Loss to Bears a fitting end to Seahawks' maddening season

GIVEN A FEW DAYS to reflect on the Seahawks' loss to Chicago, I've come to the conclusion that I'm extremely thankful for one thing.

I made it out of the season alive.

On more than one occasion this year, I found myself turning to my dad or my wife, who I shared season tickets with, or to a friend who joined us at the game, or to a buddy on the phone, declaring that this team would end up being the death of me.

I kid you not: With each passing week -- as every great play seemed to be offset by a dropped pass, blown coverage or missed blocking assignment -- I truly thought my heart might actually stop beating at some point.

Alas, my ticker's still ticking. And perhaps its fitting that the defending NFC champs lost in a way that became all too familiar this season: With an inability to make a big play at a big time that inevitably will win the big game.

Mike Holmgren began the season preaching to his players that this was a new team, that the accomplishments of last year were in the past, that this year's team would need to forge it's own way.

And while casual observers point to the plethora of injuries that plagued the team throughout the season, this team was missing more than just talent on the field. Whatever IT is, the Seahawks had IT last year -- and didn't have IT this year. It's like Fat Bastard is sitting around somewhere laughing with a bottle of the Seahawks' mojo.

The contrast between the two seasons is striking, and not just in the 10-8 overall record. Take, for example the enduring images of 2005:
  • Shaun Alexander converting short-yardage play after short-yardage play as the offensive line repeatedly blew open huge holes in the running game.

  • Matt Hasselbeck orchestrating the passing game to perfection, throwing 26 touchdowns, taking only 27 sacks and giving up only nine interceptions.

  • The defense coming up with big plays at big times, like when Jordan Babineaux intercepted Drew Bledsoe in the waning minutes to complete an improbable comeback against the Cowboys.

  • The defense bending but rarely breaking, rebuffing opponents in the red zone, giving up field goals while the offense piled up tourchdowns.

Contrast that to these images from the game against the Bears, a microcosm of the entire 2006 season:

  • Alexander failing to convert a critical 4th-and-1 after Hasselbeck bobbles the ball because his second-year center snapped it a fraction of a second too late.

  • Hasselbeck throwing yet another dumb interception -- his 18th of the year in 14 games. Hasselbeck taking another sack -- the 52nd of the year -- on a critical third down play as three offensive linemen stand around with their hands on their hips.

  • Babineaux letting a sure interception -- which might have sent Rex Grossman into a tailspin -- slip through his hands on the first drive.

  • Thomas Jones running through gaping holes and arm tackles for touchdowns of nine and seven yards.

And there it is in a nutshell. The loss that ended the Seahawks' season was like so many others this year. Did they make some plays? Sure they did -- otherwise they would have been blown out the way they were in October. Did they show a lot of heart in trying to overcome an epic number of injuries? Sure they did. Were they a better team by the end of the season than they were at the beginning, or even the middle? No doubt.

Am I proud as heck of my team for how it fought, figuring out a way to get into the playoffs and then improbably win a game when it got there? Absolutely.

But in a league where the rules are designed for every team to go 8-8, making some plays won't win you a championship, no matter how much heart you show. When there was a critical play to be made in 2006, this team more often than not found a way to not make the play, and it's those handful of plays that separates 13-3 and in the Super Bowl from 9-7 and out in the divisional round.

Can the Seahawks recapture that mojo? I think they can. As Mike Holmgren put it, "It is highly unlikely we will have as many injuries next year as we did this year. We never lined up with the team I wanted to line up with." The Seahawks will have money to spend in free agency, and have proved they can be an attractive destination for players seeking a championship.

So we say goodbye to 2006 and hello to 2007, believing that better times still lay ahead -- and that a heart attack isn't lingering around the corner.

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