Bears beat Seahawks, look to Green Bay
CHICAGO – Cheeseheads, get ready for the Monsters of the Midway.
As if the league's oldest rivalry needed an extra kick, Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears gave it a big one by beating the Seattle Seahawks 35-24 in a divisional playoff game Sunday.
That means they'll host Green Bay in the NFC championship game. That's right, it's Packers and Bears again, only this time, a spot in the Super Bowl is at stake.
"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of hype around this game building up to it," Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
Well, let the hype begin.
The Bears have played the Packers 181 times, but never have they met for the NFC title. If they beat Green Bay, they'll have a shot at their first championship since Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and the "punky QB" Jim McMahon shuffled all over the opposition 25 years ago.
Before they could think about a rematch with Green Bay, the Bears did their part against Seattle in their first playoff game since the 2006 Super Bowl season.
Cutler threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in his first postseason appearance, and the Bears pounded the Seahawks from the start, jumping out to a 28-0 lead against the first division winner with a losing record.
Now, they're staring at a rather scary No. 6 seed.
Green Bay dominated top-seeded Atlanta 48-21 on Saturday behind a superb effort by Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
"They looked good and we knew we had to come out and kind of make a statement like they did last night," Bears tight end Greg Olsen said, "and I think for the most part we did."
Olsen did his part with three catches for 113 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown in the opening minutes that set the tone.
Cutler threw for 274 yards, completing 15 of 28 passes, and finished with a 111.3 rating. When he wasn't beating the Seahawks with his arm, he was doing it with his feet, running for touchdowns of 6 and 9 yards.
The Bears defense, meanwhile, shut down an offense that scored 41 points in a stunning win over defending champion New Orleans last week. The Seahawks wound up with 276 yards but had just 111 through three quarters, and all their points came after the game got out of hand.
The Bears harassed Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for 258 yards. Chicago also held Seattle to 34 on the ground. Marshawn Lynch finished with two yards on four attempts a week after delivering that spectacular TD run against New Orleans.
But there were no more shockers. No more surprises from a team that slipped into the playoffs after finishing the regular season 7-9.
"It took a long time for them to ... fight and compete and do the things we want them to do," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "I would have loved to have got this game today that so many people didn't think we could. I see where we're going and I'm proud of that."
It didn't help that the Seahawks lost tight end John Carlson and cornerback Marcus Trufant to head injuries. Both were carted off the field.
Carroll said they were expected to spend the night in the hospital for observation but "all indications are that they are OK."
Trufant was injured in the third quarter when he collided with Kellen Davis' knee while trying to make a tackle. Carlson's injury happened in the opening minutes of the game, right after Olsen and Cutler connected on their 58-yard touchdown.
Seattle took over at its 24, and on first down, Carlson caught a flare pass from Hasselbeck along the left sideline. He tried to leapfrog Chicago's Danieal Manning but got upended, his helmet and right shoulder taking the brunt of the fall. Carlson stayed down for several minutes surrounded by medical personnel and teammates.
He was seen moving his legs before being placed on a board and carted off, and after that scary scene, things didn't get any better for the Seahawks.
Chester Taylor scored on a 1-yard run with 1:19 left in the first quarter, and the Bears added to it early in the second, when Cutler scored on a draw from the 6 to make it 21-0. He added a 9-yard run in the third that made it 28-0, before Seattle's Olindo Mare kicked a 30-yard field goal with just under two minutes left in the quarter.
The way the Bears had dominated to that point, it was hard to believe the Seahawks beat them 23-20 in October at Soldier Field.
When that happened, Chicago was in the middle of a 1-3 slide that nearly ruined its season. Cutler got sacked six times in that game after sitting out the previous week with a concussion.
A home loss to Washington followed and Chicago stumbled into its off week at 4-3 following a 3-0 start. The team that emerged had a different look, particularly on offense, and went on a season-saving 7-1 run before a consequence-free 10-3 loss at Green Bay before the playoffs.
By then, the Bears were locked into the second seed after winning the NFC North and earning a first-round bye. The Packers, on the other hand, were fighting to get into the postseason.
Now, after splitting two regular-season games, they meet again with the Super Bowl at stake. It's their second playoff meeting, the first coming at Wrigley Field on Dec. 14, 1941. The Bears won that one 33-14 on their way to the NFL title.
"I've been a part of it for two games and I know what it means," Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers said of the rivalry. "There is going to be a lot of talk about it this week. I don't want to really talk about it right now to be honest with you because we just got a great playoff win. There will be a lot of time to talk about that game coming up this week."