Bears loss would go down as huge failure

? Nothing illustrated the relaxed mind-set the Seahawks bring to Chicago better than coach Pete Carroll playfully answering a reporter’s cell phone earlier this week.

“Not now, this is a press conference,” Carroll quipped, hanging up. “Old friend from high school.”

The loose, celebratory tone that Carroll set suggested it could have been the president calling to offer congratulations for ousting the Saints. That win represented the Seahawks’ Super Bowl, after all.

A more serious call awaits Lovie Smith and the Bears at home today. A bad connection between preparation and execution at Soldier Field threatens to ruin four months of progress.

Given the stakes, losing the playoff opener here to a Seahawks team with nine losses would go down as the Bears’ biggest failure since Super Bowl XLI, Smith’s most dubious defeat.

Can you hear me now?

That’s just the way it works in pro sports. The thing about exceeding expectations, especially when least expected, is having to meet them with the pressure on. And the pressure isn’t on the team that spent most of the week laughing about their good fortune between vanilla no-foam lattes.

Carroll bounced around like a guy excited about a play date more than the playoffs. He greeted the Chicago media during a conference call: “Hey, what’s up?”

You, dude. Fist bumps all around. Such a stress-free team can create anxiety for heavily favored opponents.

Meanwhile, only if the Bears win today will any of the compelling comparisons to the 2006 NFC champions be apt. If they lose, all of a sudden this team will take its undignified place alongside other underachieving one-and-done teases such as the ’05 and ’01 Bears.

So we interrupt any Chicagoans already polishing the cowboy boots for a Super trip toward their “destination,” down the “road” to Dallas for this travel update. It will be the Bears sent packing for the offseason unless they remember what got them this far.

Run the ball. Mix in the short passing game. Protect the football. Rush the passer. Tackle.

If the Bears do that as well as they did at times in the second half of the season, they will convince us that the de facto NFC championship game really wasn’t played Saturday night in Atlanta. If they don’t, Carroll’s own phone will be buzzing with well-wishers starting this afternoon around 3:30.

The Bears are better than the Seahawks and a more complete team than perhaps we have acknowledged in the weeks since they clinched a first-round bye. Now they have to prove it.

When the Bears opened the regular season at home against the Lions, I framed that as a must-win game because a loss would have affected much more than just the Bears’ record in the city. How appropriate that the Bears face the same reality in their first game of the postseason.

They can leave a message that they were right all along.