Bears’ Forte Sees a Balanced Approach Against the Seahawks

Matt Forte does not see that happening again.

The Bears will meet Seattle in a divisional playoff at Soldier Field on Sunday after orchestrating a turnaround that led to the N.F.C. North championship and a first-round bye.

Forte was a big part of that.

He ran for 717 yards over the final nine games — averaging 4.9 yards per carry, eighth in the league in that span — and if the Bears are going to beat the , Forte said they would need to go with the same approach that led to their first playoff appearance in four years. That means more balance.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Forte said. “We can’t go out and do what we did last time and throw the ball 40 or 50 times and run the ball 10 times. We have to have a balanced offense.”

It was hard to envision any of this after the first meeting between these teams in October. The Seahawks won, 23-20, at Soldier Field, sending Chicago to its second loss in a 1-3 stretch that nearly ruined its season.

Forte was fifth in the at 5.8 yards per carry over the final six games, and his career-high 4.5 average for the season was the best by a Bears running back with 200 attempts since Neal Anderson in 1989 (4.7).

The late surge gave Forte 1,069 yards rushing to go with 547 receiving, putting him alongside as the only Chicago players with at least 1,000 and 500 in the same season.

“In the last five games, I don’t know if there’s a back playing better,” the offensive coordinator said. “He has always been really good, been very impressive, but about five weeks ago something happened.”

HASSELBECK RETURNING? Seattle Coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks would like to bring quarterback Matt Hasselbeck back for the 2011 season.

Asked directly about Hasselbeck’s future with the franchise during his weekly news conference, Carroll said the team would like to do “everything we can” to have Hasselbeck return for an 11th season with the franchise.

“We don’t know the timelines or how that’s going to work out, and all that kind of stuff, but that’s a big issue for us that we’re looking forward to,” Carroll said. “He’s had a terrific run for us, and we want to see what we can do to keep that going.”

PENALTIES Green Bay Packers Coach Mike McCarthy would emphasize penalties in practice and talk about discipline, only to watch the yellow flags fly again the next Sunday.

More than three years’ worth of Packers penalty problems hit an all-time low in Week 3 this season, a miserable 18-penalty performance in a loss at Chicago.

Since then, one of the league’s most penalty-prone teams suddenly became one of its most disciplined. Green Bay ended the regular season with 78 accepted penalties, tying for third-best in the N.F.L.

“We’ve taken a different path this year,” McCarthy said. “They’ve had a lot of adversity, and they’ve done really a great job of buckling down on the discipline penalties.”

Now the bad news for the Packers: The team they are playing Saturday night has even better discipline.

The Atlanta Falcons committed only 58 penalties this season — tops in the N.F.L. by a significant margin; second-best Miami had 72.

FOX MEETS WITH ELWAY John Fox finally arrived in Denver to meet with the about their head coaching vacancy after his flight out of North Carolina was delayed three times this week by winter weather. Fox met with , who is leading the team’s second head coaching search in two seasons. Fox’s contract was not renewed by the after a 2-14 season. FAVRE’S SISTER ARRESTED The police say the 34-year-old sister of quarterback faces drug charges after she was arrested in a raid on a Mississippi condo where people were making crystal methamphetamine. Maj. Matt Karl of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that Brandi Favre was among five people arrested in Diamondhead.

Cutler’s Third Quarter Proves Bad Timing for Jets

Cutler, promoted as the Bears’ first franchise quarterback since the 1940s icon Sid Luckman, has not always lived up to that billing in his 30 games in Chicago. But he has rarely been better than he was for 15 minutes against on Sunday.

Cutler completed 6 of 7 passes for 115 yards and 3 touchdowns in the third quarter as the Bears rallied for a 38-34 victory in a lakefront shootout at Soldier Field.

Already assured of the N.F.C. North title, the Bears (11-4) strengthened their bid to gain a first-round bye and get a playoff home game with their seventh win in eight games. A playoff team for the first time in four years, they will close the regular season at next week.

Coach Lovie Smith stopped short of calling it Cutler’s best game as a Bear, or even his best quarter.

“He’s played well a lot of times, and we expect that from him — you want your playmakers making plays in games like this, and today he did,” Smith said.

Cutler finished a rather pedestrian 13 of 25, for 215 yards and 3 touchdowns, an interception and a 104.2 passer rating. He was sacked twice and had a hand in creating the 21-10 deficit the Bears faced in the second quarter when he hung a ball in the wind on an out route to Earl Bennett. Jets cornerback Dwight Lowery stepped in front of Bennett and returned the interception 20 yards for a touchdown.

But Cutler was as good as he had to be thereafter.

“They showed a lot of crazy looks and it was confusing at first, but I was able to settle down,” he said. “They were playing a lot of press coverage, and that creates one-on-one opportunities, so we knew we’d have to take some shots. The offensive line played well all game long, gave me a lot of time. And the receivers made some plays.”

Cutler’s first touchdown pass, a 40-yarder to Johnny Knox, tied the score at 24-24 and came one play after the Jets fooled no one with a trick punt play on fourth-and-3 from their 40-yard line on their first possession of the second half. The Bears knew something was up when Jets quarterback stayed on the field, and the special-teams ace Rashied Davis broke up Sanchez’s pass to Brad Smith.

“They probably thought they’d catch us back on our heels, and they didn’t,” Davis said. “We could tell they were going to try something from who they had on the field — Sanchez, plus guys who never play gunner.”

The Jets punted after three plays on their next possession, then made another tactical error when punter Steve Weatherford kicked the ball to Devin Hester, who set an record last week with his Hester’s 38-yard return to the Jets 32 all but negated Weatherford’s 43-yard punt, and Cutler and Hester hooked up on a 25-yard touchdown pass three plays later.

“I don’t get that many opportunities, so when I do I want to make the most of them,” Hester said.

He got another chance when the Jets kicked off to him after Sanchez tied the score with a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes. Hester’s 40-yard return to midfield set up Cutler’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Knox for a 38-31 lead.

“All week long the Jets said they wouldn’t kick it to Devin, but we figured they would,” Davis said. “From watching ‘Hard Knocks,’ they seem a little arrogant about their special teams.”

Jets’ Mark Sanchez Is Expected To Start Against Chicago

Sanchez partly tore cartilage in his right shoulder last Sunday at Pittsburgh, and on Thursday, Coach said Sanchez’s status “could” be decided at game time. Instead, Sanchez impressed Ryan enough during Friday’s practice that Ryan made his decision earlier.

“He was zipping it,” Ryan told reporters at the Jets’ facility in Florham Park, N.J. “He sent a message to all of us, mainly me, that he’s ready to go.”

Throughout his first two seasons, Sanchez has endured and played through a variety of injuries. He has missed only one game, last season at Tampa Bay. Sanchez is listed as probable on the injury report and Ryan placed his chances of playing at 90 percent, or “maybe a little over 90.”

Sanchez, in comments released by the team, said his shoulder felt better Friday than on the day before. He seemed certain that he would play. He added: “The treatment has been working. I felt better than the two days prior, and I’m going to be ready to play on Sunday.”

The Bears have already clinched the N.F.C. North division, but they will be playing for a first-round bye on Sunday at Soldier Field. The Jets will earn a playoff berth with a victory in either of their final two games or with one Jacksonville loss or one Indianapolis loss.