By Steve Keating
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Despite finishing the season with a losing record and being overwhelmed by the Chicago Bears in an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks flew home still claiming mission accomplished.
The Seahawks had set a target of finishing atop the NFC West this season and met that goal, albeit in unconventional fashion by losing seven of their last 10 regular season games to earn the dubious distinction of becoming the first team with a losing record (7-9) to win their division.
But it was also enough to earn the Seahawks a trip to the postseason and they used the opportunity to pull off the shock of the wild card round by toppling the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
The Seahawks were brought back to earth Sunday with a 35-24 divisional playoff loss to the Bears and while the final accounting shows a win-loss record of 8-10, the bottom line was a better-than-expected season.
"When coach (Pete) Carroll first came to the Seahawks he sent us a letter," said wide receiver Ben Obomanu. "It said, "own the NFC West.
"It wasn't get into the playoffs or win the Super Bowl, it was own the NFC West.
"We are going to build on this because we did win the NFC West."
While owning the NFC West this season was akin to owning the nicest house in the poorest neighborhood, it still raised the bar considerably for the Seahawks next year.
Only 21 players remain from the 2009 Seahawks team and just seven are still around from the team that made it to the 2006 Super Bowl.
The revolving door in the Seahawks locker room will continue to spin with some of the team's most familiar names, including quarterback Matt Hasselbeck not yet signed for next season and poised to become a free agent.
It took nearly the entire season before the Seahawks produced the type of grit and determination that Carroll demanded his team beating the St. Louis Rams in the final game of the NFL schedule to claim the division crown followed by the stunning victory over the Saints.
"I feel like we made a lot of progress," said Carroll. "It took us the whole season to get to the point where we really understood how hard the work needs to be to get yourself to play at a really high level.
"I think these guys understand where we are going. We can't forget what it took to get here.
"The way we think, the way we operate, the way we pull for one another and the way we compete - this is our culture.
"We need to keep building on that."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)