Mention to defensive player of the year Brian Urlacher that the Panthers blame their 13-3 loss to the Bears on Nov. 20 at Soldier Field on underestimating their opponent, and the middle linebacker fires back with both barrels.
"I don't really care," Urlacher said. "We won. If they overlooked us and didn't play their best game, whatever. We didn't play our best game either. They scored 3 points. So we didn't play our best game, obviously. They scored on us. They shouldn't have. They can say what they want to. If they overlooked us, they did this and that, we still went out there and outplayed them. That's what we had to do."
That victory won't mean squat if the Bears don't do it again Sunday.
"This game is more important than that last game, for both of us," Bears defensive left end Wale Ogunleye said. "We know it and they know it, and we'll see on Sunday. It's the playoffs. Winner takes all."
The Bears seem to be lining up to announce that they'll get it done. Ogunleye started on Monday with some blunt honesty. He said the Panthers are getting more credit than they deserve for beating the Giants 23-0 and running for 223 yards against a defense that was decimated by injuries.
"The Giants had their starting linebackers on injured reserve," Ogunleye said. "So this is not going to be the same defense they faced. They know what defense they're facing. To me, it's arguably the best defense in this league, so they know they've got to come in with their hard hats and ready to play against us. We're not too concerned about them running the ball because we think we can control the line of scrimmage."
In the last meeting the Bears' d-line owned it. They had eight sacks of Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, all by the defensive line, including three by Ogunleye and two by right end Alex Brown. Those two face the same obstacles this week in Panthers left tackle Travelle Wharton and right tackle Jordan Gross.
"In the back of their minds, they know what they're going against," Ogunleye said. "If we can continue to control the ball the way we did up front and let the linebackers roam about and help out with the secondary, it'll be a good day for us."
Asked about the difficulty of defeating a good team twice in the same season, most Bears brush off the question like a gnat.
"We won the first one; we know we can beat them," strong safety Mike Brown said. "They THINK they can beat us. They haven't done it; not this year at least."
The Bears also believe they're not getting the respect they deserve, but they know how to change that.
"I think most people think they're still the best team in the NFC," Brown said. "We've just got to go out there and prove (we are). We already know it ourselves. We have to prove to other people that we're going to make a serious run."
The whole respect issue is what set Ogunleye off, and he expounded on that topic Wednesday before the Bears returned to practice after on off day Tuesday.
"I don't understand why it's everybody asking us if we're worried about Carolina," Ogunleye said. "I really think that we've been playing well. We've got a great defense, and the offense is starting to click. People asking questions about if we are afraid of Carolina because they're a different team? No, we're not worried. As long as we play our 'A' game, we should be victorious on Sunday."
The Bears' confidence game isn't limited to the defense. Offensive right tackle Fred Miller has one of the Bears' toughest assignments, keeping Panthers two-time Pro Bowl left end Julius Peppers away from quarterback Rex Grossman. In the earlier meeting, Peppers was a non-factor with no sacks, even though Miller played just 13 days after he had his jaw fractured in a fracas with teammate Olin Kreutz.
Miller is anxious for the rematch, even though he'll be in the spotlight, especially if he has a difficult time with Peppers, who has reached double digits in sacks in three of his four NFL seasons.
"I'm very comfortable with it," said Miller, who as a member of the Rams held the Titans' Jevon Kearse without a sack in Super Bowl XXXIV. "This is the thing that you play for. This is what the NFL is all about, having great matchups and going out there in a playoff situation and winning games. I love the feeling of it, and I'm just ready to play and ready to go out there and have a great game because I'm going to come out there fighting like hell.
"I feel like I could block anybody out there, it doesn't matter. Just go out there and play the game. I've been on bigger stages."
The Bears seem confident they'll be playing on a bigger stage a week from Sunday.
--CB Jerry Azumah, who has been nagged by a chronic hip injury, will play his usual nickel corner spot but is expected to be replaced by Rashied Davis on kickoff returns.
--ORT Fred Miller has played in eight postseason games, the most of any Bear.
--RB Adrian Peterson is expected to be the Bears' No. 2 behind Thomas Jones Sunday, even though first-round pick Cedric Benson is fully recovered from a sprained knee suffered nine weeks ago.
--S Brandon McGowan, who started the last three games of the season when Mike Brown was hurt, will have surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. He hopes, optimistically, to be back in six months.
--ORG Terrence Metcalf will not play Sunday and will be replaced by Roberto Garza, who has started seven games this season, four at left guard and three at right guard, with no discernible difference in production from the starters.