Jay Cutler made a spectacular playoff debut by throwing for two touchdowns and running for two others as the Chicago Bears defeated the Seattle Seahawks 35-24 on Sunday to advance to the NFC championship.
Chicago will host their bitter longtime rivals, the Green Bay Packers, next Sunday at Soldier Field with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl on Feb 6 in Dallas.
Now that we've won it, just doesn't get any better -- the Packers coming to our place, said Bears coach Lovie Smith.
The NFL post-season pressure cooker was something new for Cutler, who had not played in a playoff contest since high school.
But the Chicago quarterback showed no sign of jitters, completing 15 of 28 passes for 274 yards, including touchdown strikes to Greg Olsen and Kellen Davis, as the Bears raced to a 21-0 halftime lead then coasted into the NFC title game while ending the Seahawks' Cinderella playoff run.
Cutler also ran for touchdowns of six and nine yards while a ferocious Bears defense bared its teeth, holding Seattle to a field goal and just 111 yards total offence through three quarters.
With the Bears up 28-0 early in the second half many in the sellout crowd had already turned their thoughts to next weekend when the Packers will pay a visit Soldier Field, adding another unique chapter to a rivalry that is as old as the NFL itself.
It will be 182nd meeting between the NFL's two most storied franchises but will mark only the second time they have met in the playoffs and the first since December 14, 1941, a week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
They are our closest rival, just up the street, said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. We don't like them and they don't like us.
The first team with a losing record to win a division title, the Seahawks arrived in the Windy City brimming with confidence believing they could claim their first road playoff win in more than 27 years after knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints last weekend in a wild card thriller at home.
But the Seahawks (8-10) were exposed as a team with serious flaws by a Bears team that Cutler said was not operating at its best.
I don't think it's our best game, we missed some stuff, Cutler told reporters. We put the defense in a couple of tough spots in the second half and those will come back to bite us against a team like Green Bay.
The opening half was played in a raging snow storm but it proved ideal conditions for the Bears (12-5), who needed just three plays to get on the scoreboard, Cutler lofting a pinpoint 58-yard touchdown pass to Olsen to push the Seahawks into an early hole.
Seattle suffered another setback on their next possession when John Carlson, who scored two touchdowns in their wild card upset of New Orleans, was drilled after making a catch near the sideline, crashing onto the rock hard field.
Play was delayed several minutes while the tight end was loaded onto a stretcher and driven off the field.
A Devin Hester punt return set up the Bears second touchdown, Chester Taylor diving over from the one for the score.
The Bears kept up the pressure in the second quarter, Cutler dancing over from the six to cap a 64-yard drive to give Chicago a 21-0 lead going into the intermission.
Cutler added a nine-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put the home side up 28-0 before they stepped off the gas.
Seattle got on the scoreboard with a 30-yard Olindo Mare field goal and Matt Hasselbeck followed with three fourth quarter touchdown passes, two to Mike Williams and another to Brandon Stokley to keep the score respectable.