The Morning After: Bears Beat Seahawks, 35-24

The announcement came down a little over a year ago that Jim Mora was fired as the Seahawks coach. The season had ended horribly, including a home loss to miserable Tampa Bay. The franchise teetered on the edge of  perennial irrelevance. Pete Carroll and John Schneider came in and joked around at press conferences in a way that seemed to indicate they thought all we needed was a few laughs and a good attitude. It felt like someone cracking jokes at a wake. Most fans were too depressed or disinterested to care. Then they shocked everyone inside and outside the organization with a major infusion of talent on draft day. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, and a host of promising partners came aboard. I wrote back then about how “front office” Pete Carroll had just made it harder on “Coach” Pete Carroll by raising expectations. That one weekend switched the talk from how bad this team was to how good it might be. It was unrealistic, but who cared? It sure was better than talking about Tim Ruskell’s latest lousy draft. This 2010 season was a team so clearly in transition, it looked a lot like Two-Face, struggling to escape it’s disfigured past. The win against the Rams, and then the Saints did to “front office” Pete Carroll what the draft did to the coach, it has raised expectations. This off-season will be the most critical in the last half-dozen years. Falling back into mediocrity, or worse, is a very real possibility. Ascending to a 10+ win season is within reach as well. The team needs to add at least as much talent as last season just to accomplish what it did this year. The NFC West will improve. The schedule will be far tougher. Carroll has done nothing to indicate fans should expect anything but another step forward. Comparing his task one year ago to the one today is like comparing winning on the road to winning at Qwest. This is far easier.

The season ended Sunday with a thud. Chicago came out and played pretty much as you expected them to play, and the Seahawks came out uninspired and timid. The defense was not good enough in any aspect. Stopping the run didn’t happen. Rushing the passer didn’t happen. Defending the receivers (and tight end) didn’t happen. This is a flawed Bears team. Nothing I saw yesterday made me think any more of them than I did before the game started. They absolutely played the better game, and deserved to win, but this was nothing more than a battle to see who gets the honor of being destroyed by a far superior Packers team next week or AFC opponent in the Super Bowl. Jay Cutler made enough losing plays yesterday to write a totally different script. The Seahawks were no where near sharp enough to take advantage of them.

Offensively, a familiar problem reared its ugly head. Matt Hasselbeck is a solid quarterback, but he relies so heavily on timing that effective jams on receivers and suspect footing leads to mistimed throws. Time and again, receivers were a step behind where Hasselbeck was throwing. The field had a real effect on timing, and that’s not meant as an excuse. It’s a critique of the offense. They need to be able to re-calibrate in real time. By the end of the game, things were clicking, but the outcome had been decided by then. The injury to Carlson was a major moment. So much of the Seahawks offense is predicated on two tight ends. Again, not an excuse, but a critique. How can a team that has that much of its playbook built on multiple tight ends only carry two healthy players at that position going into a major playoff game? The offense was not nearly as bad as the eight straight punts to start the game indicated. Drops hurt. Great Bears defense against the run hurt. This was a classic example of how a few plays could have drastically changed the make-up of the game. That will be laughable to Bears fans and national media, they haven’t watched this Seahawks team. The rhythm they got in toward the end of the game was attainable earlier. It just didn’t happen.

A few highlights to remember include Hasselbeck throwing seven touchdowns and just one interception in two playoff games. He ends the season with more TDs than INTs. He was a few dropped passes away from a 300 yard game and 100+ QB rating. Ben Obomanu continues to justify the team’s confidence in him. Russell Okung skunked Julius Peppers on the pass rush once again. If there was one thing I was really worried about before the game, it was Peppers’ motivation to show game one was a fluke. Okung kept that from happening on two bad ankles. That’s a great sign for the future of the franchise. David Hawthorne played a solid game, and looked the part of playoff linebacker. Aaron Curry got his first career interception. Raheem Brock continued his fantastic play in the stretch run with another sack, bringing his season total to 11.0. Chris Clemons was pretty good as well.

Now it’s time to look ahead. Next year will be the first time Pete Carroll will have a chance to add more than just patchwork players fill important roles on the team. How will he approach free agency? What will the draft bring? Hope has replaced disinterest and boredom. Seahawks football is worth caring about again. Expect some posts examining the roster, and potential changes in the coming weeks. Thanks to everyone who reads for a great season. The blog went from about 30 followers on Twitter to nearly 1,500 on Facebook and Twitter combined. It’s been fun.