The thrust of my Sunday preview of the Seahawks-Bears game was that although the Hawks were given little chance to win, it didn’t mean that they didn’t have the chance to make statements in some very critical areas.
In so many of those, they responded in the most positive of ways with a 23-20 win. In fact, this seemed like something of a landmark win as it slaughtered so many of the monkeys that had been on the franchise back for years. I may examine this as some kind of psychological, belief-building breakthrough effort for tomorrow’s column after collecting interviews this afternoon.
For now, a look back. We pinpointed the need for Matt Hasselbeck to find his rhythm and comfort after having thrown five interceptions in the last three games. Hasselbeck used the bye week to study and prepare. He missed some passes, but was very much in control, completing 25 of 40 with a touchdown and NO INTERCEPTIONS. He got rid of the ball in a hurry without the kind of judgment errors that could cost the team. This was a very positive game in a difficult environment.
His quick decisions helped keep the Bears without sacks. Amazingly. But another of the showcase elements of this one was the play of rookie left tackle Russell Okung against Julius Peppers. Because of an ankle injury Okung had played just 26 snaps this season, but he performed well above reasonable expectations and Peppers came away with just two tackles and zero sacks. Okung played with great balance and strength and patience, and didn’t overcommit to Peppers’ moves. Perhaps most encouraging should be the way he dealt with some of the twists and tackle-end games they threw at him. For the most part, he got a good punch on Peppers, and then was able to feed him off to the guard knowing that the tackle or another threat was coming his way. He’s also a terrific run blocker. On the Forsett touchdown, he got a body on Brian Uhrlacher and completely handled him. The statement his effort made for the future of the franchise was truly significant.
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Of course, we wanted to see what impact the acquisition of Marshawn Lynch would have. Enormous. One of the most misleading stats of this game is Lynch’s modest rushing totals 17-44. Some of Lynch’s best runs of the day were behind the line of scrimmage, turning sure losses into no-gains or small gains. Several times as I was charting the game, I highlighted Lynch runs that were just back to the line of scrimmage. In the past, those loses had been drive killers. His efforts certainly helped create a “change-up” factor for Justin Forsett, who picked up 67 yards on 10 carries. This 1-2 punch will change the look of this team the rest of the season. And Lynch came at the cost of a fourth-round pick. Huge addition.
We knew that the trade of Deion Branch to New England would open the way for other receivers, Deon Butler, specifically. He had a nice day, with four catches and a touchdown. But it also looked like the time to get Mike Williams more involved. He had seemed like such an obvious target that they had not yet entirely exploited. He was Sunday, with 10 catches for 123 yards. Hasselbeck’s increasing trust and reliance on him was rewarded, and it will be a connection that will create secondary match-up problems the rest of the way.
We noted an obvious point, that the Bears had been inconsistent with their protection of Jay Cutler, a possible vulnerability. With a beautiful blitz scheme, the Hawks got six sacks from a variety of players, including a sack for safety out of Jordan Babineaux.
The final element previewed was one of the most important: How this staff used the two-week bye period to build schemes and confidence heading into this one would be illustrative of the coaching “chops” these guys have. They responded in so many ways: The effective blitz package; the pass-blocking scheme, some interesting plays (the little trap-draw that Forsett scored on was perfect); and mostly the attitude the team took on the road.
After having been shellacked twice on the road this season, this team easily could have crumbled emotionally when the Bears came out and scored with no trouble on the first drive. A fragile team would have. This bunch did not. They came back and scored, and eventually took control of a game on the road, against a quality opponent, in a 10 a.m. start, after a bye – reverting form on so many of the factors that had doomed them in the past.
It added up to what should be an enormous confidence-building win for a team in the early stages of rebuilding.