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10/16/2006
PHOENIX RISING
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS

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BRIAN URLACHER IS AT A LOSS FOR WORDS FOLLOWING THE BEARS BIZZARE 24-23 COME FROM BEHIND VICTORY IN PHOENIX ON MONDAY NIGHT

Stravnisky penned a ballet with the myth of the Phoenix as a theme that remains one of my favorite pieces of music of all time. In the last movement of the piece, the composer uses an extraordinarily dramatic combination of jarring melody and uplifting counterpoint to portray the bird’s rebirth after having consumed itself in fire.

That combination of music and the theme of coming back from the dead brings to mind the performance of Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears’ defense in the second half of their game against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. Stifling the Cardinal offense by holding them to a field goal for the last two quarters, my beloveds roared back from a 20 point deficit to pull out a miraculous 24-23 victory on a night where the offense might as well have stayed in the locker room.

Urlacher was everywhere, playing the game as a man possessed. In the fourth quarter alone he stripped the ball from Cardinals running back Edgerrin James that was subsequently picked up by Peanut Tillman and run in for a score. He blocked 2 passes, delivered several titanic blows to receivers and running backs while making 6 solo tackles. NFL analysts routinely talk about Ray Lewis of Baltimore as the best middle linebacker in the game today because of his ability to take over a game and dominate it. I daresay that those analysts should run a tape of Urlachers performance in the fourth quarter and perhaps alter their judgement about who the number one defensive player in the league truly is.

And every one of Urlacher’s plays was absolutely necessary. That’s because the vaunted Bear’s offense performed a little ballet of their own – obligingly handing the ball to the Cardinals on 6 different occasions and pirouetting in circles for most of the night. Much credit must go to the Cardinals whose defense looked more like the Bears’ defense at times than Chicago’s crew. Flying around the field with enthusiasm and abandon, they delivered enormous hits on Chicago’s receivers, several times separating them from the ball to prevent gains. They ganged up on running back Thomas Jones, allowing the Bears’ star a measly 39 yards on 11 carries. And their blitz schemes befuddled Bears’ quarterback Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman.

Indeed, Wonder Dog had his absolute worst day as a pro, going a horrendous 14-37 for 148 yards with 4 interceptions and 2 fumbles. The offense could only manage a field goal and never seemed to be in sync. Again, much of the credit for the Bears’ confusion should go to the Arizona defense. But in the end, it was the defense on the other side of the field that won the game for my beloveds.

In addition to the fourth quarter strip and TD by Tillman, the defense also caused a Matt Leinart fumble which was returned by safety Mike Brown for a score with just seconds left in the third quarter. Leinart performed as well as one could expect from a rookie. After a spectacular first quarter where he went 8-9 and 2 TD’s, the Bears defense asserted themselves and stifled the youngster for most of the rest of the game. The Heisman Trophy winner ended up going 24-42 for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did a good job with the two minute drill late in the game and got his team within very makable field goal distance (40 yards). Unfortunately for Phoenix, pro bowl place kicker from last year Neil Rakers missed to the left and the game was over.

But the truly magical moment in the game occurred with less than 3 minutes to go. After a brave stop by the defense, the Cardinals were forced to punt on fourth down. Taking the high kick was Devon Hester, one the smallest men in the NFL and certainly one of the fastest. Running straight up the field, he juked one tackler and ran by two more potential stoppers for a jaw dropping 82 yard punt return that put the Bears ahead to stay 24-32. The Bears announcers anointed Hester “The Windy City Flyer” following an equally spectacular punt return for a TD in week 1 during the team’s 26-0 drubbing of the Packers. I think that might be one nickname that sticks.

No team can play at the top of its game for an entire season. But with a defense like the Bears’ – speed, ferocity, and big playmakers – a lot of defects can be hidden and a lot of games can be won that probably should have been chalked up as defeats. Could this mean that the Bears have a chance to go undefeated for the year? The odds are heavily against it.

But don’t talk odds to Urlacher and the Bears defense.

By: Rick Moran at 11:58 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (8)

10/15/2006
GO WEST, YOUNG BEARS…GO WEST

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REX “THE WONDER DOGGROSSMAN

My beloved Bears may be undefeated, untied, and untouched this 2006 season. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone to their heads. Their latest challenge against the Phoenix Cardinals will be no less a test than any other NFL team. Brian Urlacher and Co. appear to be ready for the multi-faceted Cardinals offense when they take the field Monday night before a national television audience for the second time in three weeks.

The AZ offense has the potential to give the Bear’s corners nightmares with talent galore at WR and a quarterback in Matt Leinart who appears to be the real deal. The Cardinals also feature an aging but still dangerous Edgerrin James as running back. James may have lost a step but he is still a mortal weapon catching passes in the flat. And WR Anquan Boldin is an emerging star in the league with speed to burn and terrific hands.

Anyone who saw the USC-Notre Dame game last year knows that Matt Leinart, while still young and raw, is a competitor of unusual intensity. His ability to avoid the rush will be sorely tested but he is extremely capable of running out of trouble if the situation calls for it. And he seems to be poised beyond his years in the pocket.

But the Bear’s defense, while fairly young themselves, are nevertheless a mature group of professionals and do not plan on taking the Cardinals lightly:

We’re impressed with them offensively, especially Leinart,” said safety Mike Brown. “He’s very impressive; the poise that he shows, the confidence that he shows. He’s playing pretty well. He’s definitely not playing like a rookie. He’s playing like a veteran type of guy and we definitely have our hands full because they’ve got some great skill position players.”

The old Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals franchise is a rival from the pork and beans days of the NFL. When the franchise was lodged in Chicago (1922-59), the Cardinals were the city’s poor stepchild; a mediocre club barely eking out a living, playing their games at the old Comiskey park before a small, but rabid fan base. It is said that skinflint Charles Comiskey, in addition to charging rent to the Cardinals for playing in his precious ballpark, also billed the NFL team for damage to the turf (in addition to taking a hefty slice of concessions and ticket revenue).

Where the Bears dominated the league in the 30’s and 40’s, the Cardinals were stuck on awful. Posting 9 losing seasons in a row, they finally broke through with a championship season in 1947. Their playoff record was 1-1 – another playoff appearance in 1948 being the limit of success for the franchise.

Strangely, there never really developed the kind of intense rivalry with the Bears that one might expect during those years the Cardinals stunk up Comiskey Park. At least from the Bear’s point of view. Usually out of the running for the championship by mid season, the Cardinals looked forward to their games with the Bears immensely but there are really no storied games that jump out of the series’ history as evidence of any special feelings of hatred or revenge. Although the game in 1953 may rank as one of the most bizarre from the standpoint of motiviation.

The Cardinals were heading for another winless season and were scheduled to play the Bears the last game of the year. Coach Joe Stydahar of the Cardinals let it be known that he would withhold their final game checks unless the players came through and avoided the winless record. Sure enough, the motivated Cardinals came through, taming the Bears 24-17 to finish the season 1-11.

And that was pretty much the story of the franchise’s existence. Moving to St. Louis in 1959 (just prior to the league becoming hugely popular) and then angering St. Louis fans when owner Bill Bidwell took the team to Arizona for the 1988 season, the Cardinals have been to the playoffs only twice since they moved from Chicago. They may be considered one of the most unsucessful franchises in the history of the NFLm having never won a playoff game and never been to the Super Bowl

But ex-Vikings coach Dennis Green has the Cardinals playing hard and smart this year. With Leinart, they almost certainly have a stellar quarterback for the future and may even help them to the playoffs this year. So my beloveds better not come out flat against these Cardinals lest they come in for a rude awakening.

Look for a close game through 2 1/2 quarters with my beloveds pulling away in the second half to win big.

Final: Bears 37 – Phoenix 6.

CORRECTION:

I mention above the Cardinals have never won a playoff game. This is obviously incorrect since they won the Championship in 1947. And Gwain’s Ghost painfully reminds me that in 1998, the Cardinals went to the playoffs and upended Troy Aikman’s Cowboys.

When I lived in St. Louis, I got so used to hearing that refrain – Cardinals have never won a playoff game – that I totally forgot about ‘98.

Looks like no playoffs this year either…

By: Rick Moran at 8:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (5)

9/25/2006
MY BELOVEDS ARE FOR REAL
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS

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BEARS WR RASHIED DAVIS CELEBRATES AFTER CATCHING THE WINNING TD WITH LESS THAN 2:00 MINUTES TO GO AGAINST THE VIKES IN THEIR 19-16 VICTORY.

There was a moment in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bear’s (“My Beloveds”) hard fought 19-16 victory over the Minnesota Vikings that Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman looked like a hick rookie, a free agent undrafted reject from some Iowa junior college who accidentally wandered on to the field and lined up behind center.

With the ball spotted perilously on his own 7 yard line (thanks to the brain cramp of rookie punt returner Devin Hester who fielded the ball on the 5), Rex dropped back on first down to pass. He kept going back…and back…and back..until, finding himself in his own end zone and under pressure, threw a wounded duck of a pass in the general direction of running back Thomas Jones who was lying on the ground at the 4 yard line having slipped down.

To say the pass was a wounded duck is being charitable. That baby was one dead bird. It was, in fact stiff. Bereft of life. It rested in peace. Its metabolic processes were history. It was off the twig. It kicked the bucket. It shuffled off its mortal coil, ran down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. (HT: Monty Python)

This was most certainly an ex-duck of a pass. And cornerback Antoine Winfield, who may have been the most surprised person in the Baggiedome, gratefully gathered in the errant pass and walked the 4 yards into the end zone for a Minnesota touchdown – the first by either team for the game.

If Wonder Dog had been a typical Bears quarterback, the scenario that would have unfolded for the rest of the quarter would have been ugly indeed. A bruising loss of confidence which would probably have led to defeat. But the Spurrier-trained Grossman proved that not only does the Old Ball Coach still know how to turn out NFL quality QB’s, but that young Rex has within himself something that can’t be taught; a winning attitude and indomitable spirit.

Shaking off the blunder like a seasoned vet (rather than a youngster who has started exactly 10 games in his career), Grossman drove My Beloveds for two fourth quarter scores, including a 24 yard touchdown pass to Rashied Davis with less than 2 minutes to go that put his team ahead to stay.

It was Wonder Dog’s first great comeback victory. And while there will probably be disappointments along the way, there is little doubt the kid has what it takes to make the Bears a championship ball club, if not this year then in the very near future.

This is because when all is said and done, Rex doesn’t have to do much of anything in order to bring My Beloveds victory. It’s a dark and menacing thing, this Bear’s defense and before the year is through, it may very well prove that it can take its place alongside the great defensive clubs of all time, including the 1985 version of My Beloveds.

There really is no similarity between the two. This year’s edition is much, much the speedier and their schemes and blitzes are more intelligently designed and called. This is a thinking, living, breathing unit who move to the ball with a frightening agility, surrounding a hapless ballcarrier and devouring him like a single, ravenous beast. The ‘85 crew was a manic collection of caged animals that Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan let loose on Sundays. Brutality and intimidation were weapons they used to great psychological effect. This year’s squad is definitely more cerebral albeit with notable exceptions. I would not like to be a running back, for instance, being stood up by a linebacker and watching Mike Brown bearing down on me. At that moment, I believe I very well might rethink that offer from the brother-in-law about helping him run that car dealership outside of Selma.

Pat Forde at ESPN.Com is agog:

Give the Slobberknocker Award for the most tenacious D to the Chicago Bears. Lining up opposite these guys is like lining up opposite a firing squad. Odds of survival are slim.

The Bears don’t simply run to the football. They take the bullet train. Big holes and expectant big plays evaporate. Even on a Sunday when Chicago missed an unusual number of tackles, it still never suffered a serious breakdown.

Understand this: last year people wondered aloud whether the 2005 Bears defense was better than the legendary ‘85 Bears defense. But neither unit began the season like this.

In ‘85, the Bears gave up 59 points in their first three games. In ‘05, the Bears gave up 39 points. This year, after opening with two of three on the road, the result is 23 points—including just one offensive touchdown—and less than 800 total yards.

As an example, Tommie Harris, a 295 pound cat-quick defensive lineman with the wingspan of a Condor and the strength of a Minotaur, took matters into his own hands late in the fourth quarter with the Bears trailing 16-12. Facing third down, if Minnesota converted and got the 1st and ten it would have virtually been over for My Beloveds.

But Tommie saw something in the way the Vikes the left guard was getting into his stance that be believed indicated the guard would “pull” in order to help block the outisde run:

I just had to step up and make a play. I saw the guard was sitting kind of light and I knew I had to get off the ball and get in the pocket. He pulled and I got behind him all I could get was to the ball and I tried to knock the ball out.”

Easy, right? Replays show that the massive Harris was so incredibly quick that he was actually on top of the running back Chester Taylor before he was able to secure the ball. With one swipe of his mighty paw, Harris knocked the ball from Taylor’s hands and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye recovered it on the Minnesota 37 yard line.

Wonder Dog took care of the rest, cooly converting a 3rd and eight situation with a spot pass to Mushin Mohammed before stepping up and firing the winning TD to Davis.

Next week is a nationally televised game against last year’s NFC Super Bowl representatives the Seattle Seahawks. The young Bears will have their hands full trying to stop Shaun Alexander and the powerhouse Seattle offense. But with Grossman gaining ever more confidence as the season wears on, look for the upset as My Beloveds will defeat the ‘Hawks 24-13 at home.

By: Rick Moran at 2:38 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (6)

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1/14/2006
PLAYOFF PREVIEW: MY BELOVEDS VS. CAROLINA
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS


Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman will need to grow up in a hurry if the Bears are to have a shot at beating the experienced Panthers.

Soldiers Field in Chicago will be packed and noisy tomorrow when my beloved Bears take on Carolina in what promises to be a tight, hard hitting defensive struggle.

The game features two teams who are similar in almost every respect except for one major difference; Carolina has tons of playoff experience while my beloveds are mostly playoff neophytes. This could be a telling difference especially at quarterback where Jake Delhomme is 4-1 in playoff games while Chicago’s Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman has played in exactly 8 games in his entire pro career.

This is why most analysts are favoring the Panthers in this game despite the suffocating nature of the Bear’s defense. The current line has the Bear’s 3 point dogs which sounds about right with the over-under at an anemic 30.5. If I were a betting man, I’d give the points and go over. Weather forecast calls for sun and near 40 degrees with strong winds. Given that Soldiers Field is on the lakefront, those winds could play havoc with the passing game of both clubs not to mention making the kicking game an adventure.

The key then for both teams is to stop the run. Here is where my beloveds may be in trouble because Carolina looked awesome running the ball last week in their shutout rout of the Giants. All year long, the Bear defense has been susceptible to the cut back run. Good cutback runners like Gado of Green Bay and Bennett of Minnesota killed the Bears this year. The reason is the over aggressiveness of the Chicago defense which allows a good runner like the Panther’s DeShaun Foster to have patience while waiting for the defense to overrun the play and then reversing direction where there are huge holes to be found. To counter this, the defensive ends for the Bears must maintain their discipline and stop the backside cut by staying at home. If Foster can cut back with any success, the Bears are sunk.

For the Bears, Thomas Jones must have a big day to take pressure off of Wonder Dog. Jones must hit the whole quickly and decisively, taking what the defense gives him rather than trying to break every run. A key will be third down. If the Bears find themselves in too many third and longs – say more than 5 yards – their chances will diminish accordingly.

The Bears passing attack must have consistency. Wonder Dog cannot throw any interceptions as turnovers will probably decide the game. And Muhammed must have the ball thrown to him early and often. The guy is a first down machine and in order to sustain an attack, my beloveds will have to rely on the Pro Bowl receiver.

The Panthers meanwhile have to find a way to get superstar Steve Smith the ball in the open field. During the Panther’s 13-3 loss against the Bears, Smith had 14 catches but was contained nicely by the Chicago D-backs who prevented Smith from getting many yards after the catch. That must change for the Panthers to have an effective attack.

The Bears offensive line does not fear the Panther’s D-line but perhaps they should. Look for the Carolina ends to get more upfield pressure on the quarterback. And I suspect that Carolina will throw the kitchen sink at Wonder Dog as far as blitzes are concerned. Rex must be able to get a quick read and get rid of the ball in a hurry to avoid being sacked. Not an easy thing to do under the pressure of a playoff game.

Special teams edge must go to the Panthers as the Bear’s unit has been wildly inconsistent both in coverage and in returns all year. And if field goals decide it, bet on Carolina’s John Kasay who is one of the best in the business.

The one intangible that plays to the Bear’s favor is that Chicago still doesn’t feel it is getting any respect. This is a powerful motivational tool if Coach of the Year Lovie Smith can tap into it. For Carolina, there is the obvious motive of revenge to consider. Plus, some Chicago players like defensive end Adewale Ogunleye have foolishly been talking a little smack this week. Let’s hope that stupidity doesn’t come back to haunt the Bears.

Given all that can go wrong, I have to reluctantly agree with most of the experts that the Bears have little chance in this game.

Final:
Panthers – 23
Bears – 17

By: Rick Moran at 12:57 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (9)

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1/1/2006
MY BATTERED AND BRUISED BELOVEDS TAKE ON THE VIKES
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS

With last week’s Division clinching victory against the hated Packers, the Bears will be forgiven if they slack off a bit this week in their game against the Vikings at the Humpdome. Relieved of the prospect of playing in the frigid confines of Soldiers Field, the Bears will be thinking they never had it so good and relax just enough to allow the Vikings to make a real game of it.

Of course, other factors come into play for this last regular season game for both clubs. The Vikings are out of the playoffs and the future of their quirky coach Mike Tice is up in the air. In fact, the Vikes could be looking at a wholesale changes next year as this group of miscreants and malcontents has worn very thin on the Viking faithful. From Tice’s Super Bowl ticket hawking to sex parties aboard a private yacht, the current group of players and coaches could find themselves enjoying much different climes come next year.

That doesn’t solve the Vikes problem of building a winning team. It’s generally believed that there are perhaps only two or three decent candidates for head coaching positions (the Bear’s defensive coordinator Ron Rivera being one of them) and given that there will be other, more glamorous venues looking for a new coach, it is doubtful that the Vikes will be able to lasso a good defensive or offensive coordinator or a “name” head coach in the off season.

As for the rest, they obviously have to build an offense around Daunte Culpepper who misses Randy Moss terribly but whose undeniable talent could be complimented by the right supporting cast. And while they have some holes on defense – a good cover corner and an impact player on the D-Line come to mind – their offense is still one of the best in the NFC. In fact, looking at the team at the start of the year, one wonders why they failed to make the playoffs. Distractions may have played a part in the early going which only goes to show the importance of having a head coach with the character to be able to bring the team together during adversity. Tice did that in the second half but one could question his overall leadership in contributing to the controversies in the first place.

As for my beloveds, they are a bruised and battered bunch. No less than 8 Bears are listed as “Questionable” for the game as of Friday with another 5 players “Probable.” Given that Chicago has a first round bye in the playoffs, it would not surprise anyone if coach Lovie Smith rested most of those injured including Pro-Bowl center Olin Kruetz (ankle), Pro-Bowl MLB Urlacher (the Flu), RB Thomas Jones (hip), and WR Mushin Muhommed (calf). The holding out of Kruetz would indicate that quarterback Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman would probably only play a few series, perhaps one half of the game only. No sense in exposing Wonder Dog to the ravages of the Minnesota pass rush and risk an injury.

That said, it would be nice if Rex could get a few reps with his starting receivers under game conditions so that the offense will have a chance to excel come playoff time. Since their first round opponent could very well be either the Redskins or Carolina, Grossman will need to be pinpoint in his accuracy against both of those opportunistic defensive backfields. In the playoffs, mistakes must be kept to an absolute minimum and having Wonder Dog throwing the ball to opposing D-Backs instead of his receivers who cut the wrong way or who stopped when they should have kept running would spell disaster.

I fully expect a Bear’s loss today although their defense is so deep and talented it should be a very low scoring affair. And perhaps the defense can score some points which would offset any offensive futility generated by rookie Orton who is expected to get most of the playing time. How the Vikings will play under the circumstances surrounding the team is open to question. They could come out and play for pride or they could fold up shop and head for the golf course.

Prediction: Vikes – 17 Bears – 13

By: Rick Moran at 10:32 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)

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12/26/2005
ALWAYS THE GUNSLINGER
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS


Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs (55) jumps before tipping up a pass thrown by Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre (4).

I am half convinced that the very first thing that Brett Favre does when he gets up in the morning on the day of a game is throw a football to his wife…even if she’s still asleep.

The man lives to pass. And given his enormous talent and fighting spirit, this season must be a terrible, wrenching disappointment to him. Because even though he threw more than 100 passes in the two games against his arch rivals the Chicago Bears this year, none of those tosses ended up denting the end zone. To make matters worse, 6 of those passes were completed not to one of his wide receivers or running backs or his tight ends (whose compliment changed more often than members of the teen band Menudo) but rather fell into the eager hands of Bears defenders. In fact, Favre threw more touchdown passes to Bears players (2) than to his own teammates.

That said, Favre proved last night that the magic was still there. He moved the Pack up and down the field at will against a sloppy, under performing Bear’s defense. The problem, as it has been all year, is that Mr. Favre just doesn’t have enough arrows in his quiver to offset the fact that Green Bay lacks good players at the various skill positions. Injuries have much to do with that but one cannot escape the conclusion that even with Ahman Green (stellar running back), Javon Walker (outstanding WR), and excellent Tight End Bubba Franks – all on injured reserve – the Packers may have ended up being more competitive but would still have had a hard time winning games.

But Favre doesn’t seem to let any of this phase him in the slightest. He dropped back 51 times last night and completed 30 passes for 315 yards. His makeshift offensive line did an outstanding job in protecting him against the Bear’s vaunted front four. And later, when the Bear’s tried to slow Favre down by sending extra backers in several imaginative blitz packages, Favre’s experience allowed him to sniff out trouble before trouble found him, dumping the ball off effectively to his backs who gained huge chunks of yardage after the catch.

Between the 20’s. the Pack was nearly unstoppable. But, as with all teams having nightmare seasons like the Packers, things have a nasty habit of going south at the most inopportune times.

Two missed field goals here. A dropped pass there. A blown coverage, a penalty, a missed block – for teams with good records, it always seems as if these things can be overcome. But the Packers found these setbacks too much to surmount. And every time misfortune befell them, the Bear’s took advantage.

This is the way of things in all team sports. Call it luck, or karma, or destiny, but the difference between winning and losing is always balanced on a razor’s edge – and the Pack (like the Bears in years past) always seems to cut its own throat at the worst possible moments.

A good example was the final, frantic 55 seconds of the game. Following a long, 56 yard completion to Donald Driver (who almost ran away from the Bears backers for a score), the Green Bay offensive line that had done such a superlative job the entire game in keeping the Bear’s front four at bay inexplicably broke down and allowed Favre to be sacked on two successive plays. With no timeouts remaining, the clock ticked inexorably down until Favre was forced into a desperation heave on 4th and 27 that Bears safety Chris Harris picked off to end the game. In years gone by, you would have to believe that Favre would indeed have taken the Packers all the way down the field for the tying score. But not this year.

For the Bear’s part, they played well enough to win but were hardly impressive on either side of the ball. Rex “The Wonder Dog” Grossman proved that he is indeed an NFL quarterback with outstanding potential but suffered several drops by the usually reliable Mushin Mohammed. And at times, the rust from 15 months of virtual inactivity showed up markedly. But he was sacked only once and generally made good decisions. His stats – 11-23 for 166 yards – were deceiving. His play was a qualitative leap as opposed to former starter Kyle Orton.

Thomas Jones also played well gaining 105 yards on 25 carries. But the offense lacked consistency which will be absolutely vital if the Bears hope to win any playoff games at all. The time of possession in the first half when Wonder Dog was throwing the ball all over the lot was extremely troubling. Green Bay had the ball for an astonishing 21 minutes to the Bear’s 9. The fact that the Bears were leading 14-7 at the half is beside the point. No defense in the NFL would have been effective in the 4th quarter if those proportions had held up. Thankfully, my beloveds turned those numbers around in the second half when the club turned the ball over to the duo of Jones and Peterson, ending up with 26 minutes of possession to Green Bay’s 34. Still, it is worrisome nonetheless.

The play of the Special Teams was an embarrassment. Uninspired coverage on kickoffs led to Antonio Chapman’s 85 yard punt return TD - the first kick return of any kind against a Bears all year. I would not like to be a Special Teams player this week at practice. I’m sure coach Coiner will be having those guy’s tongues hanging out from some killer drills he’ll put them through. Expect much better play next week.

With the victory against Green Bay, the Bears clinched the North Division title as well as a first round bye in the playoffs. As much as they would probably like to hold out Rex Grossman and some key offensive players, I can’t see them doing such a thing. Grossman needs game time reps and his receivers have to work with him under game conditions in order for there to be an improvement. Expect an emphasis next week on the passing game as Coach Smith will probably want to give his young quarterback as much seasoning as he can before the playoffs start.

All in all, a satisfying win against a hated rival. And a sigh of relief at escaping Green Bay without the Gunslinger drawing down and taking out the Bears.

By: Rick Moran at 9:57 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4)

12/25/2005
THE PACK IS BACK…AT ROCK BOTTOM
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS


Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg (97) go Favre hunting in Baltimore’s 48-3 shellacking of the Packers last Monday night.

I know you shouldn’t kick someone when they’re down but, after all, it is Christmas and they are the Green Bay Packers.

I get so little joy out of life these days. But watching last Monday night’s game as the Ravens kicked the beejeebees out of the Packers 48-3, it warmed the cockles of my heart and gave me that warm and fuzzy Christmassy feeling that had been so sorely lacking this year. I found myself urging the Ravens to pile it on – to really it give it to those guys in the puke green and diarrhea yellow. I wanted them destroyed and humiliated. I wanted them trampled, mangled, bloodied and broken.

I cheered every sack. I went into paroxysms of joy after every Ravens touchdown. I nearly swooned in the fourth quarter when Adalius Thomas of the Ravens returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown with less than 30 seconds to go in the game. Pounding the table so hard that Sue began to contemplate whether or not our health insurance would cover my stay at the local mental institution, I was screaming at the top of my lungs “YES! YES! YES!” as Thomas hit paydirt.

I may have been the only one in the entire United States of America who was watching the game at that point. For the once mighty Packers – the swaggering, insolent, insufferable Green Bay Packers – had hit absolute rock bottom. Hanging their heads like little schoolboys who had misbehaved on the playground, the Packers walked off the field that night looking for all the world like soldiers retreating from a battle in which the enemy had taken away their will to fight.

For the Bears, this was the absolute worst thing that could happen. The Ravens not only beat the Packers, they challenged their manhood. And one thing about rock bottom – there’s no place to go but up.

Today will be the Packer’s Super Bowl. They will come out breathing fire, taking names, and doling out punishment on a scale not seen in this rivalry since the 1980’s when Mike Ditka and Forest Gregg, who hated each other with a passion, patrolled the sidelines of their respective teams.

The Bears must weather an expected first quarter onslaught by the Pack. If not, things could get out of hand very quickly. Brett Favre will be looking for redemption following his subpar performance on Monday night. And make no mistake, with the Pack’s outstanding rookie running back Samko Gado out with a knee injury, the Packer’s offense will be Favre tossing left, Favre tossing right, Favre down the middle and Favre throwing six more ways till next Sunday. Gado’s replacement Tony Fischer is a serviceable pro but has been slowed in recent years by a plethora of injuries. The Bear’s defense should have little trouble shutting him down.

Favre, of course, is a different story. As it now appears likely that Favre will in fact return next year, we can now safely root for a massive blind side hit by Peanut Tillman like the one he delivered a few weeks ago during the Bear’s hard fought 19-7 victory. That blow knocked ole Brett for quite a loop and may have contributed to a subsequent interception return of a Favre pass by Nathan Vashar. In the end, Favre must be punished for 4 quarters if the Bears are going to win. The Pack’s O-Line has been something of a makeshift affair for most of the year and Chicago’s ravenous defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown must be licking their chops in anticipation of spending the day frolicking in the Green Bay backfield.

The fact is, Alex Brown may be one of the best rushing ends in football. At 6’3” and 325 pounds with a wingspan like a 747, Brown may have the quickest first step around. When he gets leverage on the outside shoulder of an opposing tackle, it’s like watching a freight train approaching an unsuspecting cow on the tracks – you know the collision is coming but you feel for the cow. Three weeks ago, Brown fell on top of Panther QB Jake Delhomme with predictable results. A groggy Delhomme had to be asked what day it was and what city he was in. The gentleman’s replies were not recorded for posterity.

The real challenge for the Bear’s defense will of course be in the defensive backfield where Mike Brown’s return is most welcome. Brown has a nose for the ball and hits like a ton of bricks – which could be bad news for the Pack’s depleted wide receiver corps. Favre likes to throw late over the middle which for any other quarterback in NFL history would be a disaster waiting to happen. But because of the superior arm strength of Favre, he can get away with it on a regular basis. However, receivers hate it because opposing safeties have a nasty habit of lying in the weeds, waiting for the unfortunate receiver to catch the ball, and then delivering a blow that makes the wide out’s head go one way and his body another. But that’s why wide receivers make the big bucks – and Favre frequently makes them earn every cent they make.

If the Bears can withstand the expected 1st quarter Packer surge by staying within 10 points, they have a chance. If not, it may be a long day for my beloveds.

By: Rick Moran at 1:09 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

12/19/2005
MY BELOVEDS PUT VICK & CO. IN THE DEEP FREEZE
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS


BEARS QUARTERBACK REX ‘THE WONDER DOGGROSSMAN TAKES OVER

Alright already, I’ll sip some of that Super Bowl Kool-Aid. The Bears have a football team that, if they remain healthy, have a shot at making it to The Big Game.

The ferociousness with which the Bears defense first attacked then destroyed Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons last night in the team’s 16-3 victory should make all NFC contenders – including Mike Holmgren’s Seattle club – devoutly wish that they get to face someone else in the first rounds of the playoffs. Not only did the Bears brutally manhandle Mr. Vick and the vaunted Falcon offense, but Bears coach Lovie Smith finally broke down and made the painful decision to bench rookie quarterback Kyle Orton in favor of playing the almost as inexperienced and oft injured Rex Grossman. The qualitative jump in the Bear’s offensive production when Rex the Wonder Dog entered the game in the second half opened more than a few eyes among NFL scouts who were in attendance in frigid Soldiers Field, scouting the Bears as potential playoff foes. In fact, the difference was startling.

Much credit should be given Orton whose performance during the first 13 games of the season was good enough to allow the Bears to eke out several important victories. Alas, professional football is a remorseless test and the refrain “What have you done for me lately” is especially relevant when talking about rookie quarterbacks with a highly paid first round draft choice who is healthy and sitting on the bench just waiting for a chance to prove himself. This is the way of things and Orton, to his credit, probably was aware of this dynamic.

Still, when Grossman entered the game to the relief and excitement of the 54,000 hardy fans braving the below zero windchill no one quite knew what to expect. What the fans got was a visual on why Rex Grossman was the Bear’s #1 draft choice three long years ago.

The difference between Grossman and Orton was night and day. With quicker feet, Grossman is able to make the 5 and 7 step drops with more speed thus allowing him more time to scan the field for an open receiver. His release is quicker and his throws seemed to have the confidence of someone playing beyond his limited experience. His judgment can be questioned – especially his red-zone choices – but not his talent. And if he can find pro-bowl quality receiver Mushin “Moose” Muhammed with any kind of regularity, he and the team will enjoy much more success on offense. An improvement in the passing game will open up the running game and allow Thomas Jones a few more seams to squeeze through.

And if the Bears can go from scoring 10-13 points a game to a team that scores 20+ PPG, the increased offensive output coupled with the take-no-prisoners defense could be a recipe for success come playoff time.

Michael Vick looked cold. I mean, he actually looked like he would rather have been somewhere else than playing in the freezer-like confines of Soldier Field. After a few hits by Bears linebackers Briggs and Urlacher, he was probably asking himself what the hell he was doing in this meat locker. Bears middle linebacker Urlacher played an extraordinary game, sprinting from hashmark to hashmark, espying Vick to keep the nimble footed quarterback from running wild. And the conga line danced by the Bear’s 8 quality defensive linemen as they shuffled in and out of the game will probably give Vick and his offensive linemen nightmares for days to come. The Falcons quarterback had a horrendous night passing, completing only 13 of 32 for an anemic 122 yards. The Bear’s D-line lived in the Atlanta backfield for the whole game, not allowing Vick to get his feet set which caused several of his deliveries to either sail harmlessly over the head of the receivers or fall incomplete at their feet.

And Urlacher’s yeoman work pretty much took away the gifted Falcon’s quarterback dangerous scrambling ability. The Bear’s employed an umbrella-like coverage of the line of scrimmage with Urlacher as the point. With one lineman staying home on the strong side at all times, the Bear’s sacrificed an all out pass rush in favor of containing Mr. Vick. All Vick could really do was retreat backward into the pocket. By my count, he deliberately threw 7 balls out of bounds rather than get sacked, a telling number indeed.

One truly remarkable aspect of the Bear’s defensive effort is that the team had 5 starters on the inactive list for the game due to injuries, including both standout safeties Mike Brown and Chris Harris. Their replacements – especially rookie Brandon McGowan whose infectious enthusiasm infused the team with some pep in the brutally cold conditions – played more than adequately. In short, the Bear’s defense is not only very good, it is deep.

The spark supplied by Rex the Wonder Dog lit a fire under the entire offense. But as of this writing, Lovie Smith is withholding any decision on permanently replacing Orton. This is probably a sop to Orton’s feelings. Rather than come out and say immediately after the game that Grossman is the man, Smith tactfully said he would wait until he reviewed film of the two quarterbacks before making a decision on a starter for next week’s Christmas day game in Green Bay. A smart move given the potential distraction of a grumbling Orton who would feel humiliated by the change if announced so soon after the game ended.

Make no mistake, however. The Bear’s have crossed the Rubicon and won’t look back regarding their quarterback situation. Grossman will play the rest of the way unless he is injured again, a circumstance too horrible to contemplate. All the promise showed by the young man will now have to be turned into concrete results or the baying hounds in the press and on sports talk radio will be screaming to give Orton another chance.

Such is life in the NFL if you’re a quarterback.

By: Rick Moran at 9:39 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4)

12/5/2005
FAVRE TAKES A LICKING - STOPS TICKING
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS


GREEN BAY QUARTERBACK BRETT FAVRE AFTER THROWING AN INTERCEPTION THAT WAS RETURNED FOR A TOUCHDOWN BY THE BEARS NATHAN VASHAR

It was the moment of the game Bears fans had dreaded. So many times in the past, the Bears had enjoyed a lead on the Green Bay Packers in the waning moments of the fourth quarter only to have Brett Favre step up and eviscerate the Bear’s defense with a combination of precision passing and an iron willed determination to win.

Following the fourth Robbie Gould field goal of the game with 8 1/2 minutes to go to make the score 12-7, Green Bay brought the ensuing kick-off back to their own 38 yard line. The very first play of the drive, Favre hit Robert Ferguson for a 16 yard gain and just like that, the Packers were in Bears territory.

A collective groan rose from the bundled, freezing faithful at Soldiers Field. Must history repeat itself again? Why the hell couldn’t Santayana just keep his big mouth shut and realize that history can repeat itself all on its own, that some things are beyond the scope of human understanding. Brett Favre plays the Bears as if he is Buffy and the Chicago players are vampires. And it appeared that his supply of wooden stakes that for 11 years he has pounded into the beating hearts of Chicago players and fans would never run out.

Then, a miracle. Divine intervention took the form of a 6’3”, 300 pound cat-quick defensive lineman named Tommie Harris. How quick is Harris? On the second play of the Green Bay drive, Favre took the ball from center and started to sprint left, holding the ball in his outstretched hand ready to hand the ball off to Green Bay’s hard running rookie running back Samkon Gado when Harris blew up the play. He sidestepped the attempted block of left guard Scott Wells and with two strides and a lunge he became a Visigoth pillaging amongst the innocents. He wrapped Favre up before the quarterback could finish the hand-off causing a fumble that was recovered by Lance Briggs. The ensuing Bears drive resulted in a three and out but Brad Maynard’s punt landed inside the Green Bay 5-yard line.

So Brett Favre once again shouldered the offense – but this time, he had 95 yards to cover before he could dance on the Bear’s grave. The change in field position was significant. With a 95 yard field to traverse, the Bears defense could afford a mistake or two.

In that respect, they didn’t disappoint.

After Gado gained a yard on a running play, Favre dropped back deep into the end zone and let loose one of his patented rockets. The ball traveled nearly 50 yards on a line against the wind. The Bear’s Mike Green (replacing Chris Harris who was injured earlier in the game) had fallen down and after getting up, ran straight into the intended receiver Donald Driver. If Green had been looking for the ball he might have intercepted it. Instead, it was a pass interference play and Green Bay was in business at their own 42 yard line.

After an excellent pass defense by Lance Briggs on first down caused Favre’s throw to fall harmlessly incomplete, the Bears decided to reach back into the mists of history and employ the old “46” defense. Also known as the “Bear” defense, it was invented by Buddy Ryan, Bears defensive coach during their Super Bowl run in 1985. The scheme calls for four down linemen and 6 backers crowding the line of scrimmage. Impossible to run on, the scheme is also useful in blitz packages because the quarterback doesn’t have a clue whether any or all of the backers will be trying to pay him a visit.

In this case, it was Peanut Tillman who lined up on the outside shoulder of Packers left tackle Chad Clifton. Lined up next to Tillman was linebacker Briggs who had blitzed on several occasions in the second half. When the ball was snapped, Clifton went inside to block Briggs which gave the Peanut a clear path to the quarterback.

Favre never saw him coming. The tremendous blindside hit caused another fumble which was recovered by Adewale Ogunleye at the Packer 30. A woozy Favre had to be assisted off the field. The ensuing drive by the Bears – 3 plays for 5 yards – typified the offensive output for the Bears this day. Quarterback Kyle Orton was lousy and running back Thomas Jones (19 carries for 93 yards) couldn’t do it all by himself. The field goal attempt by Gould on fourth down was just short, once again giving Brett Favre and the Packers a shot to drive down the field and win the game, this time with a little more than 4 minutes to go in the game.

Four minutes to a decent NFL quarterback is an eternity of time. For Brett Favre, 4 minutes is a nearly a vacation. With 4 minutes to work with, Favre could have lollygagged on Montrose Beach for a while before swaggering up to the line of scrimmage to engineer the game winning drive.

But Favre had absorbed some tremendous shots at the hands of the Bears defense. Tillman’s baduce of a blow may have disoriented him slightly judging by what transpired next. After two easy completions, Favre tried a deep out to Driver that Nathan Vashar stepped in front of and ran back for the clinching touchdown.

With three minutes to go, there was still time to bring the Pack back. But the weather conditions as well as Favre’s lack of offensive weapons finally sealed Green Bay’s fate. Favre did indeed engineer a 16 play drive that made its way slowly down the field. The Packers needed two conversions on fourth down to keep the drive alive and in the end, Favre just took too long. The game’s final play, snapped from the Bear’s 15 yard line, was a pass that Tony Fisher caught and tried to run into the end zone but fell three yards short.

So for this game, the Bears once again brought luck and defense to the table and not much else. One shudders to think what would happen if the Bears were to face a team with both a great defense and a great running game. They will get their chance next week as they travel to Pittsburgh to play John Cole’s desperate Steelers. Expect a close, low scoring game for 2 1/2 quarters until the Steelers take over the game and win going away.

By: Rick Moran at 6:26 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

12/3/2005
BEARS-PACKERS PREDICTION: PAIN
CATEGORY: CHICAGO BEARS


BRETT FAVRE CELEBRATES ANOTHER TOUCHDOWN PASS

I hate the Packers.

No, you don’t understand. I mean I really, really really hate the Green Bay Packers. It is a visceral hate born of watching more than a quarter of the 169 contests between these two charter members of the National Football League. It is in my blood. It is in my genes.

It is a hate born of watching Ray Ray Nitschke, the fiercest of Vince Lombardi’s warriors back in the 1960’s, plant Bears quarterback Bobby Wade in a game at Wrigley Field in 1964. Nitschke didn’t tackle him. He assaulted him. As the hapless quarterback lay writhing in pain on the ground, Nitschke gave him an extra shove as he rose to his feet and then stepped over Wade’s fallen carcass with no more concern than he would have stepped over the body of a recently downed dead deer.

Then there was the 1986 game at Soldier Field. The Super Bowl Champion Bears were well on their way to another appearance in the Big Game when Packers defensive lineman Charles Martin picked quarterback Jim McMahon up and body slammed him to the field well after the whistle ending the play had been blown. McMahon was lost for the season and the Bears haven’t been back to the Big Game since.

Of course, the Bears are not entirely without fault in this rivalry. In fact, most long time observers believe that the hatred between the Bears and Green Bay started way back in the 1920’s when Bears owner and coach George “Papa” Bear Halas got the Packers expelled from the league in order to prevent them signing a particular player, and then graciously got them re-admitted after the Bears had closed the deal with that player.

And let’s not forget coach Mike Ditka – a man with a strong personal dislike of Packers coach Forrest Gregg – who put the enormous 300 lb William “The Refrigerator” Perry into the backfield on 3rd and goal from the two yard line on a Monday night game with the whole country watching. Perry scored, taking the ball and knocking the Packer players over like so many bowling pins on his way into the end zone.

The look on Ditka’s face as he stared down Gregg on the other side of the field said it all.

So tomorrow, it will be Bears vs. Packers. In December. With an expected 6 inches of snow here in Chicago overnight and temperatures in the teens, the game will be a throwback. It will be a game dominated by the interior lines of both teams, a matchup that overwhelmingly favors the Bears. In fact, there should be absolutely no reason why the Bears should not win this game going away.

Except…

Except for Brett Favre. I may be drummed out of the Royal Order of the Bear for saying this but I love watching Brett Favre play the game. He is not only the greatest quarterback I have ever seen he is the greatest football player I have ever seen. He has beaten the Bears 21 of 26 times in his Hall of Fame career and many, many of those games were victories snatched from the jaws of defeat in the final minutes. He also has a streak of 11 straight wins against the Bears on the road.

Brett Favre is a gunslinger. He will pass anywhere, anytime, to anyone. He will pass into single coverage or double coverage. He will pass overhand, underhand, sideways and every which ways. He will pass with defensive linemen draped all over him like Christmas tree ornaments. He will pass on the run. He will pass while being tackled.

He will pass in sunshine, rain, snow, hail, or sleet. He will pass in stifling heat or bitter cold. He will pass even when he shouldn’t and still complete it. He will pass when he should and make history.

He is a man born to play football. And if this his last game at Soldier Field, I will regret it enormously. The Bears-Packers rivalry just won’t be the same without him. And neither will the NFL.

It’s Bears vs. Packers. It is December. There will be snow and cold and bitter wind. The hitting will be memorable. Blood will be spilled. No quarter will be given, none asked. Throw out the records. It’s Bears vs. Packers. In December.

Be prepared for pain.

By: Rick Moran at 4:04 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)

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