Commentary

Bears not looking back

Peppers not worried that effort in Week 6 loss to Seahawks will be repeated

Updated: January 11, 2011, 12:42 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Julius Peppers didn't want to talk about the last time the Chicago Bears played the Seattle Seahawks.

[+] EnlargePeppers/Okung
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRussell Okung had a strong game against Julius Peppers in Week 6, but Okung is battling ankle problems.

Earl Bennett was a little more forthcoming.

That's because Peppers was held sackless by rookie tackle Russell Okung in the Seahawks' surprising 23-20 win over Chicago at Soldier Field, while Bennett delivered a vicious de-cleater on punter Jon Ryan that helped free Devin Hester for an NFL record-tying punt return touchdown.

One thing the two have in common is a clear confidence that there's no way the Seahawks score another upset win over the Bears at Soldier Field.

Unlike the cynics amongst us, the Bears don't feel lucky to be in this situation, facing perhaps the least successful divisional-round team in NFL history. But they're certainly not sweating Seattle, considering the alternatives. It's not often you ask a team about overconfidence in the playoffs. But it's been that kind of season for the Bears, who have gone from doormats to being prohibitive favorites to reach the NFC Championship Game.

"We're very confident," Bennett said. "We've been talking about getting to the Super Bowl since we started. Everybody bought in, and we continued to work hard and see Dallas in our minds."

Peppers said, "Whatever happened a couple months ago doesn't really matter this time anyway. It's a whole new game and a different atmosphere."

The Bears, 10-point favorites in their divisional-round matchup with Seattle this Sunday, were loose on their first practice of the week. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris walked around the locker room with a rubber snake, trying to scare Bears players and reporters alike.

One of the most repeated questions of the day was: Did you see Marshawn Lynch's run against New Orleans? Lynch's 67-yard score, in which "Beast Mode" broke a tackle from seemingly every member of the Saints' defense was the play of the wild-card weekend.

"That was crazy," Bennett said. "I saw it and was like there's no way that just happened."

While the Bears respect a talent like Lynch, there's little fear of a repeat performance this week. In the Seahawks' win in Chicago, Lynch ran 17 times for 44 yards and a touchdown in his first game with Seattle, after getting traded from Buffalo.

"It was a great run," Peppers said. "The effort he displayed was amazing. There was also a lack of effort on the other side by a couple of guys, and I don't think we'll have that problem this week."

"Hopefully for us we'll be able to gang tackle him, and he won't make that highlight reel," coach Lovie Smith said.

The Bears' base Cover-2 defense requires a good tackling team, and the players are taught to swarm to the ball. Well, I guess every defense is taught that, but the Bears do it pretty well, partly because they lead the league in runs ending at or behind the line of scrimmage (according to Football Outsiders' stats).

"I think he ran that hard in Week 6, but this defense, it's not going to be one guy that's going to bring you down," cornerback Tim Jennings said. "We're going to have at least eight, nine guys, 10 or 11 at that."

The obvious angle to preview this game is to talk about what went wrong the last time the teams met. After all, the Bears are pretty much the only good team the Seahawks beat during their uninspiring 7-9 regular season, and the loss is a clear example of what happens when neither of the lines operate at a playoff level.

The loss was Jay Cutler's first game back from a concussion, and he was sacked six times, while the Bears went 0-for-12 on third down. Matt Forte and Chester Taylor ran the ball a combined 12 times. Defensively, the Bears were held without a sack or a turnover. Peppers was invisible, with Okung holding his own, while Matt Hasselbeck delivered the ball quickly.

"Yeah, we didn't play well that game," Peppers said. "Actually we played OK. We didn't play up to our standards. That's something we're going to take a look at this week."

The only bit of film that will get applause for this team is Bennett delivering a shoulder blow to Ryan, knocking the punter a few feet in the air as Hester whizzed by for the score. It looked like one of those hits you see in the movies.

"Oh man, I got a lot of texts about that hit," Bennett said. "It was crazy. It was history, Devin tying the record. It was fun."

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireMarshawn Lynch made the highlights with his touchdown run Saturday against the Saints, but his first TD with the Seahawks was against the Bears in Soldier Field.

Fun can only mean one thing this week: A win. There are no style points to award.

Not only is Chicago confident about its chances, the numbers bear it out. Football Outsiders gives the Bears a 92.1 percent chance of beating Seattle, by far the highest percentage of any team left in the playoffs. Chicago also has the highest percentage odds to win the conference championship at 42.4.

While the Bears seem to rally behind a lingering underdog status, that won't cut it this week. While Bennett wouldn't admit to wanting to see Seattle over Philadelphia or New Orleans, like most Bears he said he wasn't worried about the other team. Because the past is for history professors and columnists.

"It's the playoffs," said Bennett, who along with Cutler is playing in his first postseason game since high school. "It doesn't really matter who we play. We just got to worry about us and do our job."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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