Seahawks to The bitter end

The Seahawks’ improbable playoff run was halted one win short of hosting the NFC Championship game with Sunday’s 35-24 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.

After a magical two-week run, the Seahawks finally ran out of magic on Sunday.

And their improbable season ended one game shy of hosting the NFC Championship game at Qwest Field. Instead, it’s the Chicago Bears who will host the conference title game next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers because they were the better team on this day – slapping the Seahawks back to reality with a 35-24 victory at Soldier Field.

“It feels like we made a lot of progress. It feels like we came together,” Pete Carroll said after his first season as coach had ended. “I would have loved to have gotten this (title) game because so many people said we couldn’t do it.

“I’m so disappointed for the people back home because we could have had that game at our place for our fans.”

Not even a trio of fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Matt Hasselbeck could extend the Seahawks’ late-season run – which saw them capture the NFC West title two weeks ago with a victory over the St. Louis Rams and then advance to the divisional round of the playoffs with a stunning upset of the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field last week.

“It wasn’t easy, especially when we were down 14-0, 21-0 and 28-3,” Hasselbeck said. “But we still believed we could win it. We just didn’t play well enough.”

The Seahawks didn’t just lose the game, they lost tight end John Carlson in the first quarter and cornerback Marcus Trufant in the third to concussions. The team leaders – and very popular teammates – were taken off the field on carts, strapped to boards. Each will spend the night in Chicago hospital, but Carroll said that is a precautionary measure.

But this loss stings, as veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy and third-year running back Justin Forsett put it. Sure, the Seahawks weren’t even supposed to be in this game. But because they were, the players wanted a better finish to the season than their performance against the Bears – a team they beat here in Week 6.

“It still stinks a little bit,” Forsett said. “But the fight we showed just to get here, we can build on that.”

The Bears (12-5) got the better of the Seahawks (8-10) on this day in large part because of the play of quarterback Jay Cutler in his first postseason start. He passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more.

“Jay played great today,” Carroll said.

Cutler was 15 of 28 for 274 yards, with the TD throws to tight end Greg Olsen on the third play of the game for 58 yards and also a 39-yarder to tight end Kellen Davis in the fourth quarter that made it 35-10. Cutler also scored on runs of 6 and 9 yards, as he had 43 of the Bears’ 176 rushing yards.

Cutler was especially effective on third downs – a drastic change from Week 6, when the Seahawks limited the Bears to a 0-for-12 performance on the pivotal down and sacked Cutler six times. In Sunday’s rematch, with a lot more on the line, the Bears converted 56 percent on third downs (10 of 18) and Cutler was sacked three times.

Still, the Seahawks refused to give up – or give in. Hasselbeck’s fourth-quarter TD passes went to Mike Williams (2 and 3 yards) and Brandon Stokley (9 yards). He was 26 of 46 for 258 yards and a 94.3 rating. He became the seventh QB in NFL history to pass for a touchdown in 10 consecutive postseason games. And his day would have been even more impressive if his receivers had not dropped a half dozen passes on a cold, snowy afternoon and also had been able to come up some tough catches.

“The Bears played physical. They played grabby. They were holding a lot,” Hasselbeck said. “It’s too bad. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t make more plays.”

The Seahawks needed each and every one of Hasselbeck’s completions because a running game that had emerged from hibernation against the Rams and Saints was able to generate only 34 yards on 12 carries. How bad was it? Rookie wide receiver Golden Tate was the leading rusher with 13 yards on one carry.

On this day, it was the Bears who made the most plays. So they will face the Packers for 182nd time, but only the second time in the playoffs – and first since 1941, when the Bears won 33-14.

The Seahawks will return to Seattle – to hold one last meeting and clean out their lockers; not host the NFC Championship game.

“It’s tough to think how close we were,” Hasselbeck said. “We didn’t deserve it, but it was right there for us and we didn’t get it done.”