Chicago Bears 27, Seattle Seahawks 24
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
January 14th, 2007
Play of The Day: Since it was a tough game all the way through, it is only fitting that the POTD be the play that ended the game, Robbie Gould’s 49-yard game-winning field goal. What was scary about the kick was that it was not only the longest field goal of Gould’s career; it also had a solid 7-8 yards to spare. This after he came very close to missing a much easier attempt earlier in the game. Maybe he does deserve to go to Hawaii.
Bringing Their “A” Game: RB Shaun Alexander, who carried the offense with 26 carries for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns… OLB/DE Julian Peterson, who provided excellent pressure on Rex Grossman (1 sack, 1 forced fumble)… LB LeRoy Hill, who had 10 tackles and did a very solid job tackling… CB Pete Hunter, who avoided long completions while also picking off a pass that bounced off of Muhsin Muhammad’s body, preventing at least a field goal… WR/KR/PR Nate Burleson, who returned the ball extremely well all game and had a touchdown reception… RDE Grant Wistrom, who looked revitalized and had a sack on Grossman, as well as some solid pressure on other plays and 7 tackles… DT Rocky Bernard, who also sacked Grossman, amassed 6 tackles, and provided great pressure… LT Walter Jones had two bad plays (a sack that was not his fault and a botched running play) but overall contained Alex Brown very well.
The Bad and The Ugly: QB Matt Hasselbeck had a worse game than the statistics would have you believe… WR Darrell Jackson didn’t play poorly, but he did have a couple of costly drops and struggled to get open in the second half… The playcalling by Mike Holmgren could best be described as poor, especially on third-and-short… Chicago’s putrid offense had little trouble moving the ball against Seattle’s equally putrid defense, especially on the ground and on deep passes… CB Kelly Jennings had easily his worst game of the season, getting torched by Bernard Berrian for a 62-yard touchdown and drawing a couple costly penalties.
Referee Report Card: It really was a pretty good game by Gerry Austin’s officiating crew. One play does stick out and put a blemish on an overall solid job, a pass-interference call with 9:14 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Jennings was jamming the ball at the line of scrimmage when Grossman released the ball, there was clearly no interference that occurred after the ball left Grossman’s hand and the press-technique occurred within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Otherwise, it was a good game by the officials. A-. (That is my highest score for the officials all season, this squad should go to Miami for the Super Bowl.)
Offense: The Seattle offense drew a very tough assignment, a Chicago defense that had carried the team to the #1 seed in the NFC. And judging by the score, Seattle did not do poorly, as 24 points is considered good enough to beat the Bears. However, I personally cannot help but think that we blew multiple chances to score more. Whether it was a poor play call on 3rd-and-short or a poor throw or holding onto the ball too long, Seattle’s offense shot themselves in the foot enough time to make you wonder if the team could have scored 35 points.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the inefficiency on offense was due to a poor performance by Matt Hasselbeck. The offense really will go only as far as Matt can take them, and against Chicago that was not very far. Indianapolis might be able to mask some poor games by Peyton Manning, but Seattle needs Hasselbeck playing like Hasselbeck in order to win games. Name any aspect important to quarterbacks: Decision Making, Short Passes, Deep Passes, Pocket Presence – Hasselbeck did not do any of them well. For Hasselbeck, more than anyone else (even Shaun Alexander), this was a lost season. None of his receiving targets were with the team all season, he had horrible protection early, mediocre protection later, and lost a month to a knee injury that clearly affected his throwing motion. Next year will be the key year for Hasselbeck, to see if he can bounce back and return to 2002 form.
Unlike Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander ended the season on a high note. The Bears rushing defense was missing two important pieces, but Alexander was still able to run very successfully. He showed vision, which he has always shown, as well as a lot of toughness. The next time someone next to you says that Alexander not tough, show them this game as the Dallas game. Both physical defense, and both times Shaun was able to consistently fall forward and gain as many yards as his blocking would allow. Alexander even did what was thought to be impossible – he turned the classic 3rd-and-long draw into not only a first down but also points.
And yes, that 3rd-and-long draw did work. While the 3rd-and-long draw is clearly a give-up play by Holmgren, Alexander – with help from a Bears defense that somehow didn’t expect it – was able to turn it into not only a first down but also six points. Now, Seattle fans, cringe as Holmgren will use that play as an excuse for the next 28 years of 3rd-and-long draws. I classify this as a stupid play by Holmgren that worked out more due to the variables that accompany football rather than any genius of his own.
Unfortunately for Holmgren and the Seahawks offense, that is the only stupid play that worked out. For whatever reason, Holmgren has grown a fascination with the off-tackle run in short-yardage situations, and it has worked once in at least six critical attempts. He ran off-tackle runs twice today when only a couple yards were needed for a first, once on second down (no gain), and once on third down for a loss. Even when he wasn’t running horizontally, Holmgren was not making good play calls, including a strange 4th-and-two bootleg in the red-zone that looked like it might have been a botched play, but is otherwise inexcusable.
Defense: While the offense did not play up to potential, it was the defense that cost Seattle the game. The offense, in the end, did put up enough points to win, it was the defense and their inability to stop Bernard Berrian, Cedric Benson, and Thomas Jones that cost Seattle a trip to New Orleans. 27 points is too many points to give up, even against a fairly good offense like in Philadelphia or Kansas City – it is certainly too many points against a Chicago Bears defense that ranked 26th in weighted DVOA (explained here). The very stoppable object met the incredibly movable force, and whichever you consider the Chicago offense won.
To the defenses credit, they did one thing pretty well – they had gotten pressure on Rex Grossman. It was not constant, it sometimes would disappear for a series, but after a December where opposing quarterbacks were hardly ever rushed, Grossman was sacked three times and harassed several more times. The defensive line, oft-maligned and for good reason, played their hearts out against the pass and did a good job. It was when the penetration was not there that Grossman was able to hook up with his receivers deep – especially Bernard Berrian.
All week long I had called for the Seahawks to stick Kelly Jennings on Bernard Berrian. After all, Jennings was the only cornerback for Seattle with more speed than size. He was also, despite being a rookie, the best coverage corner on the team, and a perfect matchup for Berrian. But when the quarterback has time to throw the football, it does not matter who is covering, a fast wideout like Berrian can and will get open. In this case, it was open to the tune of 105 yards and a 62-yard touchdown. Someone finally started picking on Jennings with success, whereas before the attempts had ended up accomplishing little.
In the end, it came down to which Grossman emerged from the tunnel. Would it the Rex Grossman who managed a historically bad 0.0 quarterback rating against the Packers, or the Grossman that looked so good early in the season (especially against Seattle). In truth, it was neither. This Grossman made some poor decisions, was rattled in the pocket, but he made two killer throws – the touchdown strike to Bernard Berrian, and the 30-yard completion to Rashied Davis in overtime. That he was protected by a very strong running game certainly helped to hide his flaws.
The second bane of the defense – besides the deep passes – was their inability to stop the run. It was not like the Chicago Bears were doing their best Larry Johnson impersonation on us, it was that they were able to consistently pick up the short yardage needed to convert. While Seattle was calling off-tackle runs that netted negative yardage, Chicago was running straight up the gut and getting past the market (albeit barely) for the first down. It was not poor play calling, nor even poor tackling; it simply a result of the front-seven getting pushed around a little bit too much by Chicago’s cohesive offensive line. Anyone want to doubt the impact of Marcus Tubbs now?
Special Teams: Nate Burleson did an amazing job returning kicks, giving the offense great field position to squander. On punt returns, the blocking never allowed him to gain any sort of momentum, but as least he has figured out how to call a fair catch. Ryan Plackemeier overall did a good job punting considering the windy venue, but his 18-yard overtime punt was a big play – in his defense, it was under intense pressure from the Bears return team. Not a poor game for special teams, and the offense came so close to giving Josh Brown a shot at yet another game-winner.
Summary: In a season filled with all sorts of injuries, it is hard to consider this season anything but a success – excluding the 2005 magical season, it would have been the best season in 22 years for Seattle, since the team succeeded in winning a playoff game. The single thing to qualify the Seahawks season is heart – heart is not just playing hard when everything does your way, like in 2005. Heart is playing inspired football, putting forth the best effort possible, even when the odds are against you. These Seahawks played with as much heart as they did in 2005, only this time it was just not quite enough.
Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.