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Gould boots Bears into conference title game
Lovie Smith is fond of saying the Bears get off the bus running, and he confirmed it by handing the ball to Thomas Jones on 10 of the first 14 plays from scrimmage.
The final time was a 9-yard burst through the left side behind devastating blocking by tight end Desmond Clark and the left side of the offensive line. The Bears converted all four third downs on the 12-play drive.
They were helped by a 37-yard hookup from Rex Grossman to Rashied Davis, who took a deflected pass away from cornerback Jordan Babineaux on a third-and-10. That play put the Bears at the Seattle 15, from where three Jones runs gave them a 7-0 lead. It was a foreshadowing of what Davis would do in overtime.
A game under the Bears' control gradually began to slide away before the offense rallied, but momentum seemed to veer back and forth. Breakdowns, particularly in the secondary, helped Seattle back into the game.
Driving as the first quarter ended, the Seahawks opened the second quarter with a 16-yard TD pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Nate Burleson. Grossman then made a statement to his teammates, the city and the NFL, finding Bernard Berrian against single coverage in the middle for a 68-yard score.
After that, however, Grossman and the offense sagged. Grossman missed four of his next five throws. A protection breakdown allowed Julian Peterson to sack him and force a fumble that Seattle recovered at the Bears' 26, leading to a fourth-down scoring run by Shaun Alexander.
The offense then went 57 yards on seven plays, 46 of the yards on three Grossman passes. On fourth-and-1 at the 7, Jones matched Alexander with a TD run to put the Bears up 21-14 at halftime.
The Seahawks temporarily took the game away from the Bears by scoring both times they had the ball in the quarter and allowing the Bears nothing in return. Seattle began with a 26-yard kickoff return and went on a 49-yard drive that consumed more than five minutes and began to pick apart the Bears' defense.
Hasselbeck completed three straight passes, all to ex-Bear Bobby Engram for 32 yards, and was halted only by Lance Briggs stopping Shaun Alexander for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1, another foreshadowing play. Josh Brown ended the drive with a 40-yard field goal.
The Seahawks then sacked Grossman twice in three plays and forced the Bears to punt, on which a 15-yard interference penalty gave Seattle the ball in good field position. Hasselbeck threw twice to Deion Branch for a total of 33 yards, and Alexander rushed twice for a total of 23 yards, including a 13-yarder to give Seattle its first lead at 24-21.
Each team handed the other opportunities, but it was the Bears who failed to take advantage. Muhsin Muhammad bobbled a pass inside the 10 that was intercepted by backup cornerback Pete Hunter to take away at least a field goal.
Hasselbeck promptly gave the Bears another chance by throwing an interception to Ricky Manning Jr. But that also produced nothing when Bernard Berrian muffed a catch when he was wide open on a deep slant. But Gould tied the game with a 41-yard field goal with 4 minutes 24 seconds left.
The defense then turned back two Seattle drives, one on a fourth-down stop of Alexander by Briggs and the second when Tank Johnson sacked Hasselbeck.
Seattle won the toss and threatened right away on a 10-yard run by Alexander and a 10-yard Hasselbeck completion. But the drive stalled, and Israel Idonije pressured punter Ryan Plackemeier into an 18-yard shank that put the ball at the Bears' 34.
A 30-yard completion from Grossman to Davis on third-and-10 moved the Bears to the Seattle 36, and after two Cedric Benson runs, Gould put a field goal just inside the left upright.
The Bears are a game from the Super Bowl.