BY Doug Farrar 04:42PM 01/16/2011

Seahawks try to find the future in blowout loss

Bears end Seattle’s season, but there is a story beyond the score

Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy gets burned on Greg Olsen's 58-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter of Sunday's 35-24 loss to the Chicago Bears / Getty Images

It may be better to be lucky than good, but to beat the Chicago Bears in a cold and snowy environment at Soldier Field in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks would have to be both. In the end, and despite a frantic run from season oblivion at the end, they were neither. The final score of 35-24 in no way indicated just how one-sided the game was. It’s better when analyzing a game this to take one’s eyes off the scoreboard and simply say that the Seahawks never stood a chance.

Not when Jordan Babineaux nearly intercepted a Jay Cutler pass in the end zone late in the first quarter, not when Aaron Curry later picked off a direct snap pass from Matt Forte, and not even when they finally woke up and blew 21 points on the Bears in the fourth quarter. While impressive, those three touchdowns were meaningless on the day, because the Seahawks had allowed Chicago to roll out to a 28-0 lead in the first place.

It was the beatdown some expected; the convincing win that answered the prayers of everyone who wanted the Seahawks and their 7-9 regular season record out of the playoffs as quickly as possible.

Perhaps the stage was too big for a team that somehow got past blowout loss after blowout loss to advance this far? Maybe the football gods just didn’t want a sub-.500 team advancing this far on the fuel of divine providence? The Seahawks knew that they’d host the NFC championship game if they beat the Bears because the Green Bay Packers trounced the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night. And this wasn’t just a “happy to be here” team; all you had to do was to look at the faces of the players as they came off the field to know that this Seahawks team – the one that finally landed after a seemingly endless parade of roster moves.

Seattle failed to convert its first four third down attempts, and had only four drives of five plays or more. They didn’t get past Chicago’s 40-yard line until late in the third quarter. The sideline routes to Mike Williams that worked so well before missed their mark. The normally sure-handed Brandon Stokley dropped footballs at an alarming rate, and he wasn’t the only one. Halfway through the second quarter, Raheem Brock sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and caused a fumble, but the Bears recovered it and punted the Seahawks at their own one-yard line on the next play.

Marcus Trufant and John Carlson were carted from the game with head injuries (initial prognoses appear to indicate that both players will be okay), and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler – a reasonably mobile quarterback who will never be mistaken for Michael Vick – actually outrushed the entire Seahawks team, 43 yards to 34. If you believe that Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger actually broke the plane in Super Bowl XL, his was the only rushing touchdown by a quarterback against Seattle in the franchise’s history, and Cutler had two of them.

Perhaps most of all, the Seahawks met a Bears team that bore little resemblance to the unit they low-rolled to a 23-20 win a few months back. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz famously changed several things about the offense, making it more dynamic versatile, and effective. Seattle’s defense never seemed to know that to do with Chicago’s’ game plans. And even when the defense was able to create negative plays and drive the Bears from the field, punter Brad Maynard did what Seahawks punter Jon Ryan did in the previous meeting between the two teams; he pinned them in with impossible field position.

Seattle began drives at their own 1- and 5-yard lines, and as Lawyer Milloy said after the game, “When you give up a 28-point lead to a team, that’s what happens.”

However, it is reasonable to say that the short term reflections of players and fans disappointed by such a loss must take second place to the fact that the Seahawks got this far in the first place. One year and a few days after Pete Carroll was hired, and some 280-ish roster moves later, a franchise that hadn’t seen competitiveness since the end of the 2007 season defeated the Super Bowl champion Saints and were playing for a shot few people outside the Virginia Mason Athletic Center expected them to have. Hard as it may have been to reflect on how far they had come so soon after being derailed, several Seahawks seemed eager to make a primary statement.

This is only the beginning.

“The whole year, even when we weren’t playing well, he felt like we were a very capable team,” linebacker Will Herring said. “We were able to stick together, and I’m proud of our guys. We started playing better football down the stretch, but today, for whatever reason, we made too many mistakes. And if you make too many mistakes against a team like the Bears, they’ll make you pay.”

The Seahawks aren’t quite there yet – they’ve been far too spikey this year to consistently roll on teams that don’t bring their best. Perhaps the only positive thing one could say about the playoff loss was that it broke Seattle’s season-long streak of losses by at least 15 points. Every loss was a blowout, and most wins seemed to come with far more heart palpitations than you’d expect from a team calling itself elite. As receiver Ben Obomanu said after the game, the Seahawks were good enough to win the NFC West, no matter how much the record may have tarnished the accomplishment to the outside world, and that was the end goal for Carroll in his first season. Exceeding those expectations gave veterans like Milloy a sense of gratitude for a rebound season, and young players like Justin Forsett an opportunity to hope.

David Hawthorne, one of several players on the roster who actually did play for Mike Holmgren Jim Mora, and Carroll, had a very quick answer as to why Carroll would be able to return the franchise to the levels Holmgren finally did. “He brings a championship mentality,” Hawthorne said. “Every game’s a championship game, and he prepares us for games like this through the year, so that when the opportunity comes, and we’re playing in a game like this, it’s just like normal, everyday business to us. Pete always focuses on the positive; he doesn’t try to bring the team down.

“Obviously, he was upset after the game, and we were upset, but he thanked us. He said, ‘It took a long time for us to get here, but we almost did exactly what we set out to do.’ We’re already thinking about next year.”

Milloy has seen a different side of the Cinderella story; he was a key cog in the 2001 New England Patriots team that rose from nowhere to take one of the least likely Super Bowl victories in NFL history. Then, he was a star playing at a Pro Bowl level. Now, he is a mentor to many of the younger players on this team – the Seattle Mariners like to squawk about veteran clubhouse presence, but Milloy lives it every day. He has said before this week that the only thing standing between this team and the ultimate goal was consistency; tonight, he seemed to believe that the Seahawks were just too little and too late in that equation.

“We know what the outside world thinks of this, but we don’t take just getting here as a consolation prize,” Milloy (who takes losing as hard as any athlete I’ve ever seen) said. “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 were the one- or two-seed and we lost. It stings that much more, You’re not happy just because nobody thought you’d get to this point. At least for me as a veteran player, that’s not what I’m trying to preach to these young guys. You take advantage of the opportunities, and today, we didn’t.”

Forsett, who had only seen Holmgren’s worst season in 2008 and whatever it was that Tim Ruskell and Jim Mora were trying to accomplish in 2009, talked of a very different belief system in place now. Everyone seemed to understand that this is Year one of a considerable rebuilding effort, and whole that holds its own inherent issues when Year two rolls around, it’s still an amazing feeling for those younger players who haven’t seen and contributed to NFL team success until now.

“Pete’s always so energetic, and we feed off that, “Forsett said. “You see him running down the side lines, and he’s practicing with us back there. We were doing our offense vs. defense warm-ups out there today, and he’s back behind the linebackers, reading the runs. You love to play for a guy like that. You want to win for him.”

Forsett, a spiritual person who often relays Scripture on his Twitter account, recited one verse in particular when asked to sum up the season. “It’s in Galatians 6 – ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’”

No matter where faith takes you, it’s a good way to live. All the clichés about winning the battle and losing the war aside, the 2010 Seahawks gave more than they thought they had – and they got more than they expected.

There are still many positions to fix and overhaul (a subject we’ll be delving into at Sportspress Northwest very soon), but here is the start. And that’s why the loss felt more like a start than a finish.


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