CHICAGO (Jan. 14, 2007) -- Robbie Gould won it after Rex Grossman didn't lose it and the Chicago Bears are back in the NFC Championship Game for the first time in 18 years.
Two swings of the foot by their All-Pro kicker -- the final one a 49-yard field goal 4:58 into overtime -- offset any shortcomings in Grossman's passing and pushed the Bears to a 27-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
The oft-criticized Grossman did come through in overtime, delivering a clutch completion to set up the winning kick.
The Bears will now host the Saints in the NFC title game. Chicago has not been to the Super Bowl since January 1986 and New Orleans never has been that far.
"We win one game, we're in the Super Bowl, two wins away from having a ring on my finger for the rest of my life," Grossman said.
Seattle got the ball first in overtime, but Chicago's Israel Idonije forced an 18-yard punt by Ryan Plackemeier with a strong rush. Grossman hit Rashied Davis for a third-down pass of 30 yards to the Seattle 36, and the Bears (14-3) moved into position for the winning points.
"I've learned that he knows how to bounce back from tough situations," coach Lovie Smith said of Grossman. "He's been roasted the past couple weeks over all different kinds of things. He is our quarterback. ... There was a lot of pressure on him and our entire football team and I thought they handled it well."
Gould, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and is now headed to the Pro Bowl, hit the 49-yarder, setting off a wild celebration at Soldier Field. Earlier, he tied the game at 24, with a 41-yarder with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter. He made his first 24 field goals this season, and 32 of 36 overall.
"I didn't even watch the end of it. I hit it right where I wanted it to go," Gould said.
The Bears had won a division title and earned a first-round bye in their previous two playoff appearances, only to lose their first game at home, so their elation was tinged with relief. They won their first playoff game since Jan. 1, 1995.
The Seahawks (10-8), ravaged by injuries throughout the season, got a strong performance from Shaun Alexander. Alexander, who missed the first meeting between the teams, a 37-6 Chicago win in October, gained 108 yards and gave the Bears defense a tough time. He had a pair of touchdowns runs.
"It's hard to say 'If we had this or that,"' Alexander said. "It was, 'Nah, we came up short."
Grossman, whose season has been up and down since a hot start, completed 21 of 38 for 282 yards with an interception. It was quite an upgrade from his final performance of the regular season, when he had a quarterback rating of 0.0 in a loss to Green Bay.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Bears stacked up Alexander on a third-and-1 for no gain at the Chicago 44, and the Seahawks decided to go for it. But Matt Hasselbeck bobbled the snap and Lance Briggs threw Alexander for a 2-yard loss, turning the ball over to the Bears with just under two minutes to go.
"If the snap was smooth I could have run for a TD," Alexander said. "It was definitely the best I felt all season running the ball."
After a short completion and two of Grossman's passes were deflected -- one was nearly intercepted -- the Bears punted.
The Seahawks got the ball at the 20 with 1:38 to go and moved to the Bears 45 before Tank Johnson, whose legal problems have been a headache for his team this season, sacked Hasselbeck.
The Seahawks, last year's NFC champs, took their first lead in the third quarter and momentarily silenced the bundled up crown at Soldier Field -- temperatures were in the 30s -- when Alexander ran up the middle for a 13-yard TD on a third-and-10 to make it 24-21.
Earlier, as Gould made a field goal that would have tied the game, Seattle's Leroy Hill was called for jumping up and trying to induce a false start. Instead of the three points, the Bears got 5 extra yards on the penalty and a first down at the Seattle 13.
But Grossman's pass went off Muhsin Muhammad 's shoulder pad and Pete Hunter, who had been working in a mortgage office before being signed before the playoffs, intercepted early in the fourth quarter.
Hasselbeck gave it right back on first down when his pass for Bobby Engram was intercepted by Ricky Manning Jr. at the 32. The Bears couldn't convert and ended up punting.
Seattle moved swiftly to the Bears 21 on the opening series of the second half, but Briggs knocked Alexander back for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1. Josh Brown connected on a 40-yard field goal that got the Seahawks within it 21-17.
Alexander showed at times why he was the 2005 MVP. In the second quarter, he broke off a 13-yard run, and on fourth-and-1 from the Bears 4, he bulled his way into the end zone to make it 14-14 with 2:29 left in the first half. The score was set up by Grossman's fumble.
But the Bears didn't run out the clock. Grossman rebounded from the turnover, finding Muhammad for 21 yards and Davis with an 18-yarder to the 16.
Muhammad grabbed another pass to the 7, and Thomas Jones ran in for the score on fourth down for a 21-14 lead.
Jones opened the scoring with a for a 9-yard TD to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive that opened the game. Seattle's Jordan Babineaux just missed an interception on the drive; it was Babineaux who saved the Seahawks by tackling Tony Romo from behind and preventing him from scoring after the Cowboys quarterback fumbled a snap on an attempted field goal near the end of Seattle's 21-20 playoff win last weekend.
Seattle got even early in the second quarter. Hasselbeck hit passes of 24 and 14 yards to Darrell Jackson, the Seahawks' leading receiver who's been bothered by a sore toe. Nate Burleson powered his way into the end zone to complete a 16-yard scoring pass play.
The tie lasted 18 seconds. Grossman hit a streaking Bernard Berrian in stride behind rookie corner Kelly Jennings, who was picked on all day, for a 68-yard TD pass.
Notes: Bears specialist Devin Hester, who set an NFL record with six kick returns for TDs this season, almost had another in the fourth quarter. His 63-yarder was called back for an illegal block on Ricky Manning Jr.