The Seahawks’ wild-card upset of the Saints on Saturday night earned them a rematch with the Bears in Chicago this Sunday in a divisional playoff game that has a familiar feeling to it.
After the Seahawks won a game on Saturday that almost no one gave them any chance to win, Pete Carroll allowed himself a smile of satisfaction and a glimpse at the optimism that has been one of the cornerstones in his first season as coach.
“The whole game, it just felt like we were going to win,” Carroll said after the Seahawks’ stunning 41-36 upset of the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in their wild-card game at Qwest Field.
It’s worth repeating, because the Seahawks are now off to Chicago for a divisional playoff game against the Bears on Sunday, with a 10 a.m. PST kickoff.
In the Seahawks’ 23-20 victory over the Bears in Week 6 at Soldier Field, that same we’re-going-to-win feeling permeated the entire afternoon. No matter what the Bears tried, the Seahawks had an answer for it – which it made their slim leads seem insurmountable.
And the similarities don’t stop there.
Until Saturday’s win over the 11-5 Saints, the Bears were the last team the Seahawks had beaten that had a winning record. The Bears took a 7-0 lead by driving for a touchdown on their first possession, just as the Saints led 10-0 on Saturday. The Seahawks came back to take a 14-7 lead against the Bears, just as they rallied to go up 24-17 on the Saints at Qwest. Marshawn Lynch scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to give the Seahawks a 23-13 lead, and allowed them to hold off the Bears despite an 89-yard punt return for a TD by Devin Hester – just as Lynch’s electrifying 67-yard scoring run against the Saints gave them a 41-30 edge that held up even after Drew Brees led the Saints to one final score.
Now, the Seahawks get another shot at the Bears – and vice versa – because the Green Bay Packers beat the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16 on Sunday. As the lower seed (6), the Packers will play the top-seeded Falcons in Atlanta on Saturday night. That sends the No. 4-seed Seahawks to Chicago to face the No. 2-seeded Bears. Again.
The Seahawks and Bears also met at Soldier Field in a 2006 division playoff game, with the Bears winning 23-20 in overtime to advance to the NFC Championship game – against the Saints.
Despite all this sameness, the Seahawks are not the same team the Bears faced in October, and definitely not the same team that lost seven of nine games down the stretch.
As veteran defensive back Jordan Babineaux pointed out after the win over the Saints, “We are a different team.”
One that believes in itself, even when others do not. Carroll has sensed the same thing, and it started the week of their regular-season finale – a game against the St. Louis Rams that the Seahawks had to win to even get into the playoffs; and with a 7-9 record.
“For whatever reason, our football team – two weeks ago – has believed that we were going to win a game that we were anticipating,” Carroll said after Saturday’s game. “And they believed that we were going to win today. It didn’t matter what I said to them, or what was said outside and all the storylines and all that. They just did not buy it.
“Where that came from? If I knew that, we’d have something special here.”
The Seahawks obviously had something special against the Saints, just as they did in October against the Bears – a then 4-1 team that went 7-3 after that loss to finish 11-5 and capture the NFC North.
The Seahawks did have a couple of new wrinkles in that game.
The first was Lynch, who had been acquired the previous week in a trade with the Buffalo Bills to provide the physical presence Carroll had been seeking for the running game. Lynch ran for 44 tough yards on 17 carries against the Bears – including a handful of efforts that Carroll labeled “heroic runs” – and went on to lead the team in rushing despite playing only 12 games and running behind an injury-ravaged line that used 10 different starting combinations during the regular season.
Matt Hasselbeck also passed for 242 yards, with 10 of his 25 completions going to Mike Williams for 123 yards.
That Chicago game also was the coming-out party for coordinator Gus Bradley’s “Bandit” defense, which features seven defensive backs, a three-man line and strong safety Lawyer Milloy playing near the line of scrimmage like a linebacker. Milloy had two of the Seahawks’ six sacks of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler in that game, when they also held Bears’ 1,000-yard rusher Matt Forte to 11 yards on eight carries.
Asked about the possibility of facing the Bears again, Babineaux offered, “We know them. They know us. It would be fun.”
Make that will be fun, as the Seahawks’ improbable playoff run continues with another game against the Bears in Chicago.