Urlacher: 'It's a big challenge for us'

Before last weekend, Brian Urlacher had played seven sensational seasons in the NFL but never experienced a postseason victory. Now he's one win away from his ultimate goal and moving on to Super Bowl XLI in Miami. Urlacher spoke to the media at Halas Hall as he does every Thursday, and Bear Report was there to hear what he had to say.

After a long season of dizzying highs and cavernous lows, Bears All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher is finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"It's exciting," Urlacher said on Thursday at Halas Hall. "This is where we wanted to be the whole season long. Now we have a chance to get to our third goal for the season."

That third goal is to defeat New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday and advance to Super Bowl XLI in Miami. In the divisional round last weekend, the Bears won a thrilling overtime affair with Seattle 27-24 at Soldier Field while the Saints outlasted Philadelphia in the Superdome by the same score. This will be the first NFC title game for the Bears since the 1988 season. The Saints, on the other hand, have never been this far.

Urlacher had played seven seasons in the NFL without experiencing a playoff win until last week, but he knows that this game will be even bigger.

"It's just fun," he said. "It's been a good week of practice for us so far. It was fun to finally get over the hump last week, and now we get ready for the Saints. Good offense, we know that. It's a big challenge for us."

Despite the incredible season authored by quarterback Drew Brees, the tailback tandem of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush appears to be Urlacher's primary focus. McAllister ran over the Eagles all day long in the divisional round on his way to 143 yards on 21 carries. Bush set an NFL rookie record this year with 88 receptions out of the backfield.

Brees may have been in the conversation for league MVP, but according to Urlacher, the ground game is the key.

"If we can't stop the run," he admitted, "it's going to be a long day for us."

Not only is Bush an effective runner in the backfield, but he can be lethal in the passing game and on special teams. New Orleans head coach Sean Payton did whatever he could to get the ball in his hands and even found a way to keep both Bush and McAllister on the field in the same offensive set. Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson formed quite the duo themselves for the Bears this season, but one of them was always on the sideline.

When asked to compare Bush to players he's seen in the past, Urlacher was awfully generous with his praise.

"Marshall Faulk used to be similar back when he played," he said. "Quickness-wise and speed-wise, he's kind of like Michael Vick when Vick runs with the ball. He's kind of similar to that I think. But running back-wise, there's no one like him - I don't think - with the speed and quickness he has."

McAllister has been the forgotten man in the Crescent City to some degree with all the attention surrounding Brees and Bush, but the former Ole Miss Rebel showed last week that he can carry this offense when asked to do so. He scored two touchdowns - one on a 5-yard run and another on an 11-yard pass - and repeatedly bowled over Philly defenders with his punishing style. McAllister missed 11 games in 2005 after suffering a knee injury, but he looked stronger than ever against the Eagles.

Bush may be the brightest young offensive star in football, but Urlacher knows that McAllister must be stopped first.

"Deuce is a big boy," he said. "I know that. He's our main concern right now – stopping him – because he's the guy who'll get most of the carries I think."

Bush likes to elude tacklers, but Urlacher seems to be preparing more for McAllister's straight-ahead approach.

"You better get ready," he said. "You better break down and bring everything you got, or he'll run over you."

New Orleans features the No. 1 offense in the NFL at 391.5 yards per game, 110.1 of those coming on the ground. Although the Bears gave up just 99.4 rushing yards per game in the regular season, they have had trouble stopping the run since the season's midpoint. Seattle's Shaun Alexander rushed 26 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday and was very effective in the second half.

Nevertheless, Urlacher seemed unimpressed with Alexander's numbers and laid on the sarcasm pretty thick.

"Yeah, I think he had two 12-yard runs. Pretty good day."

If the Bears can hold McAllister and Bush to just two 12-yard runs this Sunday, chances are they'll be rewarded with a winter trip to South Beach.

JC


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