No Super Bears Super Bowl this season. The rock of the Bears, the defensive unit, completely failed the team in yesterday’s 29-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers. It was tough to watch Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith carve up the NFL’s best defense in front of a rabid crowd in Solider Field. The Bears defensive frontline couldn’t get any pressure on Delhomme whatsoever, which allowed Steve Smith and the Carolina receiving corps get open against our secondary.
I was actually impressed with the Bears offense during the second half of the game. Rex Grossman struggled for much of the first half, but it seemed like everything started clicking on the Bears’ last drive in the second quarter that resulted in a touchdown. It would have been nice if the Bears were able to use the running game a little bit more, but I have no qualms about the use of the pass if we’re able to score 21 points. When we beat Carolina back in November, we were only able to score 13 points using the Kyle Orton management system.
In a chilling twist of fate, Bears fans have the defense to blame for a loss rather than the lack of offense. 21 points should have been plenty for this defense to pull out a victory. However, the Bears could not get a single key stop. They were awful at cracking down on the Panthers on third down. They were awful in terms of getting to the quarterback. They were awful in covering Steve Smith and the other Panther receivers (I said on Friday stopping Smith wasn’t as important as halting DeShaun Foster, which goes to show you that I’m an idiot). They were awful in stopping the Carolina running game when it mattered. Charles “Peanut” Tillman will get a lot of flack for the times he got burned by Steve Smith yesterday, but the entire defensive unit is to blame for the Bears getting eliminated. The way Carolina converted seemingly every crucial third down play into a first down was pathetic.
This is sad because the NFC was for the Bears’ taking this season. I doubt they would have done anything against any of the AFC playoff teams in a hypothetical Super Bowl matchup, yet the Panthers and Seahawks were certainly beatable on the NFC side of the bracket. So, we’ll just have to hope that the Bears continue the upward trajectory next year. Unlike the 2001 Bears playoff team that was loaded with veterans and subsequently fell off the table in 2002, the current Bears are young and are in better position to string together several winning seasons. There are a number of changes that we need to make (believe me, I’ll be putting up my thoughts on how the Bears should attack this offseason very soon), but I feel okay about heading into next year. It certainly helps that all three of the Bears’ NFC North competitors will have new coaches and rebuilding next season, so we’ll at least be the favorite in the division in the short term.
Of course, division championships don’t mean that much to us Bears fans. We want another Super Bowl victory, and the only way that’s going to happen is if we get great production from both sides of the ball. It’s unfortunate that yesterday, the defense that we thought we could count on didn’t leave up to its end of the bargain.
Other Weekend Sports Tidbits
Not only did the Bears lose, but I also picked every NFL playoff game incorrectly this weekend. I’m not sure why I usually put together great fantasy football teams yet this NFL season has been terrible on the prognostication front (in contrast to my mad college football picking skillz). This is disconcerting since I probably watch more pro football than any other sport – more evidence that I’m an idiot. The past weekend was a rare instance where I would have done better against the spread (I thought the Steelers would beat the spread but lose straight up). Anyway, here’s the weekend in review:
1) The Bus With No Brakes – At least the Steelers-Colts game prior to the Bears tilt on Sunday was incredible. Bill Cowher deserves a lot of credit for letting Ben Roethlisberger loose from the get go. Everyone was anticipating Pittsburgh to use their standard pound-the-ground attack, but Big Ben came out firing passes to Heinz Ward and Antwaan Randle-El in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Steelers defense was able to hold the Colts all-world offense completely down for the first half, which no one has been able to do at all this year. The rust on Peyton Manning and the rest of the Indianapolis team certainly showed in this game. By the time the Colts charged back in the fourth quarter (with some big-time help from the officials), it was almost too late. But then, Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, while trying to run out the clock for the Steelers, fumbled the ball back to Indy in what could have been a sports blunder on par with Bill Buckner if not for a game saving tackle by Big Ben. The Colts got into position for a certain Mike Vanderjagt field goal to take the game to overtime, but the “idiot kicker” pushed the ball way wide right to instead give us a Scott Norwood-type moment. A ridiculous finish to an incredible game! As I said on Friday, I was torn on this game and thought that everyone underestimated the Steelers, but I still believed Indianapolis would pull it out in the end. Instead, Pittsburgh became the first #6 seed to beat a #1 seed in the NFL playoffs and Peyton Manning is going to continue to get whispers behind his back on how he can’t win the big one.
2) Plummer Pummels Patriots – Well, I was right about not believing the Colts would make the Super Bowl, but I’ll eat crow for saying about 15 times over the past month that the Patriots would be the AFC champions. I honestly can’t believe how many mistakes the Patriots made (few NFL teams can overcome 5 turnovers). It’s doubly unfathomable to me that Jake Plummer, looking like a cross between Jesus and the Unabomber with that haircut and beard, didn’t melt down with the exception of one interception. The sheer field position that was handed over to the Broncos by the Patriots – New England had nearly 140 more total yards than Denver but lost by two touchdowns – cemented the deal here. I really feel this game was a fluke on par with a low-seeded mid-major upsetting a power program in the NCAA Tournament; if this game were played ten times, I’m positive the Patriots would win nine of those times. Alas, this was the one instance where Denver got the benefit of all the bounces. This makes me believe the Broncos are getting killed next week against the Steelers despite the home-field advantage.
3) Hasselback Mountain – The Shaun Alexander concussion for a few moments seemed like the cursed Seahawks’ answer to the Bengals’ Carson Palmer injury (kind of like how Grady Little left in Pedro Martinez about 500 pitches too long so that the Red Sox could keep pace with the Cubs and Steve Bartman in 2003). However, Matt Hasselback was incredible in overcoming the loss of the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and deftly led Seattle to a solid victory over a pretty good Redskins defense. As I said on Friday, my head was saying the Seahawks would win while my gut was going with the Redskins – I trusted my gut, which makes me an idiot today. At this point, I’ve got to rank Hasselback as the best quarterback left in the playoffs (Big Ben Roethlisberger and Jake Delhomme have got skills, but Hasselback is the most polished). The early feeling here is that the Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl, though I might change my mind by the end of the week.
4) Illini Muck Up Fichigan – The Illini pulled out a close victory over Michigan on Saturday with our seniors Dee Brown and James Augustine carrying the load (by the way, what’s up with the Big Ten scheduling the Illinois-Michigan game, last week’s Michigan State-Wisconsin matchup and yesterday’s double-overtime Michigan State-Ohio State battle in the same time slots as the NFL Playoffs? Not very cool for this NFL/Big Ten nut). The second half play for Illinois, however, was suspect and we were fortunate to overcome our foul troubles. The early conference schedule doesn’t let up for the Illini – next up is a Super Tuesday game at Indiana. Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt can’t be playing with 4 fouls in the second half or else Marco Killingsworth is going to run all over us. Still, I’m comfortable with our chances as long as Mike Davis is patrolling the Hoosier sidelines.
Anyway, I’m now going to crawl into a hole for the next couple of days and emerge with a Jake Plummer beard to wallow in my Bears misery. At least the Packers still suck.