Used to be that a Bears-Bucs game generated about as much interest as the National Quilting Bee. The reason being, it was actually more interesting to watch the quilters stitch and sow than endure the ineptitude of the two team’s wildly ineffective offenses. “Three yards and cloud of dust” was a charitable way to describe those games that featured some of the most forgettable quarterbacks in NFL history. I daresay few remember Bob Avellini of the Bears whose job consisted of handing the ball to Hall of Famer Walter Payton and not much else.
All that changed in the 1990’s when Tony Dungy brought defense with a great big “D” to the Bay and propelled the formerly hapless Bucs to one of the premier teams in the league. Most of the games in the last few years have been titanic defensive struggles with Tampa Bay winning 7 out of the last 8 due largely to the running of former Buc Warrick Dunn (now a Falcon) and the human battering ram Mike Alstott whose career has suffered lately from numerous injuries.
Alstott, a product of Joliet Catholic high school outside of Chicago, always killed the Bears with his straight ahead in-your-face style of running. But he has been relegated to 3rd string due to a series of injuries as well as the emergence of Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, a hard running rookie out of Auburn who is coming off his first hundred yard effort in a month at Atlanta. His 652 yards – including 116 yards against the Falcons last week, should make the job of the Bears run stoppers that much more difficult.
As for passing, Chris Simms replaces the injured Brian Griese for the third week in row. Simms is a serviceable NFL quarterback with quick feet but a slow release. The Bears have a chance to get to him if their corners can stick with the Buc’s excellent receiving duo of problem child Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton long enough. Galloway has 7 TD catches while Clayton has started to come alive recently after a slow start. Bears cornerbacks Charles “Peanut” Tillman and Nathan Vasher are both playing with a world of confidence. I consider this the second most interesting match up of the game.
By far the most interesting battle will be between the coaches. No, not their game plans. It’s just that John Gruden is one of the most animated characters in the NFL while Lovie Smith is as calm as a placid mountain lake. Gruden’s facial expressions – toward both the officials and his own players – are entertainment enough to watch the game for that reason alone. At times, he looks like a rabid surfer dude, so young and blonde he is. However, you can’t argue with results. He’s got his Bucs in the Super Bowl hunt once again and he’s doing it with very little offense.
As for the Bears, running back Thomas Jones who rushed for 87 hard-fought yards last week on 25 carries will have have similar problems against the Bucs excellent front seven. But as long as the Bears remain committed to the run, the offense should once again be able to score just enough points to pull out a low scoring win.
The difference may be in who forces more turnovers. One thing about the Bears winning streak has been a surprising lack of turnovers by their defense. Last week they managed two interceptions in the first quarter and that was it. If the Bears can’t do better this week, they will probably end up on the short end of the score.
Tampa is favored by 3 1/2 which sounds about right. Take the points as the Bears will probably win or lose by a field goal in the waning minutes.