A week after knocking off the defending Super Bowl champs, Matt Hasselbeck and the Seattle Seahawks played more like a team with a losing record than a division winner.
Little went right for the Seahawks on a wintry day at Soldier Field. The Chicago Bears took control early and sent first-year coach Pete Carroll and the NFC West champs — the only team in the playoffs with a losing record — home by a 35-24 score.
Hasselbeck, who'd engineered the upset of the New Orleans Saints in the first round with four touchdown passes, was 26 of 46 for 258 yards, 165 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter after the game was out of reach. He threw all three of his TD passes in that last period.
"We started slow, we looked slow. Maybe it was the conditions, maybe just a combination of all those things," Hasselbeck said.
"I think we really believed we were going to win, as improbable and unlikely as it may have seemed to a lot of people. ... We just couldn't overcome some of the things that happened."
Marshawn Lynch's rambling, tackle-breaking 67-yard TD run last week in a 41-36 upset of the Saints was the talk of the NFL. This time, he was bottled up and was nearly invisible with two yards on four carries as Seattle had only 34 yards rushing.
The Seahawks couldn't muster the same relentless pressure they'd put on Jay Cutler when they sacked him six times in a 23-20 victory in Chicago three months ago. Their receivers had problems hanging onto Hasselbeck's passes. And they had two players carted off the field with head injuries — tight end John Carlson in the first quarter and defensive back Marcus Trufant in the third.
Carlson caught a pair of TDs in that win oven the Saints. But after he grabbed a short pass from Hasselbeck and went 14 yards early in Sunday's game, he was upended on the sideline by Danieal Manning and came down on his head.
The game was delayed for about five minutes as Carlson was attended to on the sideline and he was able to move his legs before he was carted off, not to return. It was a chilling circumstance for a team that had hoped to keep it close.
Hasselbeck said Carlson was a big part of the Seahawks' game plan. The team's other tight end, Cameron Morrah, also was limited by turf toe, meaning Seattle had to go with more multiple-receiver sets.
"We just weren't able to make plays we needed to make. They challenged us, they came up and played real physical, real grabby, holding a lot, but doing it in a way they weren't getting called for flags," Hasselbeck said.
"They did what they had to do and we didn't answer. We didn't make those plays. Too bad, would love another chance at it. We had a lot of opportunities for second chances this season. It's disappointing."
The running game that could have opened up play action suffered greatly without the two tight ends.
"We were scrambling," Carroll said. "We didn't get to try some things without those guys. They (the Bears) are very difficult to run against, anyway."
Trufant made a tackle on Bears tight end Kellen Davis with about seven minutes to go in the third quarter and couldn't get up. The game was delayed again before he was carted off.
"You get two guys carted off and you realize what's important," said Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy, who was burned on Greg Olsen's early 58-yard TD catch.
After Olsen went around Lofa Tatupu and eluded a tackle by Trufant for a 33-yard gain later in the first quarter, the Seahawks did have a chance to turn the game around when Cutler threw the ball right to Seattle defensive back Jordan Babineaux on the goal line.
But with a clear field in front of him, Babineaux dropped the ball, and the Bears went on to take a two-touchdown lead.
"We were going to have to get all of those to have a chance," Carroll said. "We didn't get enough of those."
After finishing with a 7-9 record and winning their division, the Seahawks figured they were on a roll after upending the Saints.
"I don't know if people realize how close we were to doing something special," Hasselbeck said. "We had everything set. We didn't deserve it, but it was right there for us and we didn't take advantage."