An open lane beckoned. Devin Hester turned it down. “I wanted to make sure I ran the play,” Hester said. “If I see a lane, I don’t want to get too antsy and try to take advantage of it. I want to go ahead and support the play.”

An open lane beckoned.

Devin Hester turned it down.

“I wanted to make sure I ran the play,” Hester said. “If I see a lane, I don’t want to get too antsy and try to take advantage of it. I want to go ahead and support the play.”

Instead of taking a sure 10 yards, as critics have so often demanded, Hester broke free for an 89-yarder.

That’s the type of discipline combined with explosiveness that has carried Chicago to so many ugly victories in the past. Whether it was safety Mike Brown returning interceptions in the Dick Jauron era or Hester returning kickoffs and punts for Lovie Smith, huge returns have so often covered up a litany of Bears’ warts.

And it’s what the Bears planned on Sunday.

Trailing lowly Seattle by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, special teams coach Dave Toub told the Bears a long return could change everything.

“He said we have one play and this is that one play and we need it,” linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. “And then we got it.”

Only to lose it.

The defining return for the Bears on Sunday was not the NFL record-tying 13th return touchdown for Hester, but rather the matching 89-yard return by Danieal Manning that didn’t count. Manning’s kickoff return, immediately after Seattle’s last touchdown, was wiped out by a holding penalty on veteran linebacker Rod Wilson with 14 minutes left, and Chicago went on to lose 23-20 to the Seahawks.

“This was a great opportunity for us to get to 5-1, but we blew the opportunity,” safety Chris Harris said.

And maybe blew their identity.

The Bears have so often been the team fortune smiles upon. They beat Detroit when the refs ruled hot-dogging receiver Calvin Johnson didn’t hang on long enough to the would-be game-winning pass. They beat Green Bay by missing a tackle on a screen pass, only to recover a fumble at the end of the play.

This time, luck went against the Bears, with a flag thrown from behind before Manning somehow burst through a crowd of Seahawk defenders and broke free.

“He’s a beast,” Harris said. “That’s why he broke through.”

But a beast without a touchdown Sunday.

“It’s frustrating,” Tinoisamoa said. “For it to get taken away, the air out of the whole stadium went out.

“It was good to get the one by Devin later, but it was too little, too late.”

The Bears, out of timeouts when Hester scored with 1:54 left, never got the ball again. Their hopes had basically ended when Robbie Gould’s desperation 54-yard field goal attempt died in the wind with 3:47 to play.

And when Manning’s kick return was erased by penalty.

“I don’t believe it was holding,” Manning said. “I think that guy was busting his butt and made a great play. The ref, he made the call on the field. That’s why we roll with it. I don’t look back and say woulda, coulda, shoulda.

“We should never have been in that situation.”

The Bears often get in that situation, only to get bailed out with one big play or one big break. This time, the break went against them.

Suddenly, what seemed like another charmed season, such as the 13-3 Mike Brown season in 2001 or the 11-5 season with rookie Kyle Orton at quarterback in 2005, seems more like 2008, when the Bears missed the playoffs by one game after a third-down roughing penalty on Charles Tillman kept alive a game-winning Tampa Bay drive in overtime.

When a Devin Hester touchdown return can’t save the Bears, what can?

“When you don’t come up with the W, the return just gets brushed under the carpet,” Hester said. “This loss really hurt, but I want to make sure we don’t let this downfall us and kill our pride.”

It feels like the loss that will downfall the Bears.

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or mtrowbridge@rrstar.com.