CHICAGO - Visions of hosting an NFC championship game at Qwest Field disappeared into the Chicago snow Sunday as the Seattle Seahawks saw their Cinderella playoff run end with an anticlimactic loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.
Seattle played like a team running on empty, falling 35-24 in an NFC divisional playoff game.
The Bears (12-5) will host NFC North Division rival Green Bay (12-6) on Sunday with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.
Chants of “Green Bay sucks!” erupted from Chicago fans midway through the fourth quarter, when the Bears had the game well in hand.
The Seahawks, who stunned the New Orleans Saints last week after stumbling through a 7-9 regular season, finished 8-10 overall and gained some confidence and valuable experience in coach Pete Carroll’s first season.
“It took us the whole season to get to the point where we really understood how hard the work needs to be to get yourself to play at a really high level,” Carroll said. “We kind of dipped in and out of it at times this year. So I think that’s really important. I think these guys understand where we’re going and what we’re trying to get done. And that’s important for us to move forward with that.”
The Bears not only beat Seattle on the scoreboard, they physically imposed their will. Seattle suffered several injuries, the most serious being to tight end John Carlson and cornerback Marcus Trufant. Both were carted off the field after suffering concussions that left them motionless for several seconds.
Carroll said the players are doing well and did not sustain any other injuries, but remained at a local hospital overnight for further evaluation.
The Bears were rested – as the No. 2 seed in the NFC they had a bye week – and scored on three of their first four possessions to take a commanding 21-0 lead.
The game was played under a steady snow early, and 60,010 onlookers watched Chicago grab the momentum, forcing a three-and-out by Seattle and scoring with a 58-yard strike from Jay Cutler to tight end Greg Olsen down the seam of Seattle’s defense past safety Lawyer Milloy for a 7-0 lead.
Seattle’s defense had trouble keeping up with Olsen, who finished with three catches for 113 yards.
Cutler shined in his first postseason game as a pro, completing 15 of 28 passes for 274 yards and a two touchdowns and running for 43 yards and two touchdowns.
Bears running back Chester Taylor scored on a 1-yard plunge in the first half, and Cutler hit tight end Kellen Davis with a 39-yard touchdown catch over the defense of safety Earl Thomas for the Bears’ final score.
Chicago’s other playmaker, running back Matt Forte, provided balance, finishing with 134 total yards (80 rushing and 54 receiving).
While Chicago’s offense clicked, Seattle’s sputtered.
The Seahawks totaled just 34 yards on the ground and finished 3 of 14 on third-down conversions. Chicago’s defense forced Seattle into four three-and-outs, including three on their first four possessions.
“We just weren’t executing and we weren’t finishing,” Seattle running back Justin Forsett said. “When you do that, the defense is on the field most of the game and you dig yourself in a hole. And against good teams, you can’t do that.”
As much as Chicago dominated, Seattle had opportunities to make some game-changing plays but fell short.
Defensive back Jordan Babineaux dropped an errant Cutler offering on the goal line that would have been a touchdown-saving interception. The Seahawks had five drops, missed several open-field tackles and failed to reel in three tipped balls and two Chicago fumbles to thwart Bears scoring drives.
“The ball was on the ground a few times, it was tipped a few times and we didn’t catch it or we didn’t recover it,” Seattle linebacker Aaron Curry said. “Plays like that would have given our offense a good opportunity to score.”
The Seahawks scored 24 points in the second half to make the score more respectable. They avoided the shutout when Olindo Mare kicked a 30-yard field goal, set up by Leon Washington’s 62-yard kickoff return.
Mike Williams got in the end zone twice and Brandon Stokley hauled in a 9-yard touchdown catch with 1:24 left.
“We really believed we were going to win,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who completed 26 of 46 passes for 258 yards and three second-half touchdowns. “As improbable and unlikely as it may have seemed to a lot of people, we really believed and we were excited. We just couldn’t overcome some of the things that happened.”
Now the Seahawks, who lost their eighth consecutive road playoff game, shift their focus to next season. Players will have their exit meetings today and clean out lockers.
“We learned a lot about ourselves,” said rookie offensive tackle Russell Okung. “We had a lot of growth. I think it’s something we can take into the future from the point on, and build on.”