Philly loss looks like Bears’ gain
By Neil Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org January 9, 2011 10:00PM
Running back Brandon Jackson celebrates after his touchdown gives the Packers a 21-10 lead against the Eagles in the third quarter. | ROB CARR~AP
Updated: February 11, 2011 12:27AM
PHILADELPHIA — It may have been inconceivable to some, but for anybody who has followed the Bears this season, it seemed more like fate.
We still don’t know if the Bears are the best team in the NFC, but all doubt was removed about which team has been the most fortunate after an unlikely series of events handed coach Lovie Smith’s team a date with the weakest team in the playoff field when the Seattle Seahawks come to Soldier Field on Sunday for a divisional playoff game.
The Seahawks began the postseason with the worst record (7-9) of any playoff team in NFL history. For them to play the Bears, they had to upset the defending Super Bowl champions, which they did, with a 41-36 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Saturday. Then the Green Bay Packers had to beat the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, which they did, 21-16 on Sunday.
How unlikely was this scenario? It involved one of the biggest upsets in playoff history and Bears fans rooting for the green and gold.
The Seahawks ranked 28th on offense and 27th on defense during the regular season, but they were much improved in both phases against the Saints. They should be confident after beating the Bears 23-20 at Soldier Field on Oct. 17.
“The way Marshawn Lynch is running, I’d be nervous,’’ Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop said, referring to the Seahawks’ running back who sealed the win over the Saints with a wouldn’t-be-denied 67-yard run. “It’s kind of funny that fans of a rival are rooting for you, but it’s a cool thing.”
The Packers’ victory sends Green Bay to the Georgia Dome to play the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night. If the Bears beat the Seahawks and the Packers defeat the Falcons, the NFC Championship Game would not only be played at Soldier Field but would feature the league’s longest-running rivalry. The Bears and Packers have only met once in the postseason, and that was in 1941.
“That would be amazing,” Bishop said of the prospect of playing the Bears for the third time.
Good fortune has been a key component for the Bears’ success this season, and another opportunity will present itself if they can take care of business like the Packers did against the Eagles.
The Packers grabbed a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers fumbled early in the third period and the Eagles recovered, setting up Michael Vick’s 24-yard pass to Jason Avant to pull Philly to within 14-10. Rodgers and the Packers answered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by a perfectly executed screen pass to running back Brandon Jackson, who caught the ball and waited for three of his linemen to run interference before following them into the end zone with 7:33 left in the third.
The Eagles might have come all the way back if not for two missed field goals by David Akers and an inability to stop sixth-round pick James Starks, who rushed for 123 yards.
“It could be very exciting if we can carry this running game for the remainder [of the postseason],” Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. “We know we can. It’s just a matter of not being too pass-happy. We lean toward the pass. That has kind of been who we are. It has been our identity as an offense, and it has been because of the lack of success of the running game. But now with [Starks] emerging and the offensive line jelling, it’s going to be exciting to watch.”
The question has been there all season. Are these Bears lucky or good? As the Packers celebrated, the answer was obvious.