Countdown to kickoff

CHICAGO – Postseason greetings from a frigid Soldier Field, where the Seahawks and Bears will not only play for a spot in the NFC Championship game, but to host it next Sunday.

That’s right, the conference title game could be played at Qwest Field, if the Seahawks can pull off their third upset in as many weeks. If not, it will be played at Soldier Field. What is known is that either the Seahawks or Bears will play at home next week, because the sixth-seeded Green Bay Packers eliminated the top-seeded Falcons in Atlanta on Saturday night.

To the higher-seeded team goes home field in the championship game, and the Bears are the No. 2 seed and the Seahawks the No. 4 seed. So …

Because the storylines in today’s game already have been well documented, let’s take a look at one player who missed the Week 6 matchup between these teams at Soldier Field – Bears linebacker Lance Briggs; and one who didn’t play in the second half after injuring a knee – Seahawks fullback and special teams standout Michael Robinson.

First, Robinson, who was signed Sept. 6 after being released by the San Francisco 49ers. He rushed for 77 yards on 12 carries, caught eight passes for 37 and made four coverage tackles during the regular season; then added three coverage tackles and a big block on Marshawn Lynch’s electrifying 67-yard touchdown run that iced last week’s stunning upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Saints.

But even the sum of those numbers doesn’t add up to just how important Robinson has been in his first season with the Seahawks – especially the past two weeks, when the Seahawks rushed for 141 yards in the win over the St. Louis Rams that clinched the division title and then had 149 against the Saints.

“We didn’t have him for a long time,” coach Pete Carroll said during the week, referring to Robinson missing five games at midseason with a hamstring injury, in addition to the second half of the game against the Bears in October.

“We felt that. He’s one of the special teams soldiers that came back to us and has made a difference. As far as on offense, Mike does a really good job. He’s a most-versatile player. He understands the game really well. We can do a lot of things with him. He can run with the football. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. And he’s been a very effective blocker for us.

“He does give us a whole element that we lost for a long time. He’s quietly been more of a factor than people realize, particularly in the last few weeks running the football. He’s been right in the middle of all that. He’s an important player for us.”

As is Briggs for the Bears. It was QB Matt Hasselbeck who offered, “He’s huge. … So as hard as this game is going to be, the fact that he’s back takes it to a whole other level.”

The Seahawks expected to see Briggs in that game, which they won 23-20. But an ankle injury prevented him from playing.

“That was a big deal,” Hasselbeck said. “For us to sit back and say, ‘Oh hey, we beat them at their place, we can do it again.’ That would be a dangerous way to feel because Lance Briggs did not play in that game. He’s a big, big-time difference maker and a great football player.”

Briggs finished second on the team with 121 tackles – behind Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. He also had two sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

He is, as Hasselbeck said, a definite difference maker.

“Well, for the Bears’ sake we hope a big difference,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith said when asked what a difference having Briggs today could make. “Lance Briggs is a great player. There’s a reason why he’s gone to so many Pro Bowls. He’s a big-game player, but he’s just a good, solid player.”

Smith caught himself and then added, “I shouldn’t say solid. He’s more than that. He’s just a great player and he can make all the plays. We’re a better defense with him. We’re looking forward to him being a part of the defense this time around.”

Smith will get no argument from Carroll.

“He’s a great player,” the Seahawks’ first-year coach said. “He’s a productive, aggressive, tough dude that makes things happen.”

At some point today, Robinson and Briggs will undoubtedly run into each other at Soldier Field – where the forecast is calling for a temperature 18 degree at kickoff, with a wind chill of 10 degrees.

The players and coaches have pooh-poohed any attempts at comparing the October game here to today’s game, and rightfully so. But one less-obvious area where the Seahawks definitely could use a repeat performance is field position.

The Bears led the league during the regular season with 43 possessions that started at midfield or in opponent’s territory. In the Week 6 game against the Seahawks, they had one – because Jon Ryan tied his career high with six punts inside the Bears’ 20-yard line.

Just one final factoid to tide you over until kickoff.


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