Bears now head to main event vs. Pack

January 16, 2011

What started as a mugging ended as a pillow fight.

The Chicago Bears flexed their muscles to bludgeon the overmatched Seattle Seahawks out of the playoffs from the outset of Sunday’s NFC divisional game.

But the Bears must have caught a cramp on the way to sending a message to the Green Bay Packers before next week’s NFC championship at Soldier Field.

The Bears were the better team in every department in a 35-24 victory that sent the Seahawks home to smell the coffee and surf the net.


But the Bears limped to the finish, giving up two touchdown passes in the last 2:14 for a final 11-point margin that made the game seem more competitive than it really was.

Make no mistake about it, the Bears were never in danger of losing. But the knockout blow was missing against a Seahawks team that lived up to its glass record.

They were there to be shattered, and the Bears did that early. But they let the Seahawks put the pieces together late in the game to make the outcome look presentable.

The Bears scored a touchdown on their third offensive play – Jay Cutler’s 58-yard pass to tight end Greg Olsen – and widened the lead to 28-0 by halftime.

The Bears finished with a huge advantage in the statistics – 437 yards gained to 276 – and it would have been wider had the Seahawks not gained 129 yards on their two scoring drives in garbage time.

The best thing about the game was the outcome. It didn’t mess up one of the NFL’s most compelling natural rivalries. The Packers and Bears are NFC North rivals and have been playing since 1921.

Bears coach Lovie Smith, who is normally reserved in his comments, could feel the drama building soon after the Bears had finished off the Seahawks.

“Now that we’ve beaten the Seahawks, it doesn’t get any better, as I see it, than the Packers coming down to our turf to finish it up,” Smith said.

“The Packers and the Bears – that’s the way it should be.”

They split the regular-season series, but the Bears won the NFC North with an 11-5 record. The Packers got in as a wild card at 10-6.

Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher did not underplay the intensity of the rivalry or what’s at stake. The winner goes to the Super Bowl.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “We don’t like them. They don’t like us. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of hype around this game.”

Even quarterback Jay Cutler, who guards his emotions with the media, acknowledged the importance of the Bears-Packers rivalry.

“It doesn’t get any bigger than that,” Cutler said.

Urlacher didn’t like how the defense finished the game, giving up the two late scores, but he didn’t seem overly concerned.

“They didn’t stop our offense the first half,” Urlacher said. “We executed our (defensive) game plan the first half – the first 3-1/2 quarters.

“We were on the sideline most of the half. It’s easy to play defense when you’re not playing. It was fun to watch.”

If it wasn’t fun for Cutler, it had to be a relief. The game represented a benchmark moment for him, and he came out a winner at every turn.

It was the first playoff game of his five-year career, and he got his first win. His first playoff pass went to Olsen for a touchdown, and he ran for his first playoff score. In fact, he had two scoring runs and threw a second TD pass – a 39-yard shot to Kellen Davis in the fourth quarter.

Cutler completed 15 of 28 passes for 274 yards with the two TDs and no interceptions.

It’s too early to call one game a defining moment, but quarterbacks are judged by how they perform in the postseason, and Cutler passed – and ran – his first test.

“Of course, it means a lot,” Smith said. “All of that, of course, is big for him.”

The Bears reversed a 23-20 loss to the Seahawks in the regular season. They didn’t have a sack or create a turnover in that game. They didn’t force a turnover Sunday, but they sacked Matt Hasselbeck twice and dominated the ground game.

Chicago ran 45 times for 176 yards and held the Seahawks to 34 yards rushing.

The Seahawks were one of the most lightly regarded playoff teams in history. They won the NFC West with a 7-9 record and upset the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the wild-card round a week ago.

In reality, they were nothing more than an asterisk in these playoffs. If they’re remembered for anything, it will be as the team that won a division title with a losing record.

Even the elements favored the Bears. A light snow fell throughout the first half. It left a patchy covering on the turf – like a frothy cappuccino at one of Seattle’s coffee shops.

“The snow challenged you a little bit,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “There was a lot hanging. That maybe was a bit of a distraction.”

Mike O’Hara is a frequent contributor for FOX Sports Detroit.