Charles Tillman and all the Bears defensive backs stepped up their aggressiveness against the Seahawks. | AP
Updated: January 17, 2011 10:42PM
Maybe today isn’t the best time to make this point, but the Bears are playing like the Patriots.
New England under Bill Belichick plays with an aggressive, physical style that puts even the game officials on their heels. They play on the edge, unafraid to cross the line every so often and willing to pay an occasional small penalty for a big overall payoff. And they do it with such consistency that they condition the officials to the point where holding, illegal contact and interference rules are redefined. It’s not cheating. It’s a part of the game.
The Bears aren’t the Patriots. But it seems like since they were outclassed by the Patriots five weeks ago at Soldier Field, they’ve become more aggressive and more willing to take chances. And if so, it’s paying off. The Bears pushed the envelope in pass coverage against the Seahawks in their 35-24 victory Sunday at Soldier Field, manhandling the Seattle receivers while building a 28-3 lead.
Instead of fearing the gray-area that gives officials latitude to call penalties, they took advantage of it.
‘‘They challenged us,’’ Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said, ‘‘played real physical, real grabby, holding a lot — but doing it in a way that they didn’t get called for flags and stuff like that. They did what they had to do and we didn’t answer.’’
It wasn’t until they backed off that the Seahawks scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make it look like the game was more competitive than it was (and add a point or two to the Bears-Packers line — currently Bears +3 — that might bear fruit for Bears fans next week).
On offense, defense and special teams, Lovie Smith seems more willing to take advantage of what he’s got and see just how fast his car can go. He even got caught looking ahead by throwing all sorts of stuff out there — most obviously the Matt Forte pass out of the wildcat that was intercepted — to give the Packers a few things to think about this week. Did any Seahawks gunners go down on the sidelines Sunday?
‘‘Once the game got out of hand score-wise, I felt like they were just doing stuff to do stuff,’’ Hasselbeck said. ‘‘Just trying to get all their coverages, all their blitzes on film for their next opponent. I didn’t think it made any sense to do [that]. It seemed like they were running every pressure they had when traditionally those guys have been, ‘We just do what we do. We play cover-2. We sit back and we win the game.’ But because they [didn’t do that], they gave us opportunities to get back in.’’
Maybe they did. But the Bears were never in serious trouble. Whether it makes a difference or not against the Packers next week, it’s good to see the Bears more willing to push it to the limit. Lovie Smith is a conservative guy. But with Mike Martz around, he appears to be thinking more like Bill Belichick every day.
And now, 10 more observations from the Bears-Seahawks game:
1. The Bears’ offensive line took another step forward with a stellar effort — though they weren’t facing the an elite defense. Chester Taylor carried the ball 11 times without a negative rush. But more importantly, compare the way the Bears blocked at the goal line for Taylor’s one-yard touchdown in the first quarter with what they did in the same situation against the Lions in the season opener. Much better plan of attack and much better execution. Taylor scored standing up.
2. The offensive line did not have a holding penalty for only the fourth time this season — but for the second time in three games. In fact, the Bears’ offensive line has been called for holding twice in the last four games after getting caught 11 times in the previous five games. Besides left tackle Frank Omiyale’s perfunctory false start, the only other penalty on the offensive line against the Seahawks was Olin Kreutz’s unnecessary roughness penalty, when he defending teammate Earl Bennett by smacking Seahawks linebacker Matt McCoy upside the head.
3. Rookie tackle J’Marcus Webb is starting to look good even to the naked eye in live action. One way to quantify his improvement: Webb had four penalties against the Dolphins on Nov. 18 — three holding calls and an illegal use of hands. He has no penalties in the seven games since then. Even the one time he noticeably got burned Sunday — when Raheem Brock beat him to force a Jay Cutler fumble, Webb at least recovered the fumble to mitigate the damage.
4. On the other hand, left tackle Frank Omiyale, who struggled against the Packers in Week 17, struggled again Sunday, beaten by defensive end Chris Clemons on at least a couple of occasions. Maybe he was great on the other 75 offensive plays the Bears ran, but it sure seems like an acute area of needed improvement against the Packers. It’s doubtful Packers linebacker Erik Walden has gotten worse in the last three weeks.
5. The previous Bears-Packers ‘‘playoff’’ game was only played because the teams tied for the Western Division championship at 10-1 (the teams had split their home-and-home series). In that era, the winners of the Eastern and Western divisions met for the NFL championship (beginning in 1933) and until 1941 there had never been a tie in either division.
The Bears were awarded home-field advantage by league owners at a special meeting two weeks earlier. And get this: ticket prices for the ‘‘playoff’’ game were the same as during the regular season: $3.30 for box seats, $2.50 for reserved grandstand, $1 for bleachers.
6. The Bears continued to live a charmed life Sunday. Two players were carted off the field with major injuries and another needed time to get up with help from teammates — and all three were Seahawks: tight end John Carlson and cornerback Marcus Trufant suffered concussions. Tight end Cameron Morrah (turf-toe), fullback Michael Robinson (ribs), running back Justin Forsett (ankle) and running back Marshawn Lynch (shoulder) also suffered injuries.
The Bears lost safety Chris Harris to a hip injury. But he didn’t show any ill effects of that injury in holding court with the media after the game and all but said that wild horses wouldn’t keep him from playing against the Packers.
7. One fear is that the Bears’ good fortune might turn against the Bears this week. Was it really a break to get the red-hot Packers at Soldier Field? And was facing the 8-9 Seahawks a proper tune-up for a team like the Packers? On the other hand, the Packers, though they beat a much better team in the Falcons, are going from the fast track of an domed stadium to Soldier Field. That might end up being just as difficult a transition as the Bears will face going from the Seahawks to the Packers.
8. Another benefit of playing aggressively is that it creates pressure that forces fundamental errors. The Seahawks had an unusual amount of drops Sunday — even safety Jordan Babineaux dropped a sure interception and Leon Washington dropped a kickoff in the end zone. And the Packers had a couple of unusual drops when the Bears played aggressively against them in Week 17. Not sure if that’s an accurate cause-and-effect, but it sounds good.
9. Greg Olsen has improved in a lot of areas, especially his blocking this season. He’s like a real tight end now. Olsen’s 58-yard touchdown catch was the longest catch by a Bears tight end since Emery Moorehead caught an 85-yard pass from Mike Tomczak against the Falcons in 1986. Even better, Olsen did a good job of protecting the ball after he made the catch. He fumbled on two of is first six receptions this season — losing one at the Lions 8-yard line in the season-opener. He lost one against the Packers two weeks later that went out of bounds.
10. For what it’s worth, in the six playoff games that have been rematches of regular-season games, the loser of the most recent regular-season game is 4-2 in the playoffs. The Seahawks over the Saints; the Jets over the Patriots; the Packers over the Falcons and the Bears over the Seahawks were the winners. The Steelers over the Ravens and the Packers over the Eagles were the losers. And the Jets had the revenge motive against the Colts, who had beaten them in the AFC Championship Game last year.