Cutler lifts Bears to Divisional win over Seahawks, sets up rematch with Packers

Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler celebrates after his touchdown pass to teammate Kellen Davis in the fourth quarter of play against the Seattle Seahawks during their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Chicago, January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Frank Polich (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are five thoughts on the Bears’ impressive 35-24 victory over the Seahawks in the Divisional Round on Sunday.

1. What inexperience?
Jay Cutler did Sunday what Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan couldn’t this weekend: Elevate his game when it mattered most. For all the talk about his lack of postseason experience, Cutler played like a 10-year playoff veteran on Sunday. He set the tone early with a picture-perfect 58-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen on the Bears’ third offensive play from scrimmage and then showed pure grit and determination on his 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. On the day, he was 15-of-28 passing for 274 yards with four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) and zero interceptions (although he came close to throwing a couple of picks, including one at the goal line). Cutler has really put a lot of his past troubles behind him and deserves praise for his unflappable play on Sunday. He was highly impressive.

2. Cutler also got a lot of help from his offensive line.
The Bears’ O-line has taken a lot of heat for its play over the last couple of years, and deservedly so. But they’ve been a transformed unit since midway through the season and a lot of credit goes to Mike Tice and Lovie Smith for moving guys around to better match their strengths (and quite frankly, hide their weaknesses, too). Cutler was excellent but he also had plenty of time to survey the field and pick apart Seattle’s overmatched secondary. His front five did an outstanding job swallowing the Seahawks’ pass-rushers and keeping them out of the backfield.

3. That’s Bear defense right there.
The final score doesn’t do the Bears justice. Their defense played out of its mind for three quarters and that’s about as aggressive as I’ve seen Chicago’s secondary play all season. Unlike other teams who like to play their corners 10 yards off the ball and give opponents easy yards via slants and screens, the Bears’ DBs suffocated Seattle’s wideouts all afternoon. Granted, nobody outside of Brandon Stokley fought back, but credit still goes to the Bears’ corners for bringing the fight to them right from the start. Once again, Julius Peppers failed to record a sack but he got pressure on Hasselbeck all day. You have to focus on him to really appreciate what he does for that defense. He helped paved the way for fellow linemen like Tommie Harris, who did rack up two sacks. Without a doubt, J-Pepp was worth the money the Bears spent this offseason.

4. Martz should still scare the bejesus out of Bear fans.
It makes sense that Mike Martz would attempt a halfback pass when his team was up 28-3 and in complete control of the game early in the fourth quarter. I mean, when all you need to do is run out the clock and put a bow on that sucker, the right decision is to have Matt Forte take a direct snap on a 1st and 10 from your own 43-yard-line and attempt a pass. The pure fact that Forte threw the ball right to Aaron Curry (who returned the gift to Chicago’s 33-yard-line to set up Seattle’s first touchdown) was a pure fluke.

All kidding aside, that’s the crap that Martz has been criticized for in the past and needs to stop. I’m sure Forte was instructed to run the ball if a receiver wasn’t wide open and a defender wasn’t within 20 yards, but why even call that play? The only reason the Seahawks even had a field goal at that point was because of a great kickoff return. Just stay the course next time, Martz. But to be fair, he really did call a great game. The play action pass to Kellen Davis late in the fourth quarter was outstanding.

5. The Seahawks were who we thought they were.
The Seahawks gave football fans an upset for the ages last weekend, but they once again looked like a different team on the road. The final score doesn’t tell the whole story, because this team was dominated on Sunday. Hasselbeck played pretty well, but Chicago’s front seven owned Seattle’s O-line and his receivers dropped way too many passes. I know he wound up reaching the end zone at the end of the game, but Charles Tillman absolutely abused Mike Williams, who clearly wanted nothing to do with running routes, catching passes or trying to help his team win. Hopefully he remembered his purse when he cleaned out his locker following the game. He wasn’t the only one who played like he still had a hangover from last week, either. Most defenders would love to have a clean shot at a quarterback when he’s running, but safety Earl Thomas tried to arm tackle Cutler in the second quarter and the Bears’ signal caller muscled his way into the end zone. When the Bears got up 14-0, Seattle’s defense packed it in. And hey, who could blame them? They were on the field for the entire first half because their offense was trying to see if it could set the record for most three-and-outs in a single game. I’d like to personally thank the Falcons and Seahawks for sucking all the life out of these playoffs.

6. The media gets the match up it craved.
At the start of the postseason, the media wanted one of two matchups for the NFC Championship Game: Michael Vick vs. his former team in Atlanta or Packers-Bears in Chicago. And as soon as Tramon Williams intercepted Vick last Sunday in Philadelphia, most of the media turned into Cheeseheads. Well, thanks to the Falcons and Seahawks giving the Packers and Bears a couple of free wins this weekend, ESPN can blow their load talking about this Green Bay-Chicago matchup for the next six days. Just think, if the Bears would have done their jobs and finished off Green Bay in Week 17, they wouldn’t have to worry about trying to defend a red-hot Packers team next weekend. (Sorry if I sounded like a bitter Falcons fan in this last point. It’s probably because I’m a bitter Falcons fan who had to watch my team get steamrolled by the juggernaut that is the Green Bay Aaron Rodgers.)

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