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Have Bears finally exorcised their demons?

Wilbon: Every single Chicago Bears player seemed to know that the team hadn't won a home playoff game in 16 years, which is very likely why they played like they were fighting both a civic burden and the Seattle Seahawks.

Every single Chicago Bears player seemed to know that the team hadn't won a home playoff game in 16 years, which is very likely why they played like they were fighting both a civic burden and the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's NFC semifinal at Soldier Field. At one point during the game one Bears executive said to another, "It's like they're having to perform an exorcism out there."

Whether the Chicago Bears officially killed off the evil playoff spirits will probably be debated through next week's NFC championship match with the Saints. But that giant wind sweeping east across the Great Lakes was really an enormous sigh of relief from the Bears and a metropolis spooked by years of early-round playoff failures. Robbie Gould's 49-yard field goal in overtime wasn't the ideal way to put away Seattle, but the Bears' 27-24 victory ended a 12-year postseason drought and puts Chicago, as Rex Grossman said, "two wins away from having a ring on my finger for the rest of my life."

For a while in the fourth quarter it looked as if the heavily favored Bears would be wearing goats' horns for blowing leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 21-14, to fall behind 24-21 until Gould kicked a 41-yarder against the wind to tie, and the game-winner in overtime.

The largest city between New York and Los Angeles had been in what amounts to two weeks of therapy. The Bears hadn't won a playoff game of any kind since 1995, and had blown home-field advantage in 2002 and 2006. As if Grossman and his bizarre up-and-down season hadn't been analyzed enough, the Chicago Tribune ran a story Sunday that featured tips from a sports psychologist for the quarterback. No wonder Grossman said, when asked what he thought of the game-winning kick, "I didn't want to watch it."

The lopsided signature victories the Bears posted early in the season are a thing of the past because the defense isn't as strong without Tommie Harris and Mike Brown, and because, well, it's the playoffs. "Nothing's going to be easy," Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said afterward.

"That Philly-New Orleans game [Saturday night] went right down to the last minute. Peyton Manning and the Colts couldn't score a touchdown on the Ravens. Nothing in the playoffs is going to be easy. And not only that, but the Seahawks are no slouches. They were in the Super Bowl a year ago."

For sure, the Bears gave Seattle just a little bit of help. Grossman, whose wildly inconsistent season caused much of the local angst -- "He's been roasted the past couple weeks," his coach, Lovie Smith, said -- had a decent game. He still makes too many costly mistakes to make you think "championship quarterback" but he completed 21 of 38 passes against Seattle' s injury-ravaged defense, limited himself to two turnovers (one a tipped interception), threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian in the second quarter and completed the 30-yard pass to Rashied Davis in OT that set up the game-winning kick.

Bears defensive end Alex Brown, who played college football with Grossman at Florida, said: "Rex is okay. Rex is good. He had Steve Spurrier in his ear for 2 1/2 years, so he has to be mentally tough. He's the guy to handle all of this, the criticism and the second-guessing."

But it isn't just a question of Grossman anymore. Everybody in the midnight blue jerseys is under a microscope and seemed to exhibit the effects Sunday of wanting to win so desperately. Bobby DePaul, the Bears' director of pro personnel, said he turned to his boss, club president Jerry Angelo, at one point and said, "It's as if they're carrying a ball and chain around the entire game." Trying to put away Seattle reminded both men of last season's game against the Packers when the Bears finally defeated Brett Favre at Soldier Field after 10 years of losing to him.

Most players said they didn't watch television or read the newspaper the last two weeks when all the public psychoanalysis made Chicago seem like one giant shrink's office. But as Brown admitted, "Even when I went on the Internet, MSN would come up and the headline would be, 'Will the Bears Finally Win?' "

They did despite some lapses in the passing game, defense and judgment.

The real biggie, especially had it backfired, was Smith's decision to call timeout with two seconds left in regulation, giving Seattle a chance to win the game with a "Hail Mary" after the Seahawks players had left the field, content to let the game go into overtime. What in the world was he thinking? "Not a good play on my part," Smith said, adding that the plan was to call the timeout several seconds earlier and force Seattle to punt, thereby giving his all-pro punt returner, Devin Hester, a chance to hit a home run and win the game.

The Bears' defense did allow Seattle 306 total yards, but more importantly managed to stone the Seahawks on more than a half-dozen critical plays, most notably a fourth-and-one attempt by Shaun Alexander with two minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the game tied. If Alexander picks up that first down, Seattle very likely wins the game. But Lance Briggs nailed Alexander for a loss of two and the game played on.

What defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and the Bears hope they've discovered, finally, is that it doesn't help for players to try and individually compensate for the loss of Brown, the team's best safety, and Harris, who might be the team's best defensive lineman. They've got less than a week to figure out something with the Saints and their top-rated offense coming to town for the NFC title game.

While there's no question the Saints are a better team, perhaps a lot better, than Seattle, it's still very likely the Bears will play a lot more free and easy next week, now that they've finally won a playoff game. "It's not how you win," Alex Brown said. "You don't get to skip the NFC title game if you win this one by 40."