If there is one thing — and there weren’t many — that the Seattle Seahawks wanted to duplicate from their surprisingly playoff-worthy 7-9 regular season, it was a well-executed road victory over the Chicago Bears in October.
Back in Week 6, the Seahawks took advantage of a Bears team in flux and recorded a 23-20 victory at Solider Field with a simple formula: they pressured Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to the tune of six sacks and scored just enough points to win.
Hoping to mirror that victory, the Seahawks instead saw their season end with Sunday’s 35-24 setback in the Windy City that was not as close as the score indicated.
Seattle trailed 28-3 heading into the final quarter, when quarterback Matt Hasselbeck would throw a trio of touchdown passes. However, the last came with just 1:24 remaining and with his team still faced with a two touchdown-deficit.
“I thought we were prepared, [we] felt really good going into the game. Really liked our game plan,” said Hasselbeck. “Felt like [Saturday] night, there was just a ton of energy. I think we really believed we were going to win. As improbable and as unlikely as it may have seemed to a lot of people, I think we really believed.”
And with that, the Seahawks’ ugly-but-magical season was over. The first division winner ever with a losing record may have been playing with house money, but that didn’t make going broke any easier.
“No matter what, to get to this position that we’re in, no matter how we got here, is disappointing,” said safety Lawyer Milloy. “To have a shot to move on and be in front of our home fans, believe me we prepared to win this game. So this sucks, just like any other loss for anybody that’s in this position.
“I don’t care if you have 12 wins [or are] undefeated, when you lose at this point, it hurts.”
Back in October, the Seahawks did not allow the Bears to convert any of their 12 third-down opportunities. On Sunday, Chicago was 10-for-18 in said situations.
So where does that now leave Seattle, which came ever so close to hosting the NFC Championship Game?
Even if it did come with an NFC West title, a 7-9 record leaves much room for improvement. First-year head coach Pete Carroll spent this past offseason overhauling many parts of the club and never really stopped during the campaign (see in-season additions like wide receiver Brandon Stokley and running back Marshawn Lynch).
Hopefully Carroll has found a solid nucleus to go forward with and won’t need such a turnover this summer. Seattle got lucky this year, emerging from a horrid division, and there is no guarantee the NFC West will be as wide-open come September.
“It’s so hard to get here and its not automatic we are going to get here again to get this far along,” said Carroll. “But we’ve learned a lot, we’ve grown a lot.”
RUN GAME MAULED
Though all of Seattle’s running backs came out of the game healthy, it was a different set of injuries that really took the team’s ground game out of the equation.
The Seahawks lost tight end John Carlson to a concussion early in the game after he landed on his head and right shoulder following an attempted leap to avoid a tackle. Backup Cameron Morrah was limited by a turf toe injury, which left Seattle without a tight end for a good portion of the contest. Hasselbeck said the club was forced to move a lineman to the position at certain times while also using more four and five wide-receiver sets.
Even with the plethora of receivers, Chicago’s defense did not match and left star linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs on the field, leaving little room for Lynch to run.
“We just couldn’t overcome some of the things that happened,” said Hasselbeck. “We lost John Carlson early, which is a huge loss. He had a great game for us last week [versus New Orleans] and was a huge part of the plan.”
Just one week after running for 131 yards on 19 carries versus the Saints, including a late 67-yard touchdown run, Lynch carried the ball just four times for two yards.
Wide receiver Golden Tate led the club in rushing, notching 13 yards on one carry.
“[The Bears] were able to move the football on us in the first half and get some points, and we couldn’t get going,” said Carroll. “We ran into difficulties when we lost both tight ends in the first half and we were scrambling. We didn’t get to run the football like we would have liked to.”
Without a run game to keep the Bears honest, the Seahawks managed just 111 yards of offense through the first three quarters before racking up some yardage in the final frame.
Hasselbeck did reach a milestone with his fourth-quarter scoring barrage, becoming just the seventh player in league history to throw a touchdown pass in 10 straight postseason games.
DEFENSE CUT UP
The Seahawks were able to surprisingly win a shootout with the Saints in the Wild Card Round, but were not as lucky this past Sunday. Seattle allowed 71 total points in its two playoff games and yielded a pair of touchdown passes to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw for 274 yards and also ran for two scores.
That outburst came after Seattle allowed 404 passing yards and two touchdowns to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.
Seattle’s defense also took a hit in the third quarter, when cornerback Marcus Trufant suffered a concussion after hitting his head on an opponent’s knee while trying to make a tackle.
Like Carlson, Trufant was carted off the field and both players stayed overnight in an area hospital. Carroll did say that all indications were that the two players were okay with no serious injuries.
UP NEXT: THE DRAFT
The Seahawks will be picking later than most 7-9 teams, but still have many of the same needs.
With Lynch and Justin Forsett manning the backfield, the Seahawks could address their passing game. Hasselbeck battled through injuries this year and will be 36 next season, so Seattle could draft his successor this year if it thinks backup Charlie Whitehurst is not a long-term solution.
Seattle could also use another wideout to compliment the emerging Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu, though Tate could get a bigger role next year.
Defensively, the Seahawks ranked 27th in total and passing defense, while coming in 21st versus the run. That side of the ball should get most of the club’s attention this offseason.
Regardless, the Seahawks should be more seasoned next year under Carroll.
“The one thing that’s encouraging is that we have a young team that started to figure it out at the end, and this is definitely a big step in the progression of what Pete is trying to accomplish,” the veteran Milloy said.
Seattle had a pair of first-round picks last year, taking tackle Russell Okung sixth overall and safety Earl Thomas 14th. Okung battled injuries for most of the year, while Thomas was solid in his rookie season.