Encouragement amid discouragement

The Seahawks’ season ended Sunday with a disappointing loss to the Bears in Chicago, but veteran safety Lawyer Milloy sees ample reason for optimism moving forward.

Lawyer Milloy has been here before.

After 15 NFL seasons, the Seahawks’ veteran strong safety is well aware that most seasons end in disappointment. Only one team, after all, can end its season with a victory.

The Seahawks’ season ended abruptly on Sunday – and frustratingly – as they lost 35-24 to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field; one step shy of hosting the NFC Championship game at Qwest Field. No one even expected the Seahawks to win their division, let alone upset the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in a wild-card playoff game to advance to the divisional round.

But that didn’t make losing to the Bears any easier to, well, grin and bear it.

“We understand the outside people, how they viewed us,” Milloy said. “The one thing is, we don’t take getting to this point as a consolation prize. 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 we were the No. 1 or No. 2 seed and we lost. It stings just that much more. You don’t be happy just because, hey, nobody thought we’d get to this point anyway. That’s not what it is. At least to me, as a veteran player, that’s not what I’m trying to preach to these young guys.”

There is that way-to-go factor, after the Seahawks became the first team in NFL history to win its division with a losing record. They beat the St. Louis Rams two weeks ago to do just that, then shocked the football world last week by upsetting the Saints.

That got the Seahawks into the divisional round, and one more win from hosting the NFC Championship game next Sunday. The higher you climb the postseason ladder, the harder the fall when it’s over.

“Definitely,” Milloy said. “Because you can taste it. You can taste that trophy getting closer and closer. It seemed like the stars were lining up. All we had to go do was finish our business and then we’d be at home hosting the NFC Championship.

“Today we didn’t get it done. The Bears were a better team than us today.”

But please don’t dangle that talk of a consolation prize in Milloy’s direction. He doesn’t want it. What he wanted was to beat a team that Seahawks already had beaten – at Soldier Field in Week 6.

“Are we going to hear, ‘Ah, they shouldn’t have been the playoffs anyway?’ We probably would,” he said. “But this team has taken big strides within the last two or three weeks.

“Today didn’t happen for us. But I’m very proud of this team. It’s a very young team with a lot of new faces, week in and week out, that at the end started to get it. And it’s very encouraging.”

Even if the face of discouragement.

While the Seahawks lost their final game, all is not lost – especially for ever-optimistic coach Pete Carroll.

“This is extremely important for us to feel that we can come together and we can find our level and the potential of this team,” he said. “We played very well the last couple weeks and we practiced beautifully.

“Our belief in what we doing shifted to a different level. We came into this game fighting for every inch of it. There were times during the season that you would have thought that it could have gone a different way.”

Like when the Seahawks were losing seven of nine games down the stretch, but somehow remaining in the race for the division title.

“These guys hung together extremely well and stayed together and kept believing,” Carroll said. “That’s what was so powerful, and it even showed up again in this football game.

“That’s because that’s what we’ve become. So hopefully the program will continue to grow in that direction and if we get the opportunities we’ll make this team stronger and better and we’ll be further ahead because of what we’ve gone through.”