Much-Maligned O Finding its Stride

QB Jay Cutler (Andy Lyons/Getty)

They sure didn't look like the 30th-ranked offense in the NFL, as the Chicago Bears put up 35 points and 437 yards of total offense in Sunday's rematch with the Seahawks in the NFC's divisional round.

Maybe the Bears' disrespected offense is peaking at the right time. It finished Sunday's 35-24 victory over the Seahawks with 437 total yards, its highest total since the season-opening victory against the Lions and 169 yards more than it averaged in the previous five games.

Quarterback Jay Cutler, a huge hit in his first postseason game since high school, posted a 111.3 passer rating, the fifth time he's topped 104 in the past seven games. He completed a modest 15 of 28 passes but they went for 274 yards, including a 58-yard bomb to tight end Greg Olsen to kick-start the offense less than three minutes into the game.

Cutler also had a 39-yard strike to No. 3 tight end Kellen Davis to complete the Bears' scoring. Cutler added touchdown runs of 6 and 9 yards, one early in the second quarter and the other late in the third.

Besides Cutler, only the Cleveland Browns' Otto Graham has ever run and passed for two touchdowns in a postseason game. Cutler scrambled five times for 46 yards, and even after three kneel-downs at the end of the game still finished with a career-high 43 rushing yards.

"It starts with Jay Cutler," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Whether it's running the football or making the different throws that we ask him to do, he was outstanding."

There were plenty of other encouraging signs from an offense that has struggled to find consistency all season but put together an exceptional all-around effort in the Bears' biggest game of the season.

The ground game produced 176 yards, the second-highest output of the season, and the commitment to the run game continued, with a season-high 45 rushing attempts. Cutler was sacked three times, but for most of the afternoon was afforded more time and a cleaner pocket than he's enjoyed most of the season.

"The offensive line did a great job [against] their front seven," Cutler said. They gave me plenty of time. A lot of credit to them."

The line got little credit but lots of criticism early in the first half of the season, as it struggled with frequent lineup changes. But the group appears to have solidified down the stretch. The same starting five has now played 10 straight games together, and the Bears are 8-2 during that stretch.

"We just stuck together all year and said we would try to improve," said 13-year veteran center Olin Kreutz. "Hopefully it's showing, and hopefully we'll improve again next week."

S Major Wright
Scott Boehm/Getty

The Bears have emphasized the run ever since their bye week at the end of October, which they went into with a 4-3 record and an offense that was heavy on the pass, light on the run and going nowhere. Since then, the run-pass ratio has been almost even, and the Bears have won eight of their last 10. Sunday against the Seahawks, the Bears ran a season-high 45 times in their 35-24 victory.

With safety Chris Harris leaving Sunday's game in the second quarter, rookie Major Wright got his most extensive playing time of the season, and he may need to step up in the NFC Championship Game. That shouldn't be much of a problem, since Wright has been rotating in at both safety spots for much of the season.

Olsen, almost completely ignored in the passing game for the final six weeks of the regular season, had three catches for 113 yards Sunday, including a 58-yard TD grab, the longest reception of his NFL career. ...

RB Matt Forte tied his season high with 25 carries but managed just 80 yards, although he also caught three passes for 54 yards. ...

RB Chester Taylor, who averaged 2.4 yards per carry in the second half of the season, had his most productive day of the year with 44 yards on 11 carries, including a TD. ...

DT Tommie Harris, who had half a sack in the first 15 regular-season games, had two Sunday after getting one in Week 17.

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