RENTON, Wash. – Matt Hasselbeck summarized the Seattle Seahawks’ entire season with one statement.
“I don’t know if everyone realizes how close we were to doing something really special,” he said after Sunday’s season-ending 35-24 loss to the Chicago Bears in the NFC divisional playoffs. “I mean we had everything set up for us.
“We didn’t deserve it, but it was right there for us.”
No, the Seahawks probably didn’t deserve to find themselves in the second round of the NFC playoffs and one victory away from hosting the conference championship game on their home field, especially considering Seattle needed to make the Super Bowl just to assure itself of finishing with a .500 record.
The Seahawks were the joke of the NFL playoffs, finishing the regular season with a 7-9 record and needing a win in Week 17 to clinch the dubious honor of being the first division champ in league history with a losing record. Then Seattle went out and stunned defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs, providing a surprising exclamation point to Pete Carroll’s first season back in the NFL following his decade of dominance at the University of Southern California.
Part of Seattle’s struggles with Carroll in charge came from the constant roster turnover, with 284 transactions from when Carroll took over to the end of the season. There were starters against the Bears who didn’t even arrive until just before the season opener against San Francisco. Brandon Stokley caught eight passes against Chicago and didn’t join the roster until after Week 3.
“For us to have that many transactions, more than I’ve ever been a part of, to have a chance at the end and to end up being a champion, it’s an outstanding head start to the foundation you’re trying to build,” said 37-year-old safety Lawyer Milloy, who has not decided whether he’ll return for a 16th NFL season. “And ultimately, next year most of the guys that ended this season will be here and you don’t have as much movement and hopefully you’re team has that much more continuity.”
The loss to Chicago highlighted many of Seattle’s deficiencies that must be addressed in the offseason. The Seahawks inability to establish a run game was a problem the entire season and fixing the offensive line will be one of the top priorities. Seattle averaged just 89 yards per game on the ground in the regular season and the arrival of Marshawn Lynch in a trade with Buffalo failed to produce the desired results. Lynch became Seattle’s first 100-yard rusher in 21 games when he ran for 131 yards against New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs.
There remain concerns about Seattle’s secondary that allowed too many big plays – none bigger than Greg Olsen’s 58-yard TD catch on Chicago’s third offensive play Sunday – and a defensive line that struggled to get a pass rush playing away from home. Despite the comeback of Williams, the Seahawks could use another downfield receiving threat.
Seattle has 27 players either on the 53-man roster or injured reserve who aren’t under contract for the 2011 season, including nine starters from Sunday’s game against Chicago.
But the biggest decision about Seattle’s offseason lies in the hands of Hasselbeck, an unrestricted free agent. The veteran understands Seattle is looking for its quarterback of the future, whether it decides to move forward with current backup Charlie Whitehurst in that role or looks for a college prospect in this year’s draft.
Carroll said publicly last week that the team wants Hasselbeck to return. But Hasselbeck’s play against the Saints was a reminder of how Hasselbeck can still perform, even at 35, and there are likely to be plenty of suitors – Arizona and San Francisco in the NFC West – that Hasselbeck could have some options on the free-agent market.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant and tight end John Carlson are returning from Chicago after both suffered concussions in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff loss to the Bears.
A team spokesman said the pair had been released from the hospital where they were held overnight for observation and were returning to Seattle.
Both players were taken from the field Sunday on a cart and strapped to a backboard. Carlson was hurt in the first quarter leaping near the sideline, falling directly on his head when he was upended by Danieal Manning.
Trufant was injured in the second half making a tackle on Bears tight end Kellen Davis in the third quarter. His head appeared to collide with Davis’ knee.