Published November 20, 2014
Back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 team won the NFC, Chicago harassed Matt Hasselbeck and held Seattle to 276 yards Sunday. The 35-24 win in the divisional round avenged an earlier loss to the Seahawks at home, and it was a blowout from the opening minutes.
Jay Cutler threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in his first playoff appearance, but he had plenty of help from the guys on the other side.
It was a big contrast from the first meeting in October, when Seattle racked up 353 yards without a turnover in a 23-20 victory over the Bears.
"We just played our game," Peppers said. "We executed. And really that's it. We executed today better than we did in the previous meeting. Everybody was sound. We had Lance back, which was a big help. For the most part, everybody was taking care of their own jobs."
This was what Chicago had in mind when it signed Peppers in the offseason. He's paid off in a big way, and it helped, too, that Urlacher was healthy after missing most of last season with a wrist injury.
A defense that had struggled at times in recent years ranked among the stingiest all season, and the Bears didn't give up much when it counted Sunday.
"Coaches kept staying on us," Urlacher said. "We got some good players. We got some good trades, good free agents. Now, we're back and we're playing together. Hopefully, we're peaking at the right time."
The Bears kept Hasselbeck off balance for most of the game after he threw for four touchdowns last week in the stunning win over defending champion New Orleans, and they shut down the run. Chicago's defense again looked more like the dominant unit that led the way to that 2006 Super Bowl, right from the start when it forced Seattle to go three-and-out on the game's first drive.
There were no highlight reel interceptions, no bone-crushing hits.
The Bears were plenty good enough. They were quick to the ball, tackled well and didn't give up big plays.
That's how they were in 2005 and 2006, when they won back-to-back NFC North championships. They didn't rely on big hits then, either.
They were more about speed, finesse and stripping the ball. They still are, but getting back to this level was a long, difficult process.
Smith wound up assuming the play-calling duties from Babich last season before promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator last February.
Beside the coaching shuffle, injuries continued to rob Harris of his Pro Bowl abilities. Urlacher was limited by neck and back problems in recent years, and that was before he injured his wrist in the opener at Green Bay last year, setting the tone for a 7-9 season and third straight playoff miss.
That left many calling for Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo to be fired. Instead, they got another chance and made some big moves — none bigger than signing Peppers.
The Bears lured him with a six-year deal potentially worth $91.5 million, hoping he would provide a spark up front for a defense that ranked 17th overall last season. This year, the defense ranked ninth, and the Pro Bowl defensive end was a big reason why, drawing attention and giving teammates a chance to make plays.
But he had help from Urlacher. From Briggs, too. And on Sunday, it was more of the same for the defense.
"We stopped the run early, the whole game, actually," Urlacher said. "The whole game we played good. We got off the field on third down. We got pressure on the quarterback. We didn't get any takeaways, but did exactly what we wanted to do the whole game until the last couple drives there."