Not enough can be said about the full-team effort the Seahawks used on Sunday to finally get a win on the road against a quality opponent – 23-20 over the Bears.
Pete Carroll knew there would be days like this. The Seahawks’ first-year coach just wasn’t sure how soon, and at times even how.
That’s why, as statement-making performances go, Sunday’s 23-20 upset of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field was so reassuring and reaffirming.
At 4-1, the Bears entered this game tied for the best record in the NFL. The only team to beat them – the New York Giants – also is the only one to have rushed for more than 85 yards against the Bears. And that out-of-character effort for Chicago came on the road.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, had won only three of their past 20 road games – and those rare W’s came at St. Louis (twice) and San Francisco. They were 0-2 this season, having been outscored 51-17 in trips to Denver and St. Louis; and 1-7 last season, when the losses came by an average of almost 22 points.
But on a picture-postcard of a day along the shores of Lake Michigan, an aggressive, attacking, in-rhythm Seahawks team turned the proud Bears into road kill – on their own formidable stretch of the NFL highway.
With the win, the Seahawks improved to 3-2 and moved back into a first place tie with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. The Cardinals, who had their bye Sunday, play at Qwest Field this week.
“This was really as big day, because of the way we did it,” Carroll said.”We really wanted the guys to answer the call, and not look back and not play cautious.”
Done, and done. Not to mention well done.
“That’s probably the most emotion and energy we’ve brought to an away game,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “This is not something we’ve done. We’ve not gone on the road, played the early game and had emotion, had passion and those kinds of things. We just hadn’t done it.”
Until Sunday. Where to begin with how the Seahawks were able to answer the challenge of finally getting a win on the road against a team with a winning record?
Even with as well as all three phases played, it has to be the defense.
“The defense really played great football,” Carroll said.
After spotting the Bears a game-opening, 80-yard touchdown drive – with 58 of those yards coming on a pass interference penalty – the defense held them to a pair of field goals the rest of the way. They shut down the running game, and especially Matt Forte. He ran for 166 yards against the Panthers in Carolina last week, but the entire Bears team had 61 against the Seahawks – with 24 of that total coming on a fourth-and-1 run in the fourth quarter.
Putting Jay Cutler into situations where he was forced to pass, the Seahawks forced the issue. Using an aggressive game plan devised by coordinator Gus Bradley, the Seahawks sacked Cutler six times – including one for a safety by Jordan Babineaux – and pressured him into a 17-of-39 passing performance. Cutler had entered the game with a 102.2 passer rating, but in this one was only 69.4; in large part because they held to Bears to a 0-for-12 showing on third downs.
“We needed this,” said Lawyer Milloy, the veteran strong safety who spent a lot of time a lot closer to the line of scrimmage in a package that included three linemen and rookie Kam Chancellor at Milloy’s safety spot.
“It’s one thing that has eluded us really all year, even in the preseason, was learning how to win on the road.”
Not much eluded Milloy, who collected a pair of sacks while pressuring Cutler from start to finish.
“I think we made a statement to ourselves,” Milloy said. “The toughest thing to do is to win on the road in this league. This is a young team that’s coming together. This is a big step in our development as a team, to come into a hostile environment against a team that had four wins and get the victory.”
On offense, Hasselbeck found his rhythm in the up-tempo approach used by coordinator Jeremy Bates to make the Bears’ usually attacking defense play, well, defensively.
“It was definitely better than some of our others showings on the road,” Hasselbeck said after his 25-of-40, 242-yard performance. “We came out with a lot of emotion.
“I thought we had good tempo. Which is good. I like that. So it’s a good start. It still can be a lot better. But it’s a good start.”
Hasselbeck’s best numbers on this day were a couple of zeros – as in, no sacks and no interceptions.
Hasselbeck’s go-to receiver was Mike Williams, who responded with a career-best 10-catch, 123-yard effort. But Hasselbeck also went to Deon Butler, who caught a 22-yard TD pass in his first start at flanker after Deion Branch was traded last week; and tight ends John Carlson (two catches for 21 yards) and Chris Baker (one for 16).
The running game relied on the 1-2 punch of Marshawn Lynch, who got the start in his first game with the Seahawks after being acquired in a trade two weeks ago; and Justin Forsett, who had started the first four games but still was the leading rusher (67 yards, compared to 44 for Lynch). Each scored a touchdown. Each complemented what the other was able to bring, just as Carroll had predicted when Lynch was added.
“We could feel him, we could feel his style,” Carroll said. “He’s physical. He’s tough. He’s going to fight you and battle you. He did that. And Justin complemented that beautifully.”
Especially on his 9-yard TD run, where Forsett was stopped but used a surge-assist from rookie left tackle Russell Okung to get into the end zone. Lynch, meanwhile, scored on a 1-yard run that capped a statement-making 92-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
Lynch’s best statement might have come after the game, when asked how nice it was to come out of his first game as a Seahawk with a touchdown.
“To win my first game is better than the score,” Lynch said.
The only thing that really needs to be said about the line is that Hasselbeck was not sacked for the first time this season and the Seahawks ran for more than 100 yards for the first time this season. But that didn’t stop Carroll from saying more about the line play – on both sides of the ball.
“It was absolutely the story today,” he said. “We ran the ball; we protected beautifully. We rushed the passer; we stopped the run. That’s what it’s all about.”
The story, perhaps, but not the whole story. There also was punter Jon Ryan. The play that will make all the highlight packages is his last punt, which the Bears’ Devin Hester returned 89 yards for the ninth punt-return TD of his career. But the ones that helped the Seahawks distance themselves from the Bears before Hester went the distance were Ryan’s 54-yarder in the fourth quarter that hopped out of bounds at the Bears’ 8-yard line and another that Roy Lewis downed at the 1.
“I thought Jon Ryan had a fantastic day punt the football,” Carroll said. “All in all, he had a terrific day for us.”
One a day when that statement could serve as a fill-in-the-blank assessment for so many Seahawks who played so well in helping the team finally find a way to claim a quality victory on the road.