Que Sarah, Sarah

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Grass Is Always Greener..

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For the past few seasons, Bears fans have depended on our team's outstanding defense to get us wins. With the exception of a few great games during the "Good Rex" period early last season, our offense has left something to be desired. So while Chicagoans have loved the sense of security the Monsters of the Midway provide on D, we've always been a little green with envy watching offenses like New England's perform. The end of this Sunday's Bears/Vikings game gave Chicago fans a taste of how the other half lives. Now it seems the grass is always greener…

The 1st quarter saw both teams feeling each other out a little bit. Each broke out for a couple decent runs, but neither offense managed to put together enough first downs to get on the board. Finally, with 1:56 to go, Devin Hester decided to make downs obsolete, returning Chris Kluwe's punt 89 yards for the score. Looks like the Bears will continue to get squib kicks and great field position in the coming weeks. Late in the 1st the Vikings answered, as Tarvaris Jackson found Troy Williamson behind Adam Archuleta for the 60 yard TD. Ouch. Those are the kind of big plays Bears fans aren't used to seeing from an opponent. You gotta wonder what this cover 2 would look like with Mike Brown and Vash on the field. No time to wonder, as the Bears get back on top quickly. The very next drive Griese Like Sunday Morning took a play out of Sexy Rexy's book, finding Bernard Berrian deep up the right sideline for the 39 yard six-pack. Berrian looking like himself again—streaking deep, legs churning, arms outstretched—was a welcome sight after a couple weeks of mediocre play from our receivers. Bears up 14-7.

The D held Minnesota to two quick 3-and-outs and it seemed the Bears were in control of this one until...late in the 2nd, Vikings rookie and apparent second coming of LT, Adrian Peterson, took over. Peterson turned a 2nd and 10 at the Minnesota 33 into a 67 yard touchdown run. Peterson, or as an acquaintance (and Vikings fan) calls him, "Purple Jesus," showed the kind of burst speed, cutbacks and accelerations that Benson could only dream of. His run turned a usually swarming Bears defense into a bunch of individuals in wide-open space (none of whom could remember how to tackle). With the score knotted at 14, the Bears headed into the locker room to face what I can only imagine was a repeat of Lovie's fiery halftime speech from last week.

With the 3rd quarter set to begin, the Bears lined up to kick off to Peterson, Chicagoans licking their lips, waiting for the rook to get lit up by a reinvigorated Chicago team. Instead, Peterson picked up right where he left off, returning for 34 yards and setting up the Vikes at their own 38. Fortunately, the soon-to-be-out-of-a-job Chester Taylor couldn't get anything going and the Bears took over after a quick Viking 3-and-out. Most of the 3rd quarter looked like the 2nd, with both defenses getting enough stops to keep the score locked at 14s. But, as in the 2nd quarter, he-who-shall-not-be-named was about to strike. 1st and 10 from the Minnesota 27 and the hand-off goes to Peterson, who smokes just about every Bear defender on the field on his way to a 73 yard score. Vikings and Purple Jesus up 14-7.

On the last drive of the 3rd, Griese once again stole some of the sweet stylings of his predecessor, hitting one of Rex's favorite targets: the other team. Minnesota linebacker Ben Leber picked off Griese near the 50, putting the Bears D right back on the field. Chicago kept LT Jr. under wraps on the opening drive of the 4th, and Griese found Greg "mmm, that IS a tight end" Olsen across the middle for a big 31 yard gain. While they couldn't find the endzone, Chicago at least managed to put some points on the board with a field goal. 14-10 and the Bears were definitely in this one. Just gotta get a big stop from our defense, who we can always count on, yes? Adrian Peterson says: "no." With 4:10 on the clock Purple Jesus struck again, this time racing 35 yards up the left sideline, leaving Bears defenders looking like living examples of what they call in basketball "matador defense." No doubt about it, this rookie was straight up owning us.

I'd have to look at game tapes (and maybe jump in at safety in a couple Bears practices), but it seems Chicago's front line isn't putting as much pressure on QBs or stopping the run at its inception as quickly, both of which make it more dangerous for our corners and safeties to take the kind of chances they're used to. This new tendency to give up big plays—both on the deep ball and on big runs—seems to result from gaps in the cover 2. Without being able to count on aggressive play up front, the safeties are getting burned trying to cheat up and cover guys hovering behind Urlacher and the corners.

Vikings up 21-10 with less than 4 minutes on the clock. Chicago fans find themselves in unfamiliar territory…the D keeps giving up big plays and we need the offense to put together a big drive. 1st play of the drive, Griese make Bears fans feel a little more at home—by throwing another pick. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back on this loss, it's easy to point to Griese's two 4th quarter picks as the nail in the Bears' coffin. However…Bears fans were too busy hoping for an improbable last-minute comeback to point fingers. After our defense shut down the Minnesota attack, it was time for the impossible—a Brian Griese-led 2-minute drill for 2 touchdowns. And yet…that's just what happened. First, Griese found the recently absent Muhsin Muhammad up the middle for the easy 33-yard TD with 2:36 on the clock. Then, after another big stop by our D, Griese hit Hester deep up the right sideline for an 81 yard score to tie it up at 31. Good Lord I love Devin Hester.

Bears fans rejoiced! It really IS great to have an offense that can make big plays late in the game. It really DOES feel good to still be in a game despite a defense that allows a rookie RB 224 rushing yards on 20 carries and touchdown runs of 67, 73 and 35 yards. Nevermind that Peterson set a franchise record for rushing yards in a game and gained the most yards against the Bears in their 88-year history. We still had a chance! Our offense kept us in it! Griese IS Tom Brady! Except…there was still the matter of stopping Peterson. With 1:38 on the clock Lovie inexplicably called the kickoff to go to Peterson, who returned it 53 yards—just enough to put the Vikings in field goal position. Ryan Longwell drilled the 55-yarder and that was all she wrote. Griese, Hester and the rest of offense delivered two touchdowns when it counted most, and our defense couldn't stop the one guy on the field that had been burning them all day. A loss is a loss, so what feels better? Losing because of great offense…no defense? Great defense…no offense? The grass is always greener…

The Numbers Lie

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If you scan the box score from Sunday's Bears/Packers game, the winner seems obvious. The Green Bay Packers dominated every major category, finishing with more passing yards, more rushing yards, more first downs, and more sacks. And yet…the Green Bay Packers lost. See that's the thing about football. It isn't played between the vertical and horizontal lines of a box score. The game isn't decided by sportswriters or Vegas oddsmakers—it isn't even the result of more hoping and praying by one team's fans, though we'd like to believe it is. The winner of a football game is the team that plays the best on the field, not on the page. The winner of this football game, the Chicago Bears, looked like a complete team for the first time this season; with equal contributions on offense, defense and special teams. Sure, there were let-ups and mistakes, but in the end the team, as a team, prevailed.

The first half wasn't pretty—on the page, or on the field. Chicago's defense started poorly, allowing the league's worst rushing team to put up 102 yards in the first half (19 more than Green Bay's previous game high this season). Despite a porous front line, the Bears trailed by just 10 points at halftime, thanks to two tremendous plays by Charles "Peanut" Tillman. In the 1st quarter, with the Packers on the Chicago 19, Tillman stripped the ball out of James Jones' hands and the Bears recovered. On the Pack's next drive, Peanut stripped Jones' again for another Chicago recovery. Had the Packers scored on those two drives, the Bears would have faced a frightening 21-0 deficit in the 1st. Down just 7-0, the Chicago offense got involved early in the 2nd. Brian Griese led a patient, deliberate squad down the field and Cedric Benson ran it 10 yards up the middle to put the Bears on the board. It wasn't the prettiest half of football, but at the break, Chicago was still in it, down 17-7. Momentum was all on the Packers' side though, as they had dominated the first half statistically and psychologically. If the Bears had any hope at all to win, they'd have to be tougher on D and much more effective on offense.

When the 2nd half began, it was clear that Lovie's uncharacteristically "stern" speech at halftime had provided the Bears with something else that doesn't appear in a box score—passion. The Monsters of the Midway had their swagger back; the announcers noting that the Bears were the most confident 1-3 team they'd ever seen. Without Vash, Dusty and Mike Brown, other people had to step up on D. Brian Urlacher, who intercepted a lazy Favre pitch, was one. Lance Briggs, with a career-high 19 tackles, was another. Guess that hammy's feeling better! In the 2nd half, it looked like the Bears defense of old had returned; a defense that would play hard for every down of every Green Bay drive, waiting for the right moment to attack and force a turnover. To be fair, the Bears didn't win the game all on their own. The Packers were dismal. Favre threw three picks (the last of which tied him for the NFL's all-time interceptions record) and the rest of the team fumbled three times and committed 12 penalties. Those penalties were huge, and Chicago capitalized on them.

I won't aggrandize the Bears' performance Sunday. Chicago didn't become New England overnight. There were no Tom Brady's or Randy Moss's out there, but Griese played almost mistake-free and the Bears' tight ends stepped up in place of their injured/ineffective receivers. Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark made some big catches, including Olsen's 19-yard TD in the 3rd. There was no bigger play, however, than Clark's 34-yard touchdown grab across the middle to put the Bears up 7 late in the 4th. Griese read the defense perfectly, whipping it to Clark just after he snuck past the Green Bay secondary. Up 27-20 with less than 2 minutes to play, Chicago kept the Pack out of the red zone, forcing Favre to throw a Hail Mary with almost no time on the clock. Brandon McGowan timed his jump perfectly, grabbing the ball high in the end zone to put the game away.

There's still much for the Bears to improve upon, and 2-3 isn't exactly a record to cheer about, but this was a big win. The patrons of Lambeau Field (and most of America) were primed and ready to hand the Packers their 5th win and crown them the NFC North Champions right then and there. But to paraphrase Denny Green: nobody's asses are getting crowned yet. The division is wide open. With the Saints winless and the Cowboys barely eking by the Bills Monday night, the conference is too. In fact, some might look at Romo's Monday Night Football performance as a turning point a la Rexy at the Cardinals last year. Romo may find himself dropping from the top of the heap to the bottom of the barrel as unceremoniously as our Rexy did. The Bears could go 11-0 from now on and finish the season 13-3, just like last year. Sure, the numbers don't seem to favor that scenario, but as the Packers learned Sunday, the only numbers that really matter are the ones on the scoreboard at the end of the game.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What A Difference A Year Makes

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES


Sunday, October 1, 2006 –
-The Chicago Cubs beat the Colorado Rockies 8-5, but with the worst record in the National League, their season is over.
-The Chicago Bears drub the Seattle Seahawks 37-6 to move to 4-0 on the season.

A YEAR LATER…

Sunday, September 30, 2007 –
-The Chicago Cubs lose to the Cincinnati Reds 8-4, but after clinching the National League Central Division two days earlier, their season is far from over.
-The Chicago Bears lose 37-27 to the Detroit Lions after giving up an NFL record 34 points in the 4th quarter. The Bears drop to 1-3.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES.

Last year, Chicagoans healed their baseball woes with football wins. Early October, rousing choruses of “Bear Down” were almost loud enough to drown out cries of “Wait ‘til next year.” The second coming of the Monsters of the Midway afforded even the most heartbroken of Cubs fans a happy release. This October, while the Wrigley faithful have something to cheer about, Bears fans are left wondering what happened. This October, Chicagoans are taking solace in…the Cubs?

Cubs spring training 2007. After Cubs management spends roughly 300 million dollars to completely re-vamp the team, Chicagoans are drooling over what looks like a dream line-up. The boys of summer start out slow, but after the All-Star break the team goes on a tear, catching up to hated neighbors, the Milwaukee Brewers. Come October, all that pre-season hype turns out to be more than just hype. The Cubs are the NL Central Champions, and they’ll have the pleasure of being a part of Dane Cook’s irritating “There’s Only One October” promos.

Bears Training Camp 2007. After making it to the Big Show and falling just short, the theme for this year’s team is “Unfinished Business.” Reports out of Bourbonnais speak of Rex Grossman’s improved fundamentals and greater confidence. Berrian, Muhammad, Benson and Olsen are touted as the leaders of an offense that make even our defense stand up and take notice. And speaking of the defense, the return of Tommie Harris and the signing of Archuleta and Walker mean another year of domination, right? And how about that Devin Hester…

Well…at least they got that part right.

Sunday’s loss to the Lions was a whole new low for the Bears. Brian Griese was not the savior we all hoped he’d be and the 'Monsters of the Midway' that used to keep us in games, gave this one away. To be fair, the Bears team that stepped on the field Sunday was not the same team that Grossman led to the Super Bowl last year. Griese took over an offense hurting for Thomas Jones, and was backed by a battered and patchy defense that bore little resemblance to last year’s super-crew. It was heartening to see the Bears put up almost 30 points, but that’s hardly something to cheer about considering they gave Detroit almost 40. Griese should get another chance, but next week he should remember why he got the nod: to manage the game. If we want someone to throw caution (and the long ball) to the wind, we’ve got Grossman. Griese’s job is to play it safe, something the leader of next week’s opponent has learned to do on his way to a 4-0 start. The original NFC North gunslinger, Brett Favre, is gonna laugh his way to a shutout next week if Griese doesn’t settle down and lead with patience.

As for the Bears D, ripping them for Sunday’s let-up is as hard as ripping Trevor Hoffman, baseball’s all-time saves leader, for giving away Monday night’s playoff game against the Rockies. For two straight seasons Bears fans have depended on Urlacher and company to win games, even--as was the case against the Cardinals last season--games in which the offense doesn’t score ONE SINGLE POINT. So I’m giving the Bears D a break. Trying to judge their performance when Archuleta, Briggs, Peanut, Vasher, Dusty and Mike Brown all watched from the sidelines is about as useful as reviewing a White Stripes concert that Jack White sits out with laryngitis. We need our starters back. Period. You can’t do much worse than giving up 34 points in the 4th, so things have gotta pick up from here, right? Let’s hope so.

The football season isn’t nearly as long as baseball’s. At a quarter of the way through, the Bears are already at their “All-Star break.” Now is the time to turn it around, Cubs-style. Dropping to 1-4 while letting the Pack move to 5-0 would be disastrous. This Sunday, the Bears have to make a stand against the division leaders. Until then, I’ll be at the bar, Old Style in hand, humming to myself…Go Cubs Go, Go Cubs Go, Hey Chicago, Whattya say, Cubs are gonna win today...

Griese Like Sunday Morning

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Griese Like Sunday Morning

A lot of people have been asking me how I feel about Lovie benching Rex "The Sex Cannon" Grossman and giving Brian "Vivaaaaa Viagra" Griese the start. I haven't seen Griese in action much beyond meaningless pre-season time against 2nd string Ds, so my thoughts will be mostly conjecture, not any sort of informed opinion. With that said, here goes...

I'm hesitantly optimistic.

The first 3 games of the season have made it hard to predict the success (or lack therof) of this year's team. Our defense and special teams have looked good, but as the injuries to key players pile up, we won't be able to depend on the D as much to win games as we have in the past. Regardless, we should still have a shot to win every game if we can get strong play from the back-up defenders who've been forced into starting jobs. Without a vast improvement to our offense, the best we can hope for would be a decent record that's more a reflection of our weak conference than it is our talent. If our offense improves, though, we could find ourselves battling the Pack and the 'Boys for the conference title.

While it isn't fair to blame ALL of our problems on Grossman's poor play, it is fair to say that he wasn't doing his job. Benching Rex is a start, but Griese isn't going to single-handedly revive our offense. Benson needs to show up more consistently and with more heart and assertiveness. He wanted the full weight of the running game on his shoulders, now he has to prove he can handle it. Berrian has been okay, but Moose has all but disappeared. I can't tell whether he's still injured and acting more as a decoy out there than a legit target, or if he's suddenly and inexplicably dropped off as a quality receiver. Olsen and Hester got a lot of hype in the pre-season for spreading the field and keeping defenders guessing but neither has been much of a factor. As a group, our offense just looks like a tired, uninspired, washed-out bunch of guys looking for a good, hard, inspiring slap on the ass. Let's hope Griese's still got enough of an arm on him to give it to 'em.

I've always been more interested in supporting the teams I love than tearing them down, so I'm gonna get behind the newly minted Griese bandwagon as heartily as I tried to tow the sputtering Grossman lemon. Bear down.