BY Art Thiel 05:00PM 12/18/2011

Thiel: Seahawks, Bryant startle Bears, NFL

Trailing14-7 at the half, Tarvaris Jackson and Red Bryant led the Seahawks (7-7) to a 38-14 rout of the Bears Sunday that enhanced their shot at the playoffs.

Seahawks defensive tackle Red Bryant returned an interception for a touchdown in the Seahawks' 38-14 rout of the Bears in Chicago Sunday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Rarely has a single defensive play captured the mood of an entire team.

When Red Bryant and his 340 pounds took to high-stepping into the end zone with a third-quarter interception for the go-ahead touchdown, it symbolized a joy that has swept through the Seahawks in a turnaround not only in Sunday’s second half, but the second half of the season.

“Seeing Big Red going into the end zone,” said a smiling head coach, Pete Carroll, “warms the heart.”

Said Bryant, who went 20 yards untouched after rookie linebacker K.J. Wright pressured Chicago QB Caleb Hanie into a game-breaking bad pass: “I got me a little prime time. That’s a big kid’s dream right there.”

The bigger dream continues for the Seahawks. From a 14-7 halftime deficit to a 38-14 triumph over the Bears in Chicago, the Seahawks warmed a lot of Northwest hearts by winning five of their past six games to become 7-7 and playoff-respectable –  an improbable feat considering the 2-6 start to the season.

Whether they are playoff-eligible remains to be seen over the regular season’s final two weeks. The Seahawks have a Christmas Eve date at home with the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers (10-3), who host the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night, then a New Year’s Day finale in Arizona against the Cardinals.

The playoff permutations remain several — here’s a good explainer from Mike Sando at ESPN –but there is no doubt the Seahawks, despite an injury list that grew Sunday after WR Mike Williams suffered a broken ankle, are peaking.

“Since the halfway point, we made a big point to finish right by playing better football,” Carroll said. “Now that we’re in midst of it, I’m really proud of where we’re going.”

Although Marshawn Lynch became the first Seahawk since 2005 to rush for 1,000 yards, it came hard against the Bears — 42 yards in 20 carries. That meant the passing game had to deliver. For a half, it didn’t. The Seahawks had just 84 yards of offense at intermission, and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson completed just four of 12 passes.

In the second half, Jackson stepped up, completing 15 of 19 passes and finishing with 227 yards. The Seahawks had just 286 yards of offense, but when the defense holds the opponent to 221 yards, it’s a playable lie.

In the opening drive of the second half, Jackson hit consecutive passes of 33 yards to Golden Tate and 43 yards to Ben Obamanu, setting up Lynch’s three-yard touchdown run — the 10th consecutive game in which he’s scored a TD, a Seahawks’ record.

The tie at 14 was broken on the next possession when rookie linebacker K.J. Wright pressured the inexperienced Hanie into a bad pass that went right to Bryant, who lumbered 20 yards untouched.

After that, the Bears broke down. Actually, they broke down more. Entering the game, Chicago was missing its two best offensive players, quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte. In the first quarter, premier WR Johnny Knox was carted off the field after a back injury sustained in a collision with Seahawks DE Anthony Hargrove on an attempt to recover Knox’s fumble.

During the week, the Bears were distracted mightily by the arrest of reserve WR Sam Hurd on federal drug-trafficking charges. So they were a mess coming into the game Sunday, and a 7-7 mess coming out.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks continue to adapt to the game and make the right moves in the final two periods.

“The coaches were really after it because we hadn’t really started on offense,” Carroll said, referring in part to bad field position that plagued Seattle in the first half. “Guys listened to the adjustments we asked of them. I liked the fourth quarter we had today better than any this season.”

The Seahawks followed up a 17-0 third quarter with another short touchdown drive to start the final period, with fullback Michael Robinson catching his first career touchdown pass, a two-yarder from Jackson. Brandon Browner’s 42-yard return with an interception completed the scoring.

“We have a saying on this team,” said Robinson after his second touchdown in two weeks. “Everybody’s eatin’.”

Compared to the 2-6 start to the season, the Seahawks are enjoying fine dining.


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