“Yeah but, just imagine it,” Ricky said in the second quarter of the Packers-Eagles wild card game. “Bears. Packers. NFC Championship.” The Packers had just scored their second touchdown of the game, and possessed a stout 14-0 lead over Philadelphia, the two and a half point home favorite and employer of the NFL’s hottest commodity of 2010, Michael Vick.
“No. Let’s not start revving ourselves up for that,” I said. “Two quarters and two games to go. Lots can happen.”
But he’s right: an NFC championship game at Soldier Field between the Bears and the Packers, regardless of outcome, immediately becomes the greatest Bears-Packers game of my life, and of my father’s life, and probably of all-time, because who really goes around talking about the 1941 NFL divisional tiebreaker anymore?
Two quarters later, leading 21-16, Green Bay’s Tramon Williams intercepted the final pass thrown by 2010 Mike Vick, and the Packers marched on.
Round 3 is now two wins away – one for our guys, one for theirs – but I still cannot think too much about it, because those damn Seahawks are back, and they’re out for blood.
Yep, that wily on-field prognosticator Hasselbeck has returned, amazed as Seattle fans and the rest of us when his teammate Lynch unveiled The Run and catapulted this Seattle bunch into the divisional round. You don’t often see the quarterback in the endzone celebration after a 67-yard dash. He’s usually high-fiving linemen, with a plan to congratulate the back on the sideline around the 30.
But no, there was Matt Hasselbeck entering the picture just as Lynch approached the 30 on the run, the old quarterback careening into the play like an overzealous college dad during a parents weekend, knocking our pal Alex Brown just the slightest bit off-balance with a glancing arm shot, and extending in celebration when he saw Lynch cut back at the 5 and straight toward the goal.
Hasselbeck has spunk, and flair, and scramblin’ feet, and he’ll put them all to use this Sunday against our beloved Bears. There are even a few writers out in the world selecting the 8-9 Seahawks to pull the upset and take their silly little season into the NFC title game.
Before the matchup was settled, I wondered how much of Seattle’s sports sadness (losing the Sonics, losing Super Bowl XL, getting no rings with Griffey, Rodriguez, Johnson, and Ichiro, etc.) could be cured if the 7-9 division champion Seahawks ran the table and won the city’s first pro title since the ’79 Sonics. Out there in the land of hypothetical, with the Magnificent Occurrence assured, it did not bother me much to imagine a 2011 NFC playoff bracket in which the Bears were eliminated.
But 40 hours from kickoff is no time for charity, even in imagination. The Seahawks must be vanquished, and will be. These 2010 Bears are better than the 2006 Bears, and the 2006 Seahawks were a stronger team than the current edition, and there you are.
Comparing the Bears to the Super Bowl team, I am concerned by the offensive line and running game. The 2006 team stormed its way to the Super Bowl with a brilliant ground attack – over their final four regular season games, they accumulated 139 yards on the ground on 30 and a half carries, while scoring five touchdowns. Cedric Benson had grown into a legitimate reason why the Bears would win a title. And the running game carried them past the Seahawks: 34 carries, 120 yards, and two touchdowns for Thomas Jones.
Matt Forte and the gang weren’t quite as powerful over their final four games: 95 yards per with a lower yards per carry average (4.1 to 2006’s 4.6) and only three scores.
But we musn’t underestimate the difference between Jay Cutler and Rex Grossman. I am (and continue to be) as big a Grossman supporter as exists within the Bears fan community. I wore a homemade GROSSMAN headband during the game, which I held on to more than a year after that curs-ed Kelvin Hayden crossed the goalline.
Still, even I can see that in the world of NFL quarterbacks, Big Jay is hugely gifted, Rex only moderately so. Give 2006 Rex Grossman two inches, bigger hands, and greater speed, and maybe the Bears still lose XLI, but it’s not a disaster.
As certain as I was the Bears would win that Super Bowl, so to do I believe steadfastly that these Bears will at least make the trip to Dallas. It was mostly the team’s Week 17 loss to Green Bay that did it. Like the 2007 Giants playing their starters against the 15-0 Patriots and coming up just shy, the team’s decision to roll with Cutler, Forte, Hester, and the rest of the offense (and defense) until the final gun in hopes of knocking the Pack out of contention must have created a different player mindset than the one resulting from resting starters and absorbing 20 point losses.
These Bears are Winners, through and through, a fact that will be clear by Sunday afternoon. I don’t like them as ten point favorites, but even if Robbie Freakin’ Gould needs to produce a sequel, the Bears will be victorious.
I hope the Packers are as well. My imagination can’t take much more of this.