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Chicago Hope: Cutler & Bears Clip Seahawks’ Wings, Ready for NFC Championship Showdown with Packers

The Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers aren’t strangers to each other.  There’s a respect, yet a hatred there.  And now, the black and blue divisional counterparts square off in a rubber match of epic proportions.  Next Sunday, they’ll meet for the 182nd time and the right to go to Dallas and represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLV.  Before the season began, the Bears were an NFC North afterthought, taking a back seat to Minnesota and Green Bay.  It was even suggested that Detroit might finish ahead of the Bears in the standings.
Now as we’re down to one of the final four teams standing, the Bears are one of those remaining teams with a legitimate chance to win it all after thoroughly defeating the Seattle Seahawks, 35-24.
Sure the score  suggests a type of back and forth contest in which the Bears were able to make a few more plays count than Seattle.  Like those who touted Minnesota in the preseason as kings of the AFC North and maybe the NFC, that’s a wrong assesment.
Cutler and the Bears struck early and quick.  The game wasn’t even three minutes old and Cutler hooked up with tight end Greg Olsen for a 58-yard touchdown, the game’s first strike.  As it turned out, Chicago’s early 7-0 was all the lead they would need.  Before Seattle knew it, the Bears blitzed them for a 28-0 lead and booked reservations for next week’s title game. 
A large part of the Bears’ win goes to Cutler.  Playing in his first career playoff game, and just one day after Rodgers’ masterful performance against Atlanta, the NFC North’s other quarterback in the playoffs tallied four total touchdowns, two rushing (6, 9) and two passing (58, 39).  Cutler controlled Seattle’s defense and the game, allowing the Bears feast on the Seahawks and pounce early. 
Unlike the Saints a week ago, Chicago left no doubts and simply wouldn’t allow the Seahawks in the game.  Despite zero turnovers and three more touchdowns from Matt Hasselbeck (two to Mike Williams in t he fourth quarter), the glass slipper quickly turned into a pumpkin for the Seahawks.  They allowed Cutler to basically pick and chose whichever play he wanted to run at his disposal, as the Bears’ offense racked up 437 yards of total offense while converting 10-of-18 third down attempts. 
Seahawks managed only 34 rushing yards.  Last week’s hero, Marshawn Lynch, ran for just two yards on only four carries.  If you take away the fourth quarter, Seattle gained 111 yards through three quarters against the Bears’ defense.
Chicago is familiar with the doubters and non-believers just like Seattle was when the world told them they couldn’t beat the Saints and didn’t belong in the playoffs.  For the Bears, perhaps nothing was expected of them in 2010.  There wasn’t much evidence to suggest the Bears would be in this position, one way away from their second Super Bowl appearance since the 2006-07 season.
Since reaching the Super Bowl in 2007, the Bears missed the playoffs the next three seasons.  Cutler hadn’t had a winning season in the league until this year, and last year he led the league with 26 interceptions.  Maturity questions continued to plague Cutler, leading many to doubt the Bears would ever get the full potential envisioned when he enter the league from Vanderbuilt.  They were without a No.1 receiver and had a shaky offensive line.  They brought in Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator and it was expected he and Cutler would clash like the Hattfields and McCoys.  And then of course when it appears a team is on it’s last legs, there was chatter of head coach Lovie Smith and whether or not he would make it through the season or be fired.
But despite the dark clouds and question marks, the Bears remained resilient and believers within the locker room.  The skeptics said the Bears wouldn’t have a winning season.  They wouldn’t make the playoffs, couldn’t win the NFC North.  Now despite proving everyone wrong, there will likely still be doubters about Chicago’s chances to defeat Green Bay.  And that will be the edge the Bears will continue to play with.  Their “Us Against the World” mentality has gotten them this far.  Can it take them all the way to Dallas and Super Bowl XLV?
Chicago now sets their sights on a collision course with hated rival Green Bay, which dates back 90 years.  On Sunday they’ll meet for the 182nd time, facing each other for just the second time in the playoffs in NFL’s longest and most storied rivalry.  The Bears beat the Packers 33-14 at Wrigley Field back in 1941 in their only previous meeting in the playoffs.

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