CHICAGO – Reality caught up with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Reality, a stingy Chicago Bears defense, and a whole lot of mistakes, that is.
After back-to-back wins, including last week’s playoff victory over defending Super Bowl champions, delivered the Seahawks into an improbable divisional-round game against the Bears, the Seahawks came crashing back to earth with a 35-24 loss at Soldier Field that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated.
Hampered by injuries at tight end, the Seahawks couldn’t move the ball on offense for the better part of three quarters, and the defense that frustrated Jay Cutler so often in an October victory over Chicago was torched by the Bears quarterback this time around. And by the time the Seahawks could get anything going, they were already down 28-0 in the third quarter.
“We didn’t get enough done,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We missed this opportunity to play really well and get it done and take it to the next level, which a lot of people didn’t think we could do.”
A lot of people indeed didn’t think the Seahawks would get this far considering how poorly they played for much of the regular season. But a season-ending win allowed the Seahawks to win the NFC West with a 7-9 record, and from there they proved a lot of their doubters wrong with a win over New Orleans last week.
And just as the Seahawks were an impossible team to figure out this season – looking good one week then getting blown out then next – it was equally difficult to determine just what should be taken from this game.
On one hand the Seahawks felt good about the fact that they were resilient late in the season after losing seven of nine prior to the win over St. Louis.
“We played very well these last couple of weeks,” Carroll said. “… The belief in what we were capable of doing shifted to another level. We came into this game fighting for every inch of it. There were times during the season you would have thought it could have gone the other way, but these guys hung extraordinarily well and stayed together and kept believing.”
On the other hand, however, the Seahawks were one game away from hosting Green Bay in the NFC championship game, but instead got smoked by a team they had beaten in this same stadium three months earlier.
“We don’t take just getting to this point as a consolation prize,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “I’m sure people will want to hand that out to us right now, but we prepared to beat this team and it didn’t happen. So it sucks just like if you were the number one or two seed and lost. It stings that much more. You’re not happy just because, ‘Hey, nobody thought we’d get to this point anyway.’ That’s not what it is. As a veteran player, that’s not what I’m trying to preach to these young guys. You take advantage of your opportunities and today we didn’t.”
Once the Seahawks got into the postseason, they weren’t all that worried about the record that got them there, and they believe heading into Sunday’s game that they had a chance to do a lot more. So no matter how impressive that win was over New Orleans last week, this loss was equally painful for the Seahawks.
“I don’t know if everyone realizes how close we were to doing something really special,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns in what could have been his final game with the Seahawks. “I mean we had everything set up for us. We didn’t deserve it, but it was right there for us and we didn’t take advantage.”
It became evident in the very early going that the Seahawks were fighting an uphill battle. After a quick three-and-out on the first possession Seattle had to punt – something the Seahawks would also do on their next seven possessions. Chicago quickly jumped ahead with a three-play drive, scoring on a 58-yard pass from Jay Cutler to Greg Olson.
Seattle kept punting thanks to an inability to run the ball and a number of dropped passes, and the Bears kept scoring thanks in part to the play of Cutler and the offense, and also because of the defenses’ inability to take advantage of opportunities. Cutler gave Seattle defenders chances to make plays, but they failed to capitalize, and none of those missed chances was worse than when safety Jordan Babineaux dropped an easy interception at the goal line. Had he caught it, Babineaux would have had a lot of room to run, but instead he gave the Bears another shot and they scored their second TD.
“Nobody likes this feeling,” linebacker David Hawthorne said. “To be so close and have it all snatched away on a game where you feel like you didn’t execute 100 percent. If it was a deal where we went out and were 100 percent on everything and they just beat us because they were a better team, then yeah, but to know we left a few plays out there is disappointing.”
If the sloppy play wasn’t bad enough for the Seahawks, they also had to deal with two scary injuries as tight end John Carlson and cornerback Marcus Trufant had to both be strapped to back boards and carted off of the field. Both suffered concussions, and both stayed in a Chicago hospital overnight for observation, but Carroll said both should be OK and that neither appeared to have suffered injuries other than the concussion.
Without Carlson, and with Cameron Morrah, the only other tight end available, battling turf toe, the Seahawks were hamstrung on offense. And against a very good Chicago defense, that was a recipe for disaster, particularly when the receivers weren’t catching the ball consistently.
The Seahawks did finally put a few drives together late and ended up making the score respectable – the 11-point margin of defeat actually made this Seattle’s closest loss of the year – but that provided little comfort.
“It hurts, definitely, because you can taste it,” Milloy said. “You can taste that trophy getting closer and closer. It seemed like the stars were lining up, all we had to do is finish our business and then we’d be hosting the NFC championship. But today we didn’t get it done. The Bears were a better team than us today. Are we going to hear, ‘They shouldn’t have been in the playoffs anyway?’ Probably, but this team has taken big strides in the last three weeks.”