In his first career playoff game, Jay Cutler passed and ran Chicago to a record-setting 35-24 drubbing of the Seahawks that sets up a Packers-Bears NFC title game next week at Soldier Field.
CHICAGO – Matt Forte finally got a chance to throw a pass out of the Wildcat formation Sunday. When Seattle linebacker Aaron Curry intercepted it, Jay Cutler let Forte hear about it in the next Bears’ huddle.
“He said, ‘Not as easy as it looks back there, huh?’
“I was like, ‘No, it’s not.’ ” Forte said.
It sure looked that easy for Cutler. In his first career playoff game, Cutler passed and ran Chicago to a record-setting 35-24 drubbing of the Seahawks that sets up a Packers-Bears NFC title game next week at Soldier Field.
Cutler became the first playoff quarterback since Otto Graham 55 years ago to run and pass for two touchdowns apiece. He also helped the Bears set Super Bowl-era team records of 437 total yards and 261 net yards passing.
Five times, Cutler ran for first downs. He finished with a career-high 43 yards.
“He can handle himself back there,” Forte said.
“I told him,” safety Chris Harris said, “we’re going to put a 7 on his jersey.”
Cutler made like Michael Vick whenever the Bears needed it most. Four of his first-down runs came on third down, including his 6- and 9-yard touchdown runs.
“When it’s there, you take it,” Cutler said.
His other first-down run came on a fourth-down sneak.
“Jay’s a very athletic quarterback,” Seattle linebacker Will Herring said. “He really hurt us with his feet.”
His arm, too.
Cutler threw a perfect 58-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen (113 yards on three catches) on the third play of the game. His 39-yard touchdown to third-string tight end Kellen Davis pushed Chicago’s lead to 35-10 with 4:40 to play.
Both long TD passes came on third down.
Chicago was 0-for-12 on third down in a regular-season loss to Seattle (8-10).
Sunday, the Bears were 10-for-18, including all four Cutler touchdowns.
“Third downs were really big this time,” coach Lovie Smith said.
So was Olsen, who had the first 100-yard receiving game of his career and third-highest playoff receiving total by any Bear.
“I felt he could make a play any time Jay would get him the football,” Lovie Smith said. “But, of course, it starts with Jay Cutler.”
A 33-yard pass to Olsen off Cutler’s back foot under heavy pressure set up the Cutler fourth-down sneak and 1-yard touchdown run by Chester Taylor for a 14-0 first-quarter lead. Cutler’s 6-yard quarterback draw made it 21-0 at the half.
“They couldn’t stop our offense,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
And they couldn’t move on Chicago’s defense. Seattle had seven first downs after three quarters and trailed 28-3.
The Bears even gave Cutler credit for their defense.
“We were on the sidelines for most of the game,” Urlacher said. “It’s easy to play defense when you’re not playing.
“Our offense converted third downs and scored a lot of points for us. It’s fun to watch.”
The Bears hit so hard they sent two Seattle players to the hospital with concussions (tight end John Carlson and cornerback Marcus Trufant). They ran for 176 yards, their third-highest playoff total in the Super Bowl era. Cutler threw for 274 yards with a 111.3 passer rating.
Add it up and Chicago (12-5) had its easiest playoff victory in a quarter-century. They hadn’t taken a lead larger than 10 points into the fourth quarter since their 1985 Super Bowl champions.
And now come the Packers.
“People have doubted us all year,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “We’ve heard it all year. The Bears aren’t a playoff team. Well, we got here. Green Bay is going to win the North. Well, we won the North. They want to make it to the Super Bowl. So, we’ll see next week.”
“We’re ready,” Chris Harris said, “to get it on.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.