Bears slaughter Seahawks, will play for NFC Title

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Bears slaughter Seahawks, will play for NFC Title

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
Posted: 3:26 PM Updated: 6:31 PM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Now the Bears and Green Bay Packers can settle matters for this season in a game that really matters.

After watching the Packers annihilate the Atlanta Falcons, the Bears went out on a snow-flecked Soldier Field and did the same to the Seattle Seahawks in a 35-24 victory that sets up the NFLs two oldest rivals in the NFC Championship game next Sunday in Soldier Field at 2 p.m.

The Bears and Packers come into next Sundays game with a combined winning margin of 38 points in their divisional-round victories.

Bears-Green Bay. ... It just doesnt get any better than that, as I see it, coach Lovie Smith said.

Next Sunday will only be the second time the Bears and Packers will meet in a playoff game. The Bears crushed Green Bay 33-14 in a one-game tiebreaker game a week after Pearl Harbor.

Maybe Smith had an idea this might confront the Bears sometime, as he played his starters throughout in a season-ending 10-3 loss at Green Bay. Had the Bears defeated the Packers, Aaron Rodgers and his associates would have been watching this weekend instead of playing.

Fast start

Before a crowd of 60,010, the Bears built a 28-0 before Seattle kicked a 30-yard field goal late in the third quarter that appeared to be more an attempt to avoid the ignominy of a playoff shutout than anything else.

In his first-ever playoff game, quarterback Jay Cutler threw for touchdowns to tight ends Greg Olsen and Kellen Davis, ran for two of his own and handed to running back Chester Taylor for a short TD plunge in the first half.

The offense finished with 437 yards for the game, highest for the franchise in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era, with Cutlers 261 net passing yards also a high-water mark.

The Bears were 0-for-12 on third-down conversions in the first Seattle game. They converted 10 of 18 on Sunday.

Its up there among 2010 performances, Cutler said. But I dont think its our best game. I really dont. We missed some stuff.

The Seahawks crept a little closer on two touchdown passes from Matt Hasselbeck to Mike Williams in the fourth quarter. But Cutlers toss to Davis with less than 5 minutes remaining ended any serious whiff of a comeback.
Dominant performance

Simply put, the Bears (12-5) played like a division champion. They led 21-0 after less than 20 minutes were played, then they held that lead while limiting the Seahawks (8-10) to 96 total yards as the offense was piling up 238.

With a record of 42-8 under Smith when leading at halftime, this game was over. The points explosion in the first two quarters matched the Bears season high posted against the Philadelphia Eagles. The difference was that the Eagles score 13; the Seahawks were never close to the Chicago goal line and did not cross the Bears 40 in the first half when it still mattered.

The Bears controlled the ball 16 minutes of the first half and 21 in the second, holding Seattle to 111 total yards through three quarters.

Its easy to play defense when youre not playing, linebacker Brian Urlacher said.

Cutler made his first career playoff pass a memorable one. Behind flawless protection, Cutler launched a 58-yard touchdown throw to Olsen, who had outrun veteran safety Lawyer Milloy down the center of the field.

Olsen, whose career best for one game had been 94 yards, had 113 on three catches in the first half alone. He added a 33-yarder along the right sideline on the Bears second possession, a 50-yard drive that finished with a 1-yard burst over right tackle by Taylor for a touchdown.

The Bears lead ballooned to 21-0 when Cutler took matters, and the ball, into his own hands and picked his way six yards to give the Bears three straight touchdown possessions and a 21-0 lead with 10:05 remaining in the second quarter.

And Davis gave the Bears a second TD by their tight ends to close out the Chicago scoring before Seattles mini-rally.

Tight-end play was huge, Olsen said. Kellen comes back on that crucial play and catches that big touchdown to kind of ice the game. It just shows you, players whatever youre labeled or your position, if you can make big plays and make things happen for our offense, youre going to play.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Pro Football Focus has more than its share of both supporters and detractors of how it goes about grading NFL players. They break down every snap for every player, and while there are general agreements on what's seen by naked, untrained eyes who don't put the time and investment into its system that PFF does, there are other evaluations that seem to come out of the blue. While there's occasional guesswork on a player's particular assignment on a given play within its scheme, those of us who've watched and studied nuances of the game, or those who've played it, can usually identify how many jobs were done correctly.

Tuesday, PFF released its rankings of all 32 NFL rosters but in essence focused on the quality of each team's starting lineup, listing the Bears — are you sitting down? — 18th in the league. That's ahead of the likes of the Ravens, Saints, Texans, Dolphins, a Jaguars franchise that's had tons of high draft picks in recent years, as well as the Broncos and Lions (whom they rank 28th). The top five are the Falcons, Patriots, Titans, Packers and Steelers (the Bears play three of those teams in September alone). Among other Bears opponents, they rank the Panthers 10th, Vikings 12th, Buccaneers 13th and Eagles 15th.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Their evaluation is based on each player's final score from last season, "elite" and "good" being the top two levels, followed by "average" and "below average" to "poor." The only Bear earning elite status was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Another nine Bears finished with good grades: Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps (who earned his grade in Houston).

Those earning average grades were Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Jr., Pernell McPhee and Prince Amukamara. Below average: Mike Glennon (in mop-up duty in Tampa Bay), Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Leonard Floyd and Jaye Howard. The only Bear earning a poor grade among projected starters was tight end Dion Sims (with Miami). The other potential flaw is that PFF lists Kyle Fuller (no grade) and Bryce Callahan (average) as starters when Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc likely have the inside track to start at cornerback and nickel back, respectively.

How did the Bears get to 18th, above three playoff teams and another that won the Super Bowl two years ago? Well, all of those other teams have more elite players at certain positions, but it's offset by a number of spots occupied by more players with poor or below average grades. The Broncos (25th) for instance, had four elite players, just another four falling under the good grade, but five players listed as poor.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."