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Bears hope lessons from first Seahawks matchup hold true

Very few times while trudging to their 7-9 regular-season record did we hear the Seattle Seahawks counted out of the playoff picture. Granted, the perpetual hope was an offshoot of the abysmal NFC West, where no team finished with a winning record. Still, in contrast to this week's divisional playoff opponent, Seattle got off easy.

Chicago? After a 4-1 start, back-to-back losses to Seattle and Washington -- the game in which Jay Cutler threw four interceptions to DeAngelo Hall -- the Bears went into their bye week a mess. Only the hardcore believers thought they'd be where they are now, the No. 2 seed and NFC North champs.

The Bears battled through injuries and an offensive identity crisis to get to the postseason, with the defense keeping the team going while things on the other side of the ball got figured out. Even so, there is still some question whether Chicago is good enough to get through its first playoff game. Really.

Seattle is coming off a stirring victory against the defending champion Saints and it has already defeated the Bears once this season at Soldier Field. That cocktail has provided the Seahawks -- and others -- with more than faint hope.

That and the constant trap door so many of us have thought the Bears would fall through at some point. Maybe they already have. Chicago lost its season finale to Green Bay in a game in which it played its starters despite the fact it had clinched the division.

The Bears played hard.

Really hard.

And lost.

That 10-3 defeat allowed the Packers in and ceased some of the momentum Chicago had generated on a 7-1 run prior to falling in Week 17. It was a tough game and Chicago should be credited with getting after it when it could have rested players in preparation for the division round. That's not who they are, though, -- now -- and the week off could be exactly what the Bears needed based on recent history.

During the season, following the two-game skid to the Seahawks and Redskins, the Bears used the week off to re-organize, re-energize and frankly, get their stuff together.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz adjusted the passing game and worked with line coach Mike Tice to tweak some of the pass protections. Running back Matt Forte also played more of a role as a ball carrier and receiver.

The glue to things was stability along a shaky offensive line. Guard Roberto Garza returned from a knee injury and the patchwork unit fell into line -- or at least it was better than in the first seven games. Since Week 8, the Bears have played with the same front five and the offense has been far more efficient.

Before the bye, it was close to a weekly shuffle along the offensive line to compensate for injuries. That left Cutler vulnerable and uneasy. In the first seven games, he threw seven touchdowns, seven interceptions and was sacked 27 times -- nine against the Giants. Since Week 9, Cutler has thrown 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions and been sacked 25 times.

Before its 16-0 victory over Miami in Week 11, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said that the offense was still a work in progress. The changes along the offensive line helped but players and Martz were still trying to figure out what worked and how he needed to adjust.

The six games after that, they seemed to figure out what did and didn't work.

In going 4-2, they scored 133 points (33.25 avg.) in wins over the Eagles, Lions, Vikings and Jets, and just 10 points in losses to the Patriots and Packers.

Against Seattle, those learned lessons should also be factored into the previous loss. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out where changes have to be made.

When they fell 23-20 to the Seahawks, Cutler didn't throw a touchdown or interception and was sacked six times after sitting out the previous week's game following a concussion sustained against the Giants. Seahawks receiver Mike Williams shredded the defense with 10 catches for 123 yards and running backs Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett each scored. Forte, meanwhile, had just 11 touches (eight carries for 11 yards) for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Those totals probably would produce the same overall result to the Seahawks on Sunday. Then again, those numbers were posted when Chicago wasn't what it is now.

Forte's 1.4 rushing average against the Seahawks was a season low. But he had four games averaging less than 3 yards a carry to that point, so it wasn't an anomaly. Over the final nine games, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry. If Seattle does what it did to Forte in Week 6 this weekend, it would be an anomaly.

The Bears are being taken far more seriously now than they were then, but it took some convincing. It still might. If they beat Seattle, they were supposed to. If they don't, they're fraudulent. No other team in the playoffs is in that situation, but then again, no other team in the postseason has probably been counted out as frequently as the Bears.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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