Bears Bag Seahawks 27-24 in Overtime Thriller

Bears fans, you've been waiting for this a long time. After being completely outplayed in the third quarter, the Monsters of the Midway came back strong in the final period and advanced to the NFC Championship Game after a pulse-pounding 27-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Lovie Smith's crew is in position to go to the Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years.

Rex Grossman answered his critics after two weeks of tough questions, and Robbie Gould showed why he is headed to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl next month.

Gould, out of football and working construction at the beginning of last season, cleared a path for the Bears with his strong leg Sunday, kicking a 49-yard field goal in overtime for a 27-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The game-winner came shortly after Grossman got them in position with a clutch pass to Rashied Davis.

"A year ago, I'm pounding nails," Gould said. "Now I'm hitting game-winning kicks and going to the NFC Championship Game. I didn't even watch the end of it. I hit it right where I wanted it to go."

Where the Bears want to go is their first Super Bowl in 21 years. Gould was mobbed by a crazed pack of Bears teammates after Chicago's first playoff win since 1995.

Chicago will host the New Orleans Saints next Sunday for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLI.

"We win one game, and we're in the Super Bowl," Grossman said. "Two wins away from having a ring on my finger for the rest of my life."

Grossman, already one of the most scrutinized figures in Chicago sports history for his yo-yo performances, set up the kick with his pass to Davis.

"In every game, you're not going to play perfect," he said. "There were several situations where I wish I would've had a few plays back, but for the most part, I'm pleased."

Grossman completed 21 of 38 passes for 282 yards with an interception and a fumble. It was quite a reversal from his final performance of the regular season, when he had a quarterback rating of 0.0 in a loss to the rival Green Bay Packers.

Seattle got the ball first in overtime, but Chicago special-teamer Israel Idonije forced an 18-yard punt by Ryan Plackemeier with a strong rush. A few plays later, Grossman hit Davis for a third-down pass of 30 yards to the Seattle 36.

"I've learned that he knows how to bounce back from tough situations," coach Lovie Smith said of Grossman. "He's been roasted the past couple weeks over all different kinds of things. He is our quarterback. ... There was a lot of pressure on him and our entire football team, and I thought they handled it well."

The unheralded Davis is a former Arena Leaguer and was playing cornerback at this time last season.

"After I got up, I screamed," Davis said. "It was probably the biggest catch I made in my life."

Gould, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and is now headed an All-Pro, made his first 24 field goals this season and 32 of 36 overall.

The Bears had won a division title and earned a first-round bye in their previous two playoff appearances only to lose their first game at home, so their elation was coupled with relief.

The Seahawks, ravaged by injuries throughout the season, got a strong performance from 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander. Alexander, who missed the first meeting between the teams - a 37-6 Chicago win in October - gained 108 yards and gave the Bears defense a tough time. He had a pair of touchdowns runs.

"It's hard to say, `If we had this or that,"' Alexander said. "It was, `Nah we came up short."

Late in the fourth quarter, the Bears stacked up Alexander on 3rd-and-1 for no gain at the Chicago 44, and the Seahawks decided to go for it. But Matt Hasselbeck bobbled the ensuing snap, and Lance Briggs threw Alexander for a 2-yard loss and gave the ball back to the Bears with just under two minutes to go.

"If the snap was smooth, I could have run for a TD," Alexander said. "It was definitely the best I felt all season running the ball."

After a short completion and two of Grossman's passes were deflected - one nearly intercepted - the Bears punted.

The Seahawks got the ball at the 20 with 1:38 to go and moved to the Bears 45 before Tank Johnson, whose legal problems have been a headache for his team this season, sacked Hasselbeck and eliminated Seattle's thoughts of a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation.

Davis made his catch when Jordan Babineaux let him get past the line. Babineaux, who also missed an early interception last Saturday, hauled down Tony Romo after he bobbled the snap on a field goal attempt in Seattle's 21-20 victory over Dallas last weekend.

"We had this game," Babineaux said of Sunday's disheartening loss. "My job was to reroute the receiver (Davis), and he got behind me real quick. I was supposed to knock him off his route."

Last year's NFC champs took their first lead in the third quarter and momentarily silenced the bundled-up crowd at Soldier Field - temperatures were in the 30s - when Alexander ran up the middle for a 13-yard TD on a 3rd-and-10 to make it 24-21.

Earlier, as Gould made a field goal that would have tied the game, Seattle's Leroy Hill was called for a 5-yard penalty when he jumped up trying to induce a false start. Instead of the three points, the Bears got a first down at the Seattle 13 thanks to the infraction.

But Grossman's pass went off Muhsin Muhammad's shoulder pad, and Pete Hunter, who had been working in a mortgage office before being signed at the outset of the playoffs, intercepted it early in the fourth quarter.

Hasselbeck gave it right back on first down when his pass was intercepted by Ricky Manning Jr. at the 32. Manning picked off Hasselbeck twice during their regular season meeting back in Week 4. The Bears couldn't convert and punted.

Seattle moved swiftly to the Bears 21 on the opening series of the second half, but Briggs knocked Alexander back for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-1. Josh Brown connected on a 40-yard field goal that got the Seahawks within 21-17.

Alexander, out for six games this season with a broken foot, showed at times why he is still one of the best backs in football. He broke off a 13-yard run in the second quarter, and on 4th-and-1 from the Bears 4, he bulled his way into the end zone to make it 14-14 with 2:29 left in the first half. The score was set up by Grossman's fumble.

But the Bears didn't run out the clock. Grossman rebounded from the turnover and found Muhammad for 21 yards and Davis with an 18-yarder to the 16.

Muhammad grabbed another pass to the 7, and Thomas Jones ran in for the score on fourth down for a 21-14 lead.

Jones started the scoring with a 9-yard TD to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive that opened the game.

Seattle got even early in the second quarter. Hasselbeck hit passes of 24 and 14 yards to Darrell Jackson, the Seahawks' leading receiver who's been bothered by a sore toe. Nate Burleson powered his way into the end zone to complete a 16-yard scoring pass play.

The tie lasted a grand total of 18 seconds. Grossman hit a streaking Bernard Berrian in stride on a deep post behind rookie corner Kelly Jennings, who was picked on all day, for a 68-yard TD pass.

JC


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