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Bear Monday: Toward The Abyss

When asked about his team's offensive game plan before last Monday night's match-up with the 'Niners, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren didn't mince words. He literally told his foes not to worry about the running game. Holmgren also acknowledged that he was starting to wonder, even more intensely than usual, if the aggravation of losing was worth the trouble. The coach, whose highly touted team was sputtering along at .500 (4-4), was at least starting to contemplate the end of the line. And if Holmgren was going to go, he was going to go with passes blazing. The Seahawks went on to prevail 24-0, but no one was overly impressed. It was only the perennially pathetic 49ers (the times, they have a-changed) after all. The Bears would provide a stiffer challenge, wouldn't they?

Nevertheless Holmgren, who supervised nothing but passing game greatness during stints as a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator with the 49ers (1986-91) and as head coach of the Packers (1992-98), told the Bears the exact same thing heading into Sunday's critical contest. It didn't help.

Part of the reason the visitors came up short despite knowing what was coming (most of the time) was the opposing quarterback - Matt Hasselbeck is right on the verge of greatness and great quarterbacks can achieve completeness even when the defense knows passes are coming. Hasselbeck hasn't exactly had great receivers the last three years but has still led the Seahawks to the 2006 Super Bowl (where they were on the wrong side of a few questionable calls but were certainly not robbed, as Holmgren and so many Coffeeheads would have you believe), the 2006-07 playoffs (becoming the first Super Bowl loser in a half-dozen years to even qualify for the postseason the next year), and back to the top of the NFC West this fall. And part of it was, the Bears defense wasn't good enough.

It all added up to a big step toward the abyss. The Bears can afford but one more loss (OK, OK, they can probably afford two - if the Lions succumb to the Packers on Thanksgiving all of the potential second NFC wild cards will have at least five losses) the rest of the season.

And now, the lowlights.

* The biggest problem, one realizes as the Bears get off to a great start, score early like they haven't scored early all season, and are still lucky not to trail at the half, is this game shouldn't have been critical. A successful NFL squad has to cut itself some slack. It has to win the winnable home games, like ones against the Vikings and the Lions, so it has some leeway in road games in especially hostile environments against division leaders.

* Play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian and analyst J.C. Pearson were on the call again for Fox. The former stumbled out of the box when he made early note of a prominent Seahawk ritual. It involves someone who is at least somewhat important raising a flag before each home game with a big number 12 on it under the word "Fan." Seahawks supporters have long believed they generate so much noise and are so supportive that they deserve special notice.

Young Matt notes, "It has been a time-honored tradition in Seattle since this place (Qwest Field) opened in 2002." It reminded me of when the still practically expansion Marlins won their first World Series in 1997 and the Miami Herald front-page headline proclaimed "Finally!"

The Seahawks fans have actually thought of themselves as the 12th man since a few decades before the authorities blew up their former home, the Kingdome. But of course the only true collective 12th man still stands by at Texas A&M, just as he has for about 80 years.

* Later, Vasgersian chose a remarkable soundtrack for a Maurice "Mo" Morris' touchdown run. "Mo, Mo, Mo," crooned the modern-day disco duck as Morris reached the end zone. "How do you like it? How do you like it Seattle fans." "More, More, More (How Do You Like It)" was a hit for the Andrea True Connection in 1976.

* I have tried to avoid piling on Ron Turner this fall. It is so easy to question the play-calling when a team isn't producing enough points. And Turner called the plays for the team that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last year. And he didn't completely forget how to call plays between then and now.

Nevertheless he still calls too many unimaginative runs up the middle on first downs, especially in the red zone. Of course Benson's touchdown run (43 yards! Followed by another 20-yard run! And that was it - he only carried it nine more times for 20 more yards) happened on a first down. But that could only be described as a fluke. And after Robbie Gould's first field goal, the offense bogged down when weak first-down runs led to a series of second-and-longs. When first-down play-action finally kicked in, it fueled the great Bear drive that should have closed the half.

* Should have but didn't in part because Gould submitted a strong entry into the stupidest penalty competition by kicking the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. "Here, Seahawks, have an early Christmas gift," said the kicker. "Psst . . . it's a field goal."

* Still, reserve linebacker Rod Wilson wins the award for the 15-yard penalty he earned for a late hit out of bounds earlier in the second quarter. It wasn't just late, it was CTA bus or train on a snowy morning late. Darwin Walker's first-half encroachment penalty - lining up in the neutral zone despite lining up right next to the ball - and Fred Miller's second, second-half false start were also finalists.

* Everyone hammers Benson for either hesitating for a moment after taking a hand-off or for tip-toeing through holes. On the Bears' second touchdown, Adrian Peterson hesitates for a moment after taking the hand-off and then lightly scoots through the slender hole that opens up a moment later for the score.

* First, we must note that the second half was highlighted by two ridiculous (and we don't use that word lightly around here) catches on two consecutive plays. Muhsin Muhammad laid out for a glorious diving grab and Bernard Berrian reached back and made a one-handed grab of a pass that was way behind him to get the Bears out of a big hole. Unfortunately, Rex Grossman chose the next play not to protect the ball during a scramble. Nevertheless, Grossman looked good and validated Lovie's decision to start him. Early on he completed a deep out to Berrian that could not have been a better illustration of the sort of pass he can throw that Brian Griese can't.

* The first half featured Israel (I'd be a fan just for his name but he is a great special-teamer) Idonije's hugely heads-up fumble recovery and the second featured a similarly smart dig for a loose ball by Brian Urlacher.

* That fourth-down play where you had Grossman give the ball to Benson up the middle, Ron? I think the Seahawks knew that was coming. That end-around to Hester during the next possession (I know, I know, I should just be happy they actually gave him the ball on offense)? They knew that was coming too. And the screen pass shortly thereafter? They sniffed that out too. The Bears haven't run a successful screen pass this season.

* The game comes down to a ridic. . . , nope, I better call it an adventurous onside kick that almost worked (and if it had, it was far enough down the field that the Bears would have had two longshots at the end zone (as in Grossman probably would have had time for two heaves past the goal line). But an opportunistic Seahawk managed to swat it out of bounds, or should I say he passed it out.

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Jim Coffman brings you Bear Monday every . . . Monday.

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