CHICAGO – The Bears snatched control of Sunday’s divisional playoff game right from the outset and never relinquished it, setting up an epic confrontation in next weekend’s NFC championship.
Jay Cutler produced four touchdowns with no turnovers as the Bears stormed to a 28-0 third-quarter lead en route to a 35-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks before a crowd of 60,010 at Soldier Field.
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The victory propelled the Bears into the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers next Sunday at Soldier Field. The longtime rivals have only met once in the postseason, a divisional playoff contest won by the Bears 33-14 in 1941—exactly one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“We had to get a win with Seattle,” said coach Lovie Smith. “Now that we’ve beaten the Seahawks, it doesn’t get any better as I see it than for the NFC championship coming down to the Packers coming down to our turf this time. The Packers and Bears to finish it up, that’s how it should be.”
Cutler made the match-up possible by passing for 274 yards and two touchdowns and running for a career-high 43 yards and two scores in the first postseason game of his five-year NFL career.
“It starts with Jay Cutler,” Smith said. “Whether it’s running the football or making the different throws that we ask him to do, he was outstanding today. The offense really gave us a boost.”
The Bears scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions and eventually went ahead 28-0, their largest lead in a postseason game since they beat the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. The offense amassed 437 yards, converted 10-of-18 third downs and possessed the ball for 37:10.
“We were on the sideline most of the game,” middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said of the defense. “It’s easy to play defense when you’re not playing. Our offense converted third downs and scored a lot of points. It was fun to watch. Everything we wanted to do on offense we did.”
After going 0-of-12 on third down in their Week 6 loss to the Seahawks, the Bears converted their first third-down play in a big way Sunday. On Chicago's third play from scrimmage, Cutler lofted a 58-yard TD pass deep down the middle to tight end Greg Olsen, who beat safety Lawyer Milloy.
“On the first third down to get over the top like that was huge,” Olsen said. “It set the tone and got us off to a real good start. With the way our defense played—pretty much shutting them down for the most part—and the offense taking that momentum, the next thing you know it was 28-0.”
Cutler also tossed a 39-yard TD pass to tight end Kellen Davis and scored on rushes of 6 and 9 yards, becoming the first Bears quarterback to run for a TD in the postseason since Jim McMahon scored twice in Super Bowl XX.
“The first one was called and the second one was a shovel pass and the guy collapsed so I had to go,” Cutler said. “When it’s there, we’ll take it. I’m not afraid to do that. The offensive line did a great job today with their front seven and giving me time to read play-action.”
Cutler posted a 111.3 passer rating, Olsen had three receptions for a career-high 113 yards, and Matt Forte rushed for 80 yards on 25 carries and caught three passes for 54 yards.
The Bears defense dominated until a late Seattle surge, forcing the Seahawks to punt on each of their first eight possessions extending into the third quarter. On those eight drives, Seattle mustered just 96 yards while running only two of 32 plays in Chicago territory with both coming at the 49.
“We got off the field on third down,” Urlacher said. “We got pressure on the quarterback. We didn’t get any takeaways, but we did exactly what we wanted to do the whole game until the last couple drives.”
Matt Hasselbeck threw three TD passes in the fourth quarter, including two in a :52 span late in the game. The final score came on a 9-yard strike to Brandon Stokley with 1:24 remaining.
With the win, the Bears advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2006 when they defeated the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field to reach Super Bowl XLI.
“It’s been a long way back,” Urlacher said. “We’ve had some bad years there. We’ve struggled for a couple seasons. But the coaches just kept staying on us. We got some good players. We made some good trades and [added] good free agents, and now we’re back. We’re playing together and hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.”