattle's offense going.

"The first bubble pass he threw kind of sprayed it against Tampa, and things didn't happen for him," Bates said. "Then we went three-and-out, three-and-out, and it's a game of momentum, and we never got it."

Whitehurst has remained a mystery for many Seattle fans. He was brought in from San Diego to push Hasselbeck for the starting job, but never truly threatened the veteran. Yet a large segment of Seattle's fans remain in his corner, despite a lack of opportunities.

The ultimate opportunity may come Sunday night and with a postseason berth at stake.

"He looked excited, you kind of feel him," Seattle receiver Mike Williams said. "You can kind of sense he's ready to take this challenge on and take advantage of this stage and opportunity."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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