Jay Cutler’s first playoff start wasn’t exactly pressure-packed.
At least not like it was back on Oct. 17 when the Seahawks played at Chicago and Seattle blitzed its way to six sacks, the most it had in any regular-season game.
Seattle had half as many in the playoff rematch as Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons and Lofa Tatupu each had one.
That stood in contrast to the first game when Seattle frequently blitzed out of its Bandit formation — which features seven defensive backs. Lawyer Milloy had two sacks in the game, Jordan Babineaux had one.
“We played him differently,” Milloy said.
So why weren’t there more blitzes this time around?
“The situations, all the down-and-distances were much shorter,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We had a lot of third-and-8s and more last time. This time it was third-and-three, -four, -five the whole time.”
Seattle’s inability to break down the Bears’ pocket turned out to be a crucial difference in this game.
“The first time we played them, we were getting a lot of pressure,” safety Earl Thomas said. “We didn’t get pressure on him this time. He would just sit back there and making all the right throws. We dropped back in zone, he kind of scrambled on us and would pick up yards with his legs also.”
Seattle consistently dropped back into coverage, and Cutler made the most of his time in the pocket.
“I think we took a different approach for whatever reason,” linebacker David Hawthorne said. “But I don’t think it was the playcalling. It was just guys needing to make plays. We needed to step up on third down like we did last time and just get off the field. I don’t think we did as good of a job this time.”
Dropping the ball
Brandon Stokley stumbled on Seattle’s first third down of the game, making what could have been a first-down reception very difficult and he couldn’t manage to catch the ball.
He wasn’t alone. Backup tight end Cameron Morrah had a first-quarter pass bounce off his hands for what would have been a big gain in the first quarter, and receiver Mike Williams had two passes that he failed to catch after they hit him squarely in his hands.
“I don’t think we caught the ball very well,” Carroll said. “There were a number of battles we were fighting, but we didn’t come up with the ball as we would have liked.”
Ground and pound
Chicago’s ability to run the ball was a critical factor in Sunday’s game.
Almost as critical as Seattle’s inability to run.
The Bears had only 14 carries in the regular-season meeting against Seattle, but their increased emphasis on the ground game over the second half of the season showed on Sunday. They ran 45 times, gaining 176 yards.
Golden Tate led Seattle with 13 yards rushing, which he gained off a backward pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Seattle’s starting running back Marshawn Lynch carried four times for 2 yards, limited by a shoulder injury, and the Seahawks’ best run of the day by a running back was its first one. Leon Washington gained 9 yards on a misdirection play on the Seahawks’ first play from scrimmage.
Seattle finished with 34 yards rushing, fewer than all but one of its regular-season games. The Seahawks were held to 20 yards rushing against Kansas City.
The 34 yards was barely half what Lynch got in his memorable 67-yard TD jaunt that clinched the win over New Orleans last week.
However, the Seahawks knew it would be a struggle against a Chicago defense that ranked second in the NFL against the run.
“They challenged us, played real physical, real grabby, holding a lot but doing it in a way that they didn’t get called for flags,” Hasselbeck said. “They did what they had to do and we didn’t answer.”
Milloy uncertain about future
The end of the season also means the beginning of questions about the futures of some Seahawks, including safety Lawyer Milloy, at 37 the oldest player on the team other than kicker Olindo Mare.
Asked after the game if he wants to come back, Milloy initially said it was too quick after the loss to think about it, then indicated he hopes he gets the chance.
“My body feels great,” he said. “I’m still capable. Losing hurts me just like it did when I was 21. I don’t put a limit on my career, which is probably why I have played this long.”
Cutler answers his critics
One of the subplots of the game from a Chicago perspective was whether Cutler could handle the pressure of a playoff game, his first as a professional.
That he did had Cutler in a more talkative mood afterward than is sometimes the case. In fact, his reputation for sometimes offering a terse public face was the focus of a few national media pieces this week, including one by ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly.
“I saw a lot of it,” Cutler said. “Mr. Reilly was very happy with me and I saw that. It is what it is. Like I said, nobody outside that building is going to affect me.”