BY Art Thiel 05:18PM 01/16/2011

Chicago bullies too much for Seahawks

Enthusiasm is no match for Bears’ tough-guy tactics

TE Cameron Morrah lets a Matt Hasselbeck pass slip through his hands on Sunday, when the Seahawks couldn't generate offense until it was too late / Getty Images

CHICAGO – In the big picture, the Seahawks season beat any reasonable expectation.

In the little picture, as in Sunday at Soldier Field, they were simply beat.

Beat up.

Beat down.

Beat silly.

In a match of football manhoods, they were blasted by the Chicago Bears.

For as much late-season improvement, enthusiasm and momentum they brought with them from Seattle, they were not ready for the conditions and requirements of this caliber of playoff football.

No shame in that.

However, in a 35-24 rout that ended their season and was not nearly that close, there was a lot of pain.

“They were real physical with us, and we didn’t match that physical nature,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who as senior eminence did just about everything he could to compensate for his team’s shortcomings.

But he can’t catch his own passes. Can’t catch the other quarterback’s throws. Can’t open holes along the line of scrimmage, or close them down.

And he can’t afford to be less than perfect for the Seahawks to win.

On the other hand, the Bears were built for snowy days of high-stakes football in mid-January: Rugged defense, solid running game and, in the franchise tradition of legendary Mike Ditka, a difference-making tight end in Greg Olsen.

By late afternoon, the Seahawks didn’t even have a tight end. When starter John Carlson was carted off the field with a concussion on the Seahawks’ second possession, they were down to reserve Cameron Morrah. When a toe injury later took him away, they lost a fundamental part of their offensive game: A two-tight end set.

“We have this play sheet, and we were down to using a quarter of it,” Hasselbeck said.  And even among those plays, nearly every Seahawks receiver allowed himself to be pushed and bullied out of a reception.

“I don’t think we caught the ball very well today,” said coach Pete Carroll. “I was disappointed in that.”

Noteworthy was the absence of impact from Mike Williams, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver who should have the physical advantage every time. Targeted 13 times by the offense, he made only four catches for 15 yards. Not all the misses were his fault, but on a day when rushing yards were bound to be precious against a defense that wasn’t going to whiff like the New Orleans defense a week earlier, Williams and his fellow pass catchers let the Bears’ secondary have its way with them.

The shortcomings left it to the defense. They were little better prepared for this stage.

They gave up 437 yards and forced just a single turnover. But in the mind of one of them, a single play might have made for a different game.

Trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter and about to go under 14-0, the Seahawks had a chance to disrupt when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, on second down at the Seattle 3-yard line, threw the ball to the right flat and right into the hands of Seahawks cornerback Jordan Babineaux. A catch would have given him an open field to the opposite end zone.

Instead, just like Williams, he dropped the chance.

“He threw it right to me,” he said. “If I make that play, it’s a different ballgame. A 14-point swing.”

Doubtful the Seahawks would have prevailed, but a 7-7 game entering the second quarter would have had a different feel than 14-0 when the snow started falling more heavily.

A closer contest would have put more pressure on the mistake-prone Cutler, appearing in his first postseason game. Instead, he played a relatively pressure-free game that included smart scrambles out of trouble. His 43 yards rushing topped by nine yards the ground output of all Seahawks runners combined.

Believe it or not: Not since Otto Graham in 1955 has a quarterback thrown for two touchdowns and rushed for two touchdowns in an NFL playoff game as Cutler did Sunday.  And Cutler is no Otto Graham.

“It’s tough when you have good coverage and see the quarterback running away,” Babineaux said. “That one was a low blow.”

He was referring to a six-yard run by Cutler early in the second period that put the Bears up 21-0. But it just as easily could have been a nine-yarder early in the third period that put Chicago up 28-0.

For the Bears to win, Cutler merely had to be decent. He was good, so Chicago moved easily on to the next round – hosting Green Bay next weekend in what should be a splendid Midwest matchup for the NFC championship.

Though thoroughly trounced – a late flurry of points made the final score respectable only for the record books – the Seahawks still had a notion, freshly minted only in the last couple of weeks, that they could compete. If you’ve been following this soap opera since Carroll’s arrival a year ago, that was the point of his repetitive natterings.

“These guys thought, even as crazy as it looked in the end, that something good was going to happen,” he said. That belief will be a cornerstone of any success the Seahawks will have.

Doesn’t change the wallop from Sunday, however, and the loss of the rare opportunity to exploit the seasonal breaks that helped them get to this plateau.

“To me, it’s most disappointing because it’s so hard to get here,” Carroll said. “It’s not automatic that we’ll get here again.”

At least they know now what it looks like on the road – a cold, hard and nasty experience with bullies after your lunch money. Best to put that money in a fist and throw it first.


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