CHICAGO — As Bears tight end Greg Olsen sprinted away from Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy for a first-quarter touchdown, it became evident in the very early going that this was going to be a much tougher day for Seattle’s defense.
In October, Seattle harassed Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler and led the Seahawks to their most impressive regular season win of the year. On Sunday, however, Cutler had the last laugh, leading the Bears to a 35-24 victory that ended Seattle’s season while sending the Bears to the NFC championship game.
That touchdown pass to Olsen, the first of two touchdown passes from Cutler, who also rushed for a pair of scores, was on Chicago’s first third-down of the game. The last time these teams met, Chicago went 0-for-12 on third down.
And in that last meeting, the Seahawks blitzed like crazy, often from seven-defensive back formations, leading to six sacks and a safety. With less third-and-long situations, the Seahawks blitzed a lot less, and the result was more time for Cutler to pick apart the secondary in the first playoff game of his career.
“He made all the throws that he was supposed to make,” Milloy said. “The difference was that we didn’t pressure him. He had a little more time today. He was able to stay comfortable. That was the biggest thing. We played him differently.”
A comfortable Cutler passed for 274 yards and two scores, and rushed for 43 yards and two more touchdowns.
“I don’t know if you’re going to get any better of a performance out of a quarterback in the playoffs,” said Olsen, who finished with 113 yards on three catches. “… I don’t know what more he could have done from that position in any game, let alone a playoff game. You can’t give enough credit to what he did.
And by the time Seattle’s offense finally started scoring, it was far too late because the Bears had a 28-0 lead.
“When the defense gives up this many points, you can’t win,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “… The first time we played them we got a lot of pressure. We didn’t get pressure on him this time and he just sat back there and made all the right throws.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks didn’t blitz less because that was the plan coming in, but rather because the Bears were in more third-and-short situations than they were in the October game.
“The situations, all the down and distances were much shorter,” he said. “We had a lot of third-and-eights and more the last time out, and this time is was third-and-three, four and five all the time.”
Cutler was far from perfect, but the handful of poor decisions he made went unpunished as Seahawks defenders missed out on potential interceptions and Cutler’s one fumble. One of the biggest plays early in the game came when Jordan Babineaux dropped a sure interception on the goal line that had pick-six written all over it. Four plays later, the Bears were in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
“We usually capitalize,” said linebacker Aaron Curry, who was responsible for the game’s only turnover, an interception of a pass thrown by running back Matt Forte. “We usually get the loose ball, we usually catch the interception and today we just didn’t make those plays. … Sometimes the ball just bounces differently. That ball was on the ground a few times, it was tipped a few times, and we just didn’t catch it, we didn’t recover it.”
Cutler and the Bears offense were also helped by much more balanced play calling. In the early part of the season, including the game against Seattle, Chicago was much more pass oriented, leading to a lot of sacks on Cutler. The Bears finished the season playing more balanced on offense, and did so again Sunday with 176 rushing yards.
“Forte, on film was definitely more of a reason why they started winning,” Curry said. “They started running the ball, so now you’ve got to stop Forte and stop Cutler, and that’s when it gets tough.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog