Seahawks head to Chicago a confident group
Before their stunning upset of New Orleans to open the NFL playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks' most complete performance of the season came in a Week 6 victory at Chicago.
So maybe that's why there is a general feeling of comfort about the Seahawks returning to Chicago for Sunday's NFC divisional playoff.
While they are going to be decided underdogs again, and the Bears were a far different team three months ago, the Seahawks already know they can win in Soldier Field, beating the Bears 23-20 back in mid-October.
And these Seahawks are on a roll, a general idea that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago when they capped a stretch of seven losses in nine games with three straight thuds against San Francisco, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
A win over the Bears would give Seattle its first three-game win streak since 2007.
Suddenly these Seahawks are a confident group at ease with their place. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck even pointed it out on Monday, noting that Seattle's first goal for the season was winning the NFC West and re-staking claim to a division it controlled during the middle part of the last decade.
But there wasn't much said about what comes after winning the division.
''We never talked about what was beyond that but we all know that there's just great stuff beyond that,'' Hasselbeck said. ''So here we are and to have a second round playoff opportunity is really exciting and that's what we care about right now.''
To that point, the Seahawks returned to work after a day away. Coach Pete Carroll even got some down time, spending Sunday with one eye on the two playoff games - with extreme interest in Green Bay's win over Philadelphia - but much of the day was also spent hanging out with his grandson.
But their preparations for the Bears begins with October's win and the familiarity of having already played in Chicago this season.
''We had a good experience, we know that. That's not a battle cry or anything, that doesn't mean anything,'' Carroll said. ''We just know where we're going, we know what it feels like, we know where we're going to practice the day before the game, and we'll know the sights and sounds of that stadium. So there's a little familiarity that I think helps. That's experience, and that's it.''
In a season devoid of many impressive performances, Seattle's 23-20 win over the Bears in Week 6 was the one exception. Coming off its bye week, the Seahawks rolled into Chicago and after Matt Forte's 6-yard touchdown run on the opening drive, Seattle for the most part controlled the tempo, picking up its first road win over a team with a winning record in three seasons.
Forte was held to just 11 yards rushing on eight carries and the 61 yards rushing by the Bears was their fourth-lowest total of the season. And Jay Cutler couldn't make up for the lack of a run game. Cutler threw for 290 yards, but completed just 17 of 39 passes and the Bears failed to convert any of their 12 third-down attempts.
Along with one of their better defensive performances, the win in Chicago also served as the reemergence of Seahawks wide receiver Mike Williams. The former first-round bust broke out with 10 catches for 123 yards that afternoon, at the time the most receptions by any Seattle receiver in a single-game since Bobby Engram caught 14 passes against Cleveland in 2007.
That day was also the debut of Lynch with the Seahawks, and while his 17 carries for 44 yards wasn't all that impressive, his brutish running style was fully on display in his first game with the Seahawks. It was one of just four times during the regular season the Seahawks topped 100 yards rushing as a team, highlighting one of the great weaknesses of Seattle's season.
Some of those concerns over Seattle's inability to run were put to rest in the last two weeks. The Seahawks had 141 yards rushing in the regular season finale against St. Louis, then churned out 149 yards rushing against the Saints, including the first 100-yard rusher of the season when Lynch finished with 131 yards and, of course, his memorable late touchdown.
''It was crazy. I've never seen anything like it,'' Hasselbeck said.
But when Seattle faced the Bears previously, linebacker Lance Briggs did not play. Both Hasselbeck and Carroll said his presence alone changes the challenge in front of the Seahawks.
''Going into that game we fully expected him to play and he didn't play and that was a big deal,'' Hasselbeck said. ''For us to sit back and say, 'we beat them at their place we can do it again,' that would be a dangerous way to feel because Lance Briggs did not play in that game, he is a big, big-time difference maker.''