Que Sarah, Sarah

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Numbers Lie


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.


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