SEATTLE – Matt Hasselbeck completed 21 of 25 passes for 226 yards and a season-high four touchdowns in just three quarters to breeze his NFC-leading Seahawks past San Francisco, 41-3.

Bobby Engram caught two of Hasselbeck’s scoring throws, as the NFC West champions (11-2) won their team-record ninth straight game. They also showed they might bring along a hot quarterback with NFL rushing leader Shaun Alexander into the playoffs.

The only other time Hasselbeck threw more than three scores in his 104-game career was a five-TD performance on Nov. 23, 2003, an overtime loss at Baltimore.

“I really hate saying good things about him, because it goes to his head,” center Robbie Tobeck said, almost laughing. “All you hear about is Shaun, which is great. He’s deserved it. But Matt’s done a great job leading this team.”

Tobeck has been where this franchise never has gone: the Super Bowl. He went with Atlanta in 1998, when Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler got hot late in the season.

“You can’t win in the playoffs if you don’t have a quarterback who is playing well; it’s impossible to do it without that,” he said.

Alexander added 108 yards on 21 carries and his league-leading 23rd touchdown rushing late in the third quarter. He is four TDs from the league’s single-season record of 27, set by Priest Holmes of Kansas City in 2003.

The Seahawks completed their division schedule 6-0, the first time in the franchise’s 30-year history it has been spotless within its division.

Seattle’s perfect day didn’t end there: Chicago and Carolina, its closest competitors for the top seed in the NFC playoffs, both lost. The Seahawks have a two-game lead for playoff home-field advantage with three games to play.

How important might that be? They are 21-4 in the regular season and postseason at home since the end of the 2002 season.

“We have the opportunity to do some wonderful things,” coach Mike Holmgren said. “I can’t see that there would be any chance of a letdown.”

San Francisco (2-11) stayed with the Seahawks through its first drive, which ended with a 39-yard field goal. Rookie quarterback Alex Smith completed his first two passes in his second start since returning from a five-week knee injury.

But then Smith hit on just 2 of 11 throws while playing behind an offensive line with new starters in all five positions since last season. In that horrid stretch, Smith dropped the ball trying to throw it to avoid a sack and fumbled, one of three he had. He also threw a pass high and behind running back Terry Jackson that Seattle’s Lofa Tatupu intercepted.

San Francisco had just 113 yards of offense – the lowest ever for a Seattle opponent.

“It is not this Sunday we are playing for, but things down the road that are ahead of us,” Smith said. “We are trying to get better – especially myself. It is something I take to heart.”

The Seahawks immediately took to San Francisco’s defensive attempt to crowd the line against Alexander and force Hasselbeck to win through the air. Dallas and the New York Giants largely succeeded with that tack in recent games.

But Hasselbeck completed eight of his first nine passes for three touchdowns over the first 15:22 of the game.

His second score came after Derek Smith’s third-down, personal-foul penalty for ripping his head into Hasselbeck’s chest. That kept alive Seattle’s drive that ended with Hasselbeck’s patient, 8-yard touchdown throw to tight end Jerramy Stevens.

“Thankfully, Coach Holmgren called three or four running plays right after that so I could catch my breath,” Hasselbeck said, laughing.

“When things are rolling, you can kind of joke about it.”

Notes: Seattle’s offense didn’t punt until 4 minutes remained in the third quarter. By then, it was 31-3 … Three weeks after burning Seattle with seven catches for 119 yards and touchdown, San Francisco’s Brandon Lloyd had just three catches for 37 yards … Alexander had his ninth consecutive 100-yard rushing game against the NFC West, the longest such streak in NFL history within a division.

AP-ES-12-11-05 2220EST


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