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Original Issue

N.O. Problem

Though vulnerable of late, the Bears' defense is confident it matches up well with the Saints

Bearsmiddle¬†linebacker Brian Urlacher was waiting for his chicken enchiladas ata suburban Chicago restaurant on the night of Jan. 10 when his younger brother,Casey, delivered encouraging news. The weather forecast for Sunday's NFCdivisional playoff game against visiting Seattle was nasty: snow, sleet andfreezing rain. "That's exactly what I want to hear," Urlacher said,giddily rubbing his hands together. "The colder it is, the better." Asit turned out, he didn't get the weather he wanted--the game-time temperatureat Soldier Field was 33° and there was no precipitation all afternoon--butChicago's defense put the Seahawks in deep freeze when it counted most to key a27--24 overtime win.

In a game thatwill likely be remembered more for the clutch passing of Rex Grossman, ThomasJones's two touchdown runs and the 49-yard field goal by Robbie Gould that wonit, the defense made numerous big plays after Chicago fell behind, 24--21, latein the third quarter: an interception by cornerback Ricky Manning Jr., sacks byend Adewale Ogunleye and tackle Tank Johnson that halted two drives, andoutside linebacker Lance Briggs's tackle of Shaun Alexander on fourth-and-oneat the Bears' 44 with two minutes left in regulation (keeping the Seahawks outof field goal range).

What rankledUrlacher was that it took him and his teammates so long to put the clamps on aSeattle offense that rolled up 306 yards, including 127 on the ground. "Weknow we didn't play our best game today," he said afterward. "We prideourselves on being a second-half team, and they really took it to us in thethird quarter. But we also did enough to win."

The Chicago unit,which was dominant in the first half of the season but had allowed an averageof 26.3 points in its last four games, has suffered from the loss of two ProBowl players: strong safety Mike Brown (sprained right foot) and tackle TommieHarris (torn left hamstring), who have been on injured reserve since Oct. 19and Dec. 12, respectively. Now the Bears play host to the league's top-rankedoffense--a New Orleans attack that averaged 391.5 yards a game during theregular season--in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. Chicago's linebackersmay be fast enough to contend with the Saints' spread formations and thebreakaway potential of running back Reggie Bush, but the Cover 2 schemerequires a dominant defensive tackle, a swift middle linebacker and savvysafeties. The injuries have thus put added pressure on Urlacher. "Brian cancontrol the middle of the field," said outside linebacker HunterHillenmeyer. "You saw it today: The Seahawks couldn't attack the middle[with the pass] because he covers so much ground."

A year ago theBears were the NFC's No. 2 seed and lost their first playoff game, at home, tothe Carolina Panthers. Urlacher took the defeat so hard that he skipped the ProBowl and spent the first month of the off-season out of town. He came back witha fury and rang up 185 tackles this season, the second-highest total of hisseven-year career, then helped the Bears win their first postseason game since1994. "We've said it all year long: Our goal is to get to the SuperBowl," he said. "New Orleans will be a tough test because they have agreat offense, but this is also an exciting time. Regardless of who we'refacing, we're exactly where we want to be."




Jones provided Chicago with punch on the ground.