Bears have eyes on Super Bowl


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

CHICAGO — An impossible to miss, mysterious sign was planted near the driveway to the Chicago Bears' practice complex this week, imploring a team desperate for a playoff victory: "Play Angry."

Getting mad won't necessarily secure a victory today for the Chicago Bears on what should be a frosty and perhaps snowy Soldier Field. Playing well against the Seattle Seahawks, the defending NFC champions, is more important.

Since they lugged personal belongings into their training camp dormitory six months ago, the Bears have been saying two magic words: Super Bowl.

"I don't want to be one of those players (saying), 'I'm going to wait til next year,'" Bears defensive back Charles Tillman said.

"I might never have it. We might never make it this far again. Who am I to say? Now that we are in, now is the time to seize the moment."

The Bears didn't do that a year ago in a similar scenario.

After winning a division title, securing a first-round bye and playing a team they had already beaten in the regular season, the Bears were ousted by the Carolina Panthers when Steve Smith put on a pass-catching clinic at Soldier Field.

The player Smith burned a couple of times during the long afternoon was Tillman, going around him early for a TD when the Bears cornerback stumbled, and later outjumping him for a pass that set up a field goal.

Tillman, sidelined the final two weeks of this regular season with a sore back, has a chance to bounce back. And he should be busy against the Seahawks' multiple-receiver sets.

Atoning for his postseason performance of a year ago motivates him — to a certain extent.

"I'm not going to say 'I played a bad game, Errrr, I got to play better now,'" Tillman said. "Disappointment is my personal trainer, so yeah it fuels me in a sense."

Seattle came to Soldier Field on Oct. 1 missing some of its offensive firepower, most notably last year's MVP Shaun Alexander and tight end Jerramy Stevens, and left Chicago with a lopsided 37-6 defeat. Now they're expecting a better performance, hoping to give Matt Hasselbeck more time to throw after he was sacked five times in the first meeting.

Both teams are working around key injuries. Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who sacked Hasselbeck twice in October, is out, as is safety and team leader Mike Brown. And Chicago's defense in the final month was not the dominant force it was earlier.

Seattle's big concern is a patched-up secondary that turned to reinforcements from other walks of life after Marcus Trufant, Kelly Herndon and Jimmy Williams all were hurt.

Among those signed were Rich Gardner and Pete Hunter. Hunter had worked in a mortgage office in Dallas while away from the game.

"Well, usually you don't have a lot of loan officers back there playing," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said comically.

"I'll be nervous about it until we stop playing. ...They've only been here a couple days and then all the sudden you're throwing them out there in a playoff situation against some of the best receivers in football. It's tough duty."

Talk about tough, Seattle got through to the second round last week, edging the Cowboys 21-20 and becoming the first Super Bowl runner-up to win a playoff game the following season since 1997.

The Seahawks were either lucky or opportunistic, depending on your point of view, as Dallas quarterback Tony Romo mishandled a snap for what could have been a go-ahead field goal. Seahawks defensive back Jordan Babineaux extended the season by making a heads-up tackle, preventing the Dallas quarterback from getting a first down or even hitting the end zone.

Last week marked the first time all season Seattle had its full complement of receivers available for one game — and then WR Darrell Jackson (University of Florida) left in the third quarter with a recurrence of left turf toe and D.J. Hackett sprained his ankle.

Jackson, listed as questionable for today, was not practicing by midweek but said he will play. Hackett, listed as doubtful, is far less likely to play, meaning backup quarterback Seneca Wallace may play receiver for the third time in four games.

"Last year's team, everything seemed to go right for us," Hasselbeck said. "I felt like just everything kind of went our way. This year has been very, very different. We've had to overcome a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, a lot of kind of just weird stuff."

Holmgren won't flinch if his mustache is frozen by game's end Sunday. He knows Chicago well. His daughters attended school there and he's familiar with the city from his days as coach of the Packers. His record against the Bears is 14-3, including 12-2 during those days leading Green Bay.

But the task is a big one, considering his current team's postseason history. Seattle has not won a road playoff game since Dec. 31, 1983, a 27-20 upset at Miami en route to losing the AFC title game at the L.A. Raiders. But the Bears haven't won a playoff game anywhere since New Year's Day 1995.

There are plenty of factors Sunday other than the weather. There's the mobility of Hasselbeck and Alexander, both sidelined for stretches by injuries this season; Seattle's ability with Walter Jones, new starting center Chris Spencer and rookie left guard Rob Sims, to block the Bears' rush and avoid turnovers against a team that had 44 takeaways; the effectiveness of the patchwork Seahawks secondary against inconsistent Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman; and how well the Bears can run the ball.

The Bears know they're going to be judged by Sunday's result, especially after the deflating 29-21 playoff loss at home a year ago.

"It was pretty bad at our home field and that's what everyone remembers going into the playoffs — getting the first-round bye and the home-field advantage and losing," Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian said. "You don't want to go back out and do the same thing."

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