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Seattle looks to move forward after playoff run

Matt Hasselbeck summarized the Seattle Seahawks entire season with one statement.

"I don't know if everyone realizes how close we were to doing something really special," he said after Sunday's season ending 35-24 loss to Chicago in the NFC divisional playoff. "I mean we had everything set up for us.

"We didn't deserve it, but it was right there for us."

No, the Seahawks probably didn't deserve to find themselves in the second round of the NFC playoffs and one victory away from hosting the NFC championship game on their home field, especially considering Seattle needed to make the Super Bowl just to assure itself of finishing with a .500 record.

The Seahawks were the joke of the NFL playoffs, finishing the regular season with a 7-9 record, needing a win in Week 17 to clinch the dubious honor of being the first division champ in league history with a losing record. Then Seattle went out and stunned defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs, providing a surprising exclamation point to Pete Carroll's first season back in the NFL following his decade of dominance at Southern California.

All of it fit with the bipolar nature of Seattle's year. The Seahawks started 4-2, limped home losing seven of their last 10 games and only reached the playoffs thanks to the woefulness of the NFC West and a season-ending victory over St. Louis.

They were rarely competitive, with the 11-point loss to the Bears their closest defeat, and one that should not have ended that close. Seattle trailed 21-0 at halftime and 28-3 early in the fourth quarter before a trio of late touchdown passes by Hasselbeck made the final score more respectable.

During the regular season, Seattle never lost by less than 15 points and beat just two teams with a winning record.

Ultimately, the season was a step forward for a franchise that dominated the division just a few years ago, but had won a combined nine games the past two years. After that kind of woefulness, an 8-10 final record in Carroll's first year doesn't look so bad.

"It's a start. The foundation is set, the atmosphere, the attitude, the direction is in place," Seattle receiver Mike Williams said on Monday. "There is a lot of change, a new offense, new personnel, (but) the jump from Year 1 to Year 2 is usually pretty positive. A lot of guys will be moving around, we don't know who will be here, but the core of our guys and the attitude is here."

Part of Seattle's struggles with Carroll in charge came from the constant roster turnover, with 284 roster transactions from when Carroll took over to the end of the season. There were starters against the Bears who didn't even arrive until just before the season opener against San Francisco. Brandon Stokley caught eight passes against Chicago and didn't join the roster until after Week 3.

"For us to have that many transactions, more than I've ever been a part of, to have a chance at the end and to end up being a champion, it's an outstanding head start to the foundation you're trying to build," said 37-year-old safety Lawyer Milloy, who has not decided whether he'll return for a 16th NFL season. "And ultimately, next year most of the guys that ended this season will be here and you don't have as much movement and hopefully you're team has that much more continuity."

The loss to Chicago highlighted many of Seattle's deficiencies that must be addressed in the offseason. The Seahawks inability to establish a run game was a problem the entire season and fixing the offensive line will be one of the top priorities. Seattle averaged just 89 yards per game on the ground in the regular season and the arrival of Marshawn Lynch in a trade with Buffalo failed to produce the desired results. Lynch became Seattle's first 100-yard rusher in 21 games when he ran for 131 yards against New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs.

There remain concerns about Seattle's secondary that allowed too many big plays — none bigger than Greg Olsen's 58-yard TD catch on Chicago's third offensive play Sunday — and a defensive line that struggled to get a pass rush playing away from home. Despite the comeback of Williams, the Seahawks could use another downfield receiving threat.

Seattle has 27 players either on the 53-man roster or injured reserve who aren't under contract for the 2011 season, including nine starters from Sunday's game against Chicago.

But the biggest decision about Seattle's offseason lies in the hands of Hasselbeck, an unrestricted free agent. The veteran understands Seattle is looking for its quarterback of the future, whether it decides to move forward with current backup Charlie Whitehurst in that role or looks for a college prospect in this year's draft.

Carroll last week publicly said the team wants Hasselbeck to return. But Hasselbeck's play against the Saints was a reminder of how Hasselbeck can still perform, even at 35, and there are likely to be plenty of suitors — Arizona and San Francisco in the NFC West — that Hasselbeck could have some options on the free-agent market.

Hasselbeck sounds as if he doesn't want to test the open market. While the potential lockout will have a major impact on when free agents might be able to finally sign with a team, Hasselbeck said on Monday as he cleaned out his locker that he can't envision himself playing for another franchise.

"All the hard work has been done here this year, going through all the change, going through the drama at times and just going through all the adversity," Hasselbeck said Monday. "It would be so much fun to be part of the rest of it. and we won our division this year which has always been important to me."