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Without magic of Qwest Field, Hawks exposed

CHICAGO -- Much in the way Seahawks fans created measurable seismic waves in Seattle last week, the fans in the Windy City generated cyclonic gusts during the second half of Sunday's playoff game.

It's amazing the force created by simultaneous yawns.

The Bears powered to a 28-point lead at Soldier Field before the Seahawks closed it to a misleading 35-24 after the issue was decided and the Bears fans already had started anti-Packers chants.

The game showed the Seahawks for what they are: a team in transition, rebuilding, beaten up at some positions, understaffed in others; too old in some spots and too young elsewhere.

And in the most critical shortcoming that was obvious Sunday, they didn't have enough players to make the big plays it takes to win big games.

No discredit. Making it to the divisional round of the playoffs was far beyond reasonable expectations. Still, getting this far after a 7-9 regular season was equal parts quirk, illusion, fortunate timing and the positive psychological bounce from a late infusion of confidence.

Not the least of this was the powerful influence of their home fans. But the sprinkle of pixie dust that made this ordinary team special at home isn't portable.

The NFC North champion Bears are a good team, especially on defense, but they didn't really have to be on Sunday as Seattle contributed to its own demise.

"We really had chances today," coach Pete Carroll said. "We would have had to get all of those, the way things were going, to keep us in the ballgame. They were available ... but we didn't get it done."

Especially early when it counted the most.

The biggest was Jordan Babineaux's drop of a possible interception of a Jay Cutler pass at the goal line in the first period.

The Bears were up at the time, 7-0. Given how "open" Babineaux was, he might have been able to gather it in and go 100 yards for the game-tying score. At the very least, he should have given the Hawks possession.

Instead, the floating cream-puff pass went through his hands and the Bears pushed the lead to 14-0 with a touchdown run.

"He threw it right to me," Babineaux said. "To be honest, I think it's a different ballgame if I make that play. You can't play like that on the road, not in this kind of environment, not at this level of playoff football."

He's right; it certainly would have at least slowed the Bears' early momentum. It was in his hands. And then it was gone.

There was much of that to go around. When the Seahawks upset the Bears here in October, receiver Mike Williams had 10 catches. He's not a burner, but he's a big and physical receiver who should be able to win more than his share of 50-50 balls.

He won none of those. He was targeted 13 times and came down with just four catches for 15 yards.

Yes, it was snowing and cold and the ball was slippery. But that stuff happens in the playoffs.

"That ball was on the ground a few times; it was tipped a few times and we just didn't catch it, we didn't recover it," linebacker Aaron Curry said. "Plays like that would have given our offense opportunities."

The offensive scheme didn't get much chance to unfold as tight end John Carlson was lost to a concussion early in the game. And when the other tight end, Cameron Morrah, was limited with turf toe, the Hawks' ready sheet of plays was redacted like a State Department document.

What else to expect from this team? Guards Tyler Polumbus and Mike Gibson were both manhandled at times. But let's remember that they were guys expected to be backups before injuries made them starters.

And with very little run blocking, newly legendary Marshawn Lynch carried only four times for 2 yards -- 41 fewer rushing yards than were picked up by Cutler, Chicago's quarterback.

Last week, in a wild upset of New Orleans at home, the Hawks seemed to provide a look into the future. There were big plays and balance, confidence and momentum. There was a belief that was based on more than just blind faith.

Sunday, though, was a reminder of many of the weaknesses that have been prevalent this season, and another measure of how far this team still needs to go to be a true elite team.

"The Bears are a really good football team, they're hot and they're at home," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "And you've got to rise above and play your best football, and we certainly did not do that."

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.bolingthenewstribune.com.