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The Chicago Bears demolished the Seattle Seahawks in front of a national television audience in early October, but now both teams are looking quite different.
The Bears hope to put their recent struggles behind them, while the Seahawks try to continue their run as a team of ‘destiny’ when they meet in the rematch at Soldier Field in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game.
Chicago (13-3) handed Seattle its most lopsided loss in more than nine years with a 37-6 win on Oct. 1, but on that Sunday night in Week 4, Rex Grossman was playing like an MVP-caliber quarterback while the defense was looking outstanding.
Grossman was 17-of-31 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Seahawks (10-7), and the defense held Seattle to a season-low 230 yards, sacked Matt Hasselbeck five times and intercepted two of his passes.
“We have a lot to make up for, because we did not play very well,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. “We had better be better, because that was not very much fun.”
Seattle was without 2005 league MVP Shaun Alexander, who missed the first of six consecutive games because of a broken foot, and tight end Jerramy Stevens in the October game, but both are healthy now.
“Shaun Alexander is back and Jerramy Stevens is back, too, so it’s going to be a whole different game,” said safety Ricky Manning Jr., who had both interceptions for the Bears in the first meeting. “They’re definitely a better team now.”
The Seahawks have their offensive weapons healthy, but they did not play particularly well last week. Hasselbeck threw two interceptions, and Alexander had just 69 yards on 24 carries, but Seattle still managed to beat Dallas 21-20 in an NFC wild-card game.
The Cowboys were in position to take the lead when they lined up for a 19-yard field goal attempt with 1:19 left, but Tony Romo bobbled the snap, and Seattle’s Jordan Babineaux preserved the lead when he tackled the Dallas quarterback 2 yards shy of the end zone and a yard short of a first down.
“I think when you win a game that way, you kind of have to believe ‘heck, maybe it’s bouncing our way.’ Call that what you want, a team of destiny, call it whatever you want,” Holmgren said. “We kind of got one that maybe we didn’t think we had, and all of a sudden we have it.”
While Seattle brings the momentum of an incredible playoff win to this game, top-seeded Chicago played some of its worst football of the season down the stretch.
Grossman was the NFC offensive player of the month for September, but has been extremely inconsistent since.
He has seven games with a quarterback rating over 100, but five others under 37, including a 0.0 in the Bears’ 26-7 loss to Green Bay in the regular season finale on New Year’s Eve.
Although the Week 17 loss had no bearing on possible playoff scenarios, Grossman’s horrendous play was hardly inspiring heading into the postseason. In one half of football, he completed more passes to Packers players then he did to Bears, going 2-of-12 with three interceptions and one fumble.
Grossman admitted he was distracted and his preparation was not what it should have been, but said it won’t happen again.
Even the Bears once vaunted defense has been vulnerable.
Chicago allowed just 36 points in its first six games, but gave up 105 in its final four regular season games.
The Bears should receive a big lift, though, when a healthy Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman play in the same secondary together for the first time since defeating Minnesota on Dec. 3.
The Bears gave up just 178 passing yards without a TD pass and had four interceptions in that win over the Vikings, but have since given up 1,229 passing yards while allowing 10 touchdowns and making just three interceptions in four games with a banged-up secondary.
“We lost our last game to our rival, we didn’t play our best ball at the end of the football season, so it’s not like we’re an overconfident team right now,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re an anxious football team to go out and play again and play better than we did last time.”
Just like their last two trips to the playoffs, the Bears again had a first-round bye. However, having home field in the divisional playoffs has not proved to be an advantage.
In 2001 with the second seed, Chicago lost to Philadelphia 33-19 at Soldier Field, and with the No. 2 seed again last season, it lost 29-21 to Carolina after beating the Panthers 13-3 in the regular season.
“We don’t want to have that same feeling,” Bears running back Thomas Jones said. “It hurts when you lose in the playoffs, because you know you’re so close to making it to the Super Bowl, and that’s why you play.”
The Bears will likely try to keep the ball on the ground with Jones and Cedric Benson against Seattle’s susceptible run defense.
Jones rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks three months ago, and Benson had a career-high 109 rushing yards on just 13 attempts against the Packers.
Seattle allowed 116 rushing yards in last week’s playoff win, and is giving up an average of 152.7 yards on the ground in its last six games.
The Seahawks ended the regular season losing three of their final four games, but are in the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Seattle won both NFC playoff games last season at Qwest Field en route to its first trip to the Super Bowl, but has lost its last five road playoff games. The team has not won a playoff game outside of Washington since defeating Miami 27-20 on Dec. 31, 1983.
Alexander, who has only one 100-yard game over his last six while getting held to 3.5 yards per carry, isn’t worried about the team’s recent road troubles in the postseason.
“I call this the greatest persevering team I’ve ever been on,” the seven-year veteran said. “Now, we’re officially in the hunt for this thing.”
By: Michael Cash – theSpread.com – Email Us
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