This is the unedited version of my game story that will appear in Monday's News Tribune:
By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
The Seattle Seahawks have said it all season long, oftentimes to the detriment of their own credibility: Our best football is ahead of us.
It seemed like bold hyperbole when their running game was in shambles or their defense was getting shredded.
But they finally made good on their repetitious promise in a 30-23 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon at Qwest Field, the Seahawks' most complete game of the season resulting in their second consecutive win before 68,249 fans.
Behind another 300-yard afternoon from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a defense that recorded five second-half sacks and a kicking game that relatively contained Bears specialist Devin Hester, the Seahawks finally seemed to take control of what has been a haphazard season.
"In this game, everybody contributed," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "Everybody. I think when I look at the film I am going to feel that every third of our team – offense defense and special teams – contributed to the win, no question."
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At 6-4, the Seahawks continue to stay in first place in the NFC West, a game ahead of the 5-5 Arizona Cardinals, who defeated Cincinnati, 35-27, earlier in the day. The Seahawks travel to St. Louis after the Thanksgiving holiday, with a critical home game against the Cardinals looming on Dec. 9.
The Seahawks have taken advantage of a confluence of events to start righting themselves from a stretch of three losses in four games.
Most notably, they are in the middle of a stretch of games in which none of their opponents have winning records.
Second, at a time that Holmgren has deigned to stress the more-proficient passing game, his nucleus of wide receivers has gotten fully healthy, with starters Deion Branch, D.J. Hackett and Marcus Pollard now at Hasselbeck's disposal, and the other receivers more experienced because of their earlier contributions.
If there was any question that Holmgren would revert to the running game that has carried the Seahawks for several seasons, they were quickly dispelled when 14 of Seattle's first 16 plays from scrimmage were intended to be passes.
Of course, some of that may have had to do that the Seahawks found themselves with an early 10-0 deficit.
In deference to Hester's unique ability, Josh Brown sent the opening kickoff short. But Garrett Wolfe returned it to the 50, and two plays later Cedric Benson consummated a 43-yard touchdown run.
Seattle drove into Chicago's territory on it first series, but Brown missed a 44-yard attempt. On Chicago's first play after taking possession, Rex Grossman hit Bernard Berrian for 16 yards and Craig Terrill was called for roughing the passer for another 15. Just like that, the Bears were in field goal range. Robbie Gould made it 10-0 to end that drive.
It was reminiscent of the 17-0 first-half deficit the Seahawks managed in Arizona, the 7-0 halftime score in Pittsburgh and the 21-0 hole against New Orleans, all losses.
But for whatever reason, the tenor of this game seemed different, the deficit not so imposing.
"I was never worried," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. "It's not like we were going to give up."
Indeed, when Hasselbeck found Hackett for a 19-yard score on Seattle's next possession, it became apparent the Seahawks weren't going to be dominated, not by this version of a Bears team (4-6) that swept them in two games last season, including the NFC divisional playoff game.
The Seahawks needed to settle in, give their defense a chance to catch up and execute the game plan that Holmgren now seems almost rejuvenated designing.
In it, he allows Hasselbeck to pick out a multitude of targets – he threw to eight different
receivers – and then occasionally hands the ball to Maurice Morris, who darted through lanes for 87 yards, matching his production from a week ago while standing in for the injured Shaun Alexander. Hasselbeck was 30 for 44 for 337 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 106 passer rating.
Hasselbeck did suffer some sort of injury, though he downplayed it after the game. Holmgren indicated Hasselbeck may have hurt his ribs and Hasselbeck said he may have re-aggravated the oblique he strained against St. Louis. But neither was specific.
"It's hard to know where the oblique is," Hasselbeck said. "I have thick skin."
In the second quarter, Hasselbeck handed off to Morris, who cavorted 19 yards for a touchdown, the second consecutive week that Morris has scored a rushing touchdown. Brown's extra point gave the Seahawks a 14-10 lead.
Alexander, out with a sprained left knee, celebrated on the sidelines with his teammates, but his appearance couldn't help but raise the question about what Holmgren does with Alexander when he is healthy.
Holmgren said last week that Alexander would play, but two victories in two games with Morris in the backfield in a productive and versatile role has to at least give Holmgren pause.
For now, though, he is basking in the glory of a game in which his defense dominated the second half.
Chicago scored a second-quarter touchdown to take a 17-14 lead, and Brown kicked a 40-yard field goal with 17 seconds left to tie the game.
From there, a defense that was not able to pressure Grossman in the first half sacked him five times in the second half, including Patrick Kerney chasing down Grossman from behind, forcing a fumble for the second straight game and watching counterpart Darryl Tapp recover the loose ball.
The secondary did not give up the deep ball to Berrian or Muhsin Muhammad, one of its primary concerns. And Chicago's run game managed only 24 yards over the final two quarters, its offense good for only two field goals after intermission. It was enough to make Nate Burleson's 4-yard touchdown reception on the first drive of the third quarter stand up.
"It was the way the game broke," Kerney said. "Our offense did an awesome job in the second half, getting the lead for us. It put (Chicago) in a situation where we knew they had to pass. And that worked hand in hand allowing us to get sacks."
And when that happens, the Seahawks win – which is what they have been saying all along.