Cutler: 'It's going to come down to a lot of different things'
Based on how much attention is being paid to them by local and national media alike during their respective playoff runs, the quarterback battle between Jay Cutler of the Bears and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers could very well decide the outcome, even with Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Chicago's Julius Peppers and Green Bay's Clay Matthews do doubt having a say, too.
Because there are so many factors that go into this game on offense, defense and special teams, not to mention the fact that this is the third showdown between the two storied franchises in four months, it's more complicated than Cutler vs. Rodgers.
"It's too hard to say that," Cutler said Wednesday before practice at Halas Hall. "If we both play well, it's going to come down to a lot of different things. If I don't play well and he does, we could still win the ballgame, and it could work the other way around. I plan on playing well, and I am sure he does, too."
Backing up Cutler's point, Rodgers was the superior QB in Week 3 at Soldier Field, as his 92.5 passer rating was noticeably higher than Cutler's 82.5, yet Chicago prevailed 20-17 thanks in large part to Devin Hester returning a punt 62 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Briggs: 'We are playing a very familiar foe'
Four seasons ago, linebacker Lance Briggs was 26 years old, finished second on the team to Brian Urlacher with 130 tackles and had been named to his second straight Pro Bowl, while now he's 30, again second on the club behind Urlacher with 89 stops and is going to the league's all-star game for the sixth consecutive time.
Briggs will be leaning on his experience Sunday at Soldier Field, when the Bears face division-rival Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, with the winner headed to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV.
" was the first time," Briggs said Wednesday before practice at Halas Hall. "You kind of don't know what to expect. We had to drive all the way downtown, put on a big suit and answer a bunch of questions. This year, I guess the one thing that makes it a little more comforting is that we are playing a very familiar foe. We're playing here in Chicago again. I guess that's just it, just the experience."
Aside from Briggs, four additional starters on the 2010 edition of the Chicago defense also started in the 2006 NFC title game, which was a 39-14 beatdown of Drew Brees and the Saints: Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Chris Harris and Danieal Manning.
Forte: 'We have to run the ball effectively'
Chicago has lost a total of five times, including Week 17 at Green Bay, and in those five games Forte has 54 carries for 194 yards (3.6 yards per attempt), which is an average of 10.8 carries and 38.8 yards per game.
So the formula for the Monsters of the Midway emerging victorious in Sunday's NFC title game against the rival Packers seems elementary: give Forte the ball, make reservations for Big D.
"It's not that simple," he said Wednesday before practice at Halas Hall. "In order for us to win, we have to run the ball effectively. I think if we get more than 10 or 11 carries, that allows me as a running back to get into rhythm and the offensive line to get into rhythm and make our running game effective."
While the ground game was indeed quite effective in the finale at Lambeau Field against these same Packers, as Forte ran 15 times for 91 yards (6.1 yards per attempt), the Bears inexplicably dialed up 47 passing plays in what was never more than a one-score affair and lost 10-3.
Smith: 'It's not like a lot of people expected us to be in this position'
Local and national experts alike figured the Bears would be lucky to reach the .500 mark this season, and facing what appeared to be a daunting schedule when it was originally released back in April, some pigskin pundits forecasted no more than six or seven wins for a team coming off a disappointing 7-9 campaign the year before.
Picked to lose most of their big games this season, including both matchups with the hated Packers, the first at home in Week 3 and the second on the road in Week 17, Bears coach Lovie Smith has gotten used to the role of the underdog in 2010.
"It's definitely been a part of what we've dealt with this year," he said Wednesday before practice at Halas Hall. "Coming out of nowhere, it's not like a lot of people expected us to be in this position. The Packers were supposed to be in this position, so I guess I can see why. But to me, [in] the playoffs, it's pretty hard to say a team should be the underdog in the playoffs. We've played them twice this year. We had two great games. The last time, up at their place, [it] went right down until the end. Expect it to be the same type of game. Whether we're an underdog or not, we'll see."
Despite the Bears being double-digit favorites at home in the divisional round of the playoffs against an 8-9 Seattle squad, there were still whispers around the league that the Seahawks righted the ship in a 41-36 wild-card upset of the defending-champion Saints and would walk out of the Windy City with another W – they trailed 28-0 in the third quarter and eventually lost to Chicago 35-24.
Martz: 'We didn't play very well and certainly didn't coach very well'
However, offensive coordinator Mike Martz curiously reverted back to air-raid mode in the season-finale defeat at Green Bay, although it may have had something to do with the fact that Chicago had already locked up the No. 2 seed in the NFC by the time the game started, and results from earlier tilts that afternoon meant there was no chance to move up to No. 1.
So, BearReport.com posed this question: In retrospect, did Martz call the same type of game he would have had the result actually meant something to the Bears?
"I did not do a good job calling the game at all, really," Martz said Wednesday before practice at Halas Hall. "I probably got away from some things. We tried to create some things on first down in the passing game that I thought would be good. We just didn't execute very well, we didn't play very well and certainly didn't coach very well in that game. It was uncharacteristic of who we are. As you go back and look at it, we did some pretty good things in the running game. But the passing game, we were really off, really out of sync in all aspects of it. I thought it was disappointing. Of course, when you throw it on first down and don't complete [the pass], it's second-and-10 like we did and you're obliged to make it up another way. Of course, they're going to pressure you. I just did a bad job, really, in that game. You go back and reflect on that and look at how you dealt with some of those things and try and correct that."
Martz and the Midway Monsters responded with a season-high 45 rushing attempts in the division-round win over Seattle, resulting in 176 yards, 37:10 in time of possession and, most importantly, a win and a date in the NFC Championship Game.
John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
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