Friday, February 23, 2007

This Cloud Has a Silver Lining

The current cloud is Bears' standard operating procedure: mangling the process of getting a head coach in place. Toss those nickels around like manhole covers, McCaskeys, just like Da Coach said.

Lovie's loudmouthed agent has done more than his share by ripping the Bears front office in the press every day, but this is all pretty typical fare from the team that brought you the abortive Dave McGinness hiring press conference. Dave phoned in that day and said "On 2nd thought, no thanks."

Anyways, contrary to an earlier opinion of mine, the Dallas Cowboys have proven they're not smart enough to leave Wade Wilson here to continue working on The Rex Grossman Experiment.

Wade's been laboring on Rex's fun-da-mentals for 3 years now and, many games, the funky QB can take a snap and get out from center cleanly. Too often, not so much.

Advanced topics like diving forward for a few yards when no one's around may have been in Wade Wilson's 5-Year Plan somewhere. Alas, we'll never be sure.

Wilson's headed back to Texas where he belongs. He was the Cowboy QB Coach from 2000-2002. Now, with a few more years of experience under his belt, he returns as ... QB Coach. He'll be working under Jason Garrett, who was a QB Coach for about 10 minutes before moving up in the world.

Wilson cited the ongoing Lovie Smith contract saga as a reason for leaving.

''You would think there would be a lot more continuity coming off a Super Bowl appearance,'' Wilson said. ''The changes that were made and some of the things that have been said, once I was given permission, I had to take care of myself. If things are not going well for Lovie and things are not going well for all the position coaches, you have to take advantage.''

Laughably, Wilson also expressed his utter shock that he wasn't given a key to the city for his obviously outstanding work teaching Rex Grossman the finer points.

''There was a person who evaluated me, and I was shocked by some of the things that were said and took major exception," Wilson said, declining to reveal if it was another coach or a member of management. ''That is why I wanted out of Chicago.''

Awwwwww. Good riddance. Enjoy Texas. With Coach Phillips on board, don't be shocked or take major exception when they call you Little Wade. It fits you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lovie Smith: Chico Not The Man

Little did Ron "Chico" Rivera know just how much Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were pulling for him to get the job in Arizona, Miami, San Diego ... and so on. Or any old job in Dallas, lateral move or not. Lovie and Jerry just wanted the guy gone so it would end on a more positive note than this.

As it is, Rivera goes to San Diego as linebackers coach, where he will be behind Ted Cottrell on the defensive mastermind list and working hands-on with Shawne Merriman to keep him off the juice.

Lovie Smith's old friend dating back to their Tulsa days, Bob Babich, will be promoted from Bears linebacker coach to defensive coordinator.

Having been trained by the McCaskeys, the Bears fan's knee-jerk reaction was "They're going cheap. Rivera takes them to the Super Bowl, now they don't want to pay him." Though this wasn't what happened, it's always good to remind the McCaskeys that they're suspect and probably always will be. You're suspect!

What did happen is that Lovie Smith decided that he'd rather have a loyal first-timer orchestrating the defense than the incumbent, a head-coaching candidate for 8 other teams in the last 2 years.

Taking a step backward, on Saturday in the Tribune, John Mullin wrote about Ron Rivera's contract situation.

"If the Chargers job does not go to Rivera, few expect him to have difficulty reaching agreement on a new deal with the Bears. Rivera, in fact, represents an element of leverage and insurance in the event negotiations fail to produce a deal for coach Lovie Smith."

Well that's pretty interesting. Re-signing Rivera this offseason would provide the Bears "leverage and insurance" when it came to negotiations for Lovie's new contract. One has to wonder if Lovie saw it that way. Regardless, a couple days later, that bit of leverage has been removed from the picture and Lovie's man has been appointed.

The Bears only make the Super Bowl every 20-odd years, so no one's sure what the rules are -- and how wildly the rules vary when you lose a Super Bowl versus winning one -- but this edition of the Bears has preached continuity. It must have been a difficult conversation to tell Ron Rivera that, even though all of the players from the Super Bowl defense are coming back for a 3rd year in a row, we know we can do better than you.

There was also a knee-jerk reaction that the Bears screwed Rivera by not announcing his release a few weeks ago. If anything, being turned away by his current team would have hurt his chances with other teams who were interviewing him for the big promotion. As I said at the top, Smith and Angelo were hoping he'd score a head coaching job, which would provide a natural ending and even put a feather in their mentoring caps. Maybe it would even start that Lovie Smith Coaching Tree.

Rivera and Smith have both made statements that this was a football decision, there was no personality clash, and that seems legitimate. Rivera was nearly as miscast as fellow coordinator hiree Terry Shea. When he was hired, Lovie Smith wanted current Lions coach Rod Marinelli to run his Cover Two, but Tampa wouldn't allow it. Rivera was somewhere down the list of choices.

There has been a lot of gray area the last few years. They were obviously running Lovie Smith's defense, which Rivera didn't have experience with, so how much was Rivera just filling a seat?

Rivera and Smith both commented that they were going different directions. Rivera obviously wanted to go in a direction closer to his Philadelphia roots under blitzmaster Jim Johnson.

If I had to guess, I'd imagine that blitzing only three times in the Super Bowl, fairly typical of the plan throughout the past few seasons, was more Smith's design than Rivera's.

Maybe Rivera was licking his chops watching Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs run, questioning the value of a scheme where these 2 Pro Bowlers combine for 1 sack all season. Maybe following the season-ending injuries to Tommie Harris and Mike Brown, Rivera had some ideas to adjust a scheme that depends most heavily on Safety and Defensive Tackle.

Lovie's bottom line for us is: "You should trust me as a head football coach to put us in the best position to win football games. It's as simple as that."

What will need to be trusted is the "different directions" explanation. Oh, to be a fly on the wall to hear each of their directions.

I would hope that Lovie's direction entails more than playing the Cover Two straight-up while Covering Two ears and shouting "la la la la" so as not to listen to any other ideas on the subject.

As with any scheme, the Cover Two will need to evolve and adjust as offenses do. Any scheme should be flexible enough, or coordinated smartly enough, that it takes advantage of current personnel strengths.

Surely Rivera had his own wrinkles and ideas to suggest and I'll trust that Lovie is always willing to listen, evaluate, and experiment based on his coordinators' advice. If Lovie thought Rivera's ideas for improving the Bears' Cover Two sucked, that's fine, then Rivera needed to go before Lovie can talk about his next contract.

I don't know, maybe I need to be humored a little more. Maybe I need to hear Lovie say he was frustrated by Rivera's work in the Super Bowl, that he thinks they could have stopped the Colts from converting every 3rd down. Something to tell me why the new boss will be better than the old boss.

Or maybe I'd like to see the Bears at least pretend to be like other teams and interview some other options, have some qualified candidates run their ideas past Lovie, before you simply reach down and promote the head coach's inexperienced yes-man to take over one of the very best defenses.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's not "as simple as that" for me. With all due respect, Lovie hasn't earned that blind trust from me. I'm sure his buddy Bob from Tulsa is a good football man and all, I'm not so sure that his uncontested appointment is in the best interest of the Chicago Bears as much as it is in Lovie Smith's.

Circle it on your calendar: Bears at Chargers. Until the schedule comes out, just circle every Sunday (and Monday) between September & December. That'll be the day we see Bob Babich's plan to shut down LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, as linebackers coach Ron Rivera and his trick eye look on from the home sideline.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Briggs Still Part of the Gang

That's a load off.

Two wishes:

I wish I had a good picture of Briggs clowning around with the guys. And I wish the Bears to keep working on a long-term deal for this fine player.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Briggs and Jones and Roll the Bones

Being the Super Bowl loser is a dubious distinction, and it goes well beyond the week or two that follows the big game.

2006 Seahawks: 9-7
2005 Eagles: 6-10
2004 Panthers: 7-9
2003 Raiders: 4-12
2002 Rams: 7-9
2001 Giants: 7-9
2000 Titans: 13-3
1999 Falcons: 5-11

But let's think more positively than not playing in January of 2008. The Bears will try to follow in the footsteps last walked by the famously jerky 1972 Dolphins. They were the last (ahem) 'Super Bowl Runner-Up' to come back the next year and win the title. Those ill-wishers probably have a bottle of champagne waiting to be popped each year when this distinction remains safe, the self-congratulatory pricks.

Lovie Smith ought to have his contract extension coming, to rectify being the lowest-paid coach in the league. I’ve heard a fair share of fans prepared to let Lovie go, if draft picks are involved of course. I suppose I’d be in that camp if it weren’t a fantasy camp. Which is to say Lovie’s a fine leader of men, but he’s below-average working the sidelines and handling game situations (see the timeout with 2 seconds left against Seattle).

No team is going to surrender high draft picks for him. He’s not that kind of coach. To put too fine a point on it: only 3 blitzes in the Super Bowl amidst the endless Colts drives? That's on your watch. I've seen some improvement, now I want more.

Jerry Angelo’s contract is up in the spring and, other than his personality (see the “bullcrap” or “I should have a turban on” freak-outs), there’s little to criticize about the job he’s done.

Ron Rivera will likely be on the interview list for the Chargers job, but he appears to be staying in Chicago for another season. He’s got just enough experience and reputation that he gets the token interview as a minority candidate, before each team officially names the white guy they’d planned to hire all along.

Ron Turner figures to be here and that’s not the most exciting prospect. Turner was a welcome returnee a few years back, what with the Bears cycling through Crowton, Shoop, and Shea in the interim. Turner’s a bona fide NFL coordinator, which is far more than can be said about aforementioned Morons 1-3, but is that enough for this team anymore? Rarely do we see any imagination from Turner -- coming out throwing on every play and abandoning the run are closer to bad dreams than imagination.

There were rumors that Special Teams coach Dave Toub was leaving, but fortunately he has re-signed to lead the NFL’s best unit. I'm at least mildly surprised Wade Wilson has been invited back to expand on the body of work known as Rex Grossman's mechanics and fun-da-mentals. Dallas was smarter than to take Wade off our hands.

Onto player moves, obviously signing Lance Briggs is the focus. Things started to sound a little better from Lance’s perspective during Super Bowl week, when he finally mentioned a small discount might be possible for the home team.

The Bears can’t afford to let LB get away. They have absolutely no plan behind him and I’ve got news for them: Hunter Hillenmeyer goes from barely passable to pretty damn lousy if he’s not playing next to both Urlacher and Briggs. Leaks in the defense will spring without Briggs, who quietly covers receivers more often than Urlacher does, despite the hype. Briggs also keeps the cats loose with his silliness – he’s a glue guy.

I can almost understand why they might spend the $7.2 million (10 times his 2006 salary) to franchise-tag him for a year, rather than fully pony up for the long-term contract. I'd hate it, but I can almost understand.

A lot might change after the 2007 season, starting with Rex Grossman, who’ll be playing out the final year of his contract -- and who knows if he’ll earn another? If they only re-up with Briggs for one more year, I’ll be hurt; if he’s already played his last game as a Bear, I’ll need to have two-a-days throwing myself down flights of stairs before mini-camp.

Then there’s Thomas Jones, set to play out the last year of his contract at $2.25 million. Obviously a heck of a bargain for the Bears and not a great deal for Jones. That’s what happens when your career is on life support, as Jones’s was when the Bears signed him as a free agent. I’ve heard an awful lot of New Jersey types getting grabby about Jones coming over in trade and playing for either the Jets or Giants, but that talk better go as far as last year’s Thomas Jones-for-Ashley Lelie talk. Lelie's residing in the Where Are They Now? file already.

Jones is another of the Bears’ leaders. Yes, it makes sense to get something for him before he walks after 2007, but once again, it could be a one-year window the Bears are looking through before some wholesale changes come.

Unlike at the LB position, the Bears have fine depth at RB with Benson and Adrian Peterson. They could survive trading Jones, but there’s little reason that they should. Peterson’s surprisingly satisfied just playing special teams despite having the ability to get regular RB reps, and there’s no shortage of carries to keep both Jones and Benson happy. They even stopped hating each other so much by the end of 2006.

Wrapping up who might be gone – the unrestricted free agents:

G Ruben Brown - Ruben’s 34 but is coming off perhaps his best season as a Bear. I’d hope they can at least get him locked up in a deal that’s friendly for one year. If that’s all it takes to keep the band together on the O-line, that’s a worthy expenditure.

The one-year window I see has a lot to do with the offensive line, whose ages are as follows:

John Tait, 31
Fred Miller, 33
Ruben Brown, 34
Roberto Garza, 27
Olin Kreutz, 29

It’s been a minor miracle that the Bears have kept these guys healthy the last 2 seasons, less a handful of games here or there. My biggest fear when it comes to the Super Bowl loser curse is that the aging line finally caves in and is decimated, bringing back into question the ability to run a football play. It wasn't long ago that many plays looked like jailbreaks, defenders flyin' and dancing around the backfield.

Fingers crossed for one more year, but there will definitely need to be an overhaul following next season, at the latest. One would assume Angelo’s going to draft at least one offensive lineman, but I’m coming up empty trying to remember even one that he’s drafted. The veteran retreads have worked out for him thus far.

WR Justin Gage - I once had irrational fear that I would never be able to tell the difference between 2003 fifth round draftees Justin Gage and Bobby Wade, but that’s the end of that. Bobby Wade’s the one who fumbled a dozen punts and had to be cut. Gage is the one who did less and then went gently into NFL Europea. Hey, no one hates you like you’re David Terrell or anything, JG.

DT Alfonso Boone & DT Ian Scott - Honestly, I couldn’t always tell them apart. They’re both pretty OK players against the run, they fill up some space in the middle. And there’s room for defensive tackles. Tommie Harris should be fine, with a slight lingering injury concern, but you never know how long Tank Johnson is for Chicago.

Unlike during the season, the Bears can make some other plans so they don’t need to abide Tank’s nonsense. Unless he improves his play and distinguishes himself as non-expendable, in which case: fire at will, nutty.

Poor Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone, being overshadowed again, perhaps on their way out. Because Dusty Dvoracek is ready to roll!

Look at that face. But don’t look too close or laugh too loud, because Dusty once punched one of his friends so hard that he required reconstructive facial surgery. Does your face hurt? It’s killin’ me. Even at Oklahoma, this transgression cost Dusty some playing time.

Fortunately Dusty’s friend in that case wasn’t Tommie Harris. They’re best buddies, so Tommie can keep Dusty in line and on the field, and he can prove he was worthy of his draft position a year ago before the foot landed him on IR.

If the Bears don’t bring back Scott or Boone, they’ve got Israel Idonije, who showed a few flashes in the playoffs, and Antonio Garay. In a case of being in the right place at the right time, Garay made a few plays in the Buffalo game that I happened to attend. He made me look up his number in one of his few active games. Not that that makes him any good, but if he does become great, then I discovered him.

If the Bears do keep Scott or Boone, it has to be Scott who’s sneakily got a 4-year head start in the NFL over Dvoracek, despite that they’re both 25. Boone’s an old-timer anymore at 31.

S Todd Johnson & S Cameron Worrell - Most memories of these guys would probably be chippiness after the whistle. As bad as the Bears need safeties, they need these guys as much as they needed the departed Mike Green. I will say for Todd Johnson that he swung hard in case he hit someone, and every so often someone would get “jacked up,” as the kids say. Often it was Peanut Tillman or another teammate he was indiscriminately throwing himself into. And to say something even more kind, I didn’t understand when Chris Harris passed Johnson on the depth chart this season.

Without delving into possible free agent signings that I know very little about yet – I’m told the Bears have $23 mil, before signing Briggs – the buzz is already in the air for Adam Archuleta. The Redskins beat the Bears to one of Lovie Smith’s favorite players last offseason by making Archuleta the league’s richest safety.

Archuleta was a contributor for the Skins’ surprisingly horrible defense for about 10 minutes in 2006, before being a healthy inactive for the last 4 months. Once the season was over, Archuleta announced that as much as he enjoyed having time to have his face sharpened regularly at the place Maria Shriver recommended, he was never given a fair chance by the Washington staff.

I thought he was a stiff in St. Louis as well, but apparently Lovie believes in him, and that’s good enough for me given the residual options at safety.

Godspeed, Mike Brown. Happy Belated Birthday on the 13th. You're only 29, man. I know it feels like a lot more. We don't stop trusting anybody until they turn 30. Give us one more good year and it might be a very special one, not the ignominious 7-9 campaign that history is predicting.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Is Grossman Man Enough?

Greg Couch of the Sun-Times pounded the Rex Grossman stump again the other day. It's overkill at this point, but the fundamental question he's posing is a legitimate enough: Can Grossman recover right here in Chicago?

Let me be blunt: I don't think Rex Grossman can recover from this. Not here, anyway.

That's Couch's take on it.

What will he be like the next time we see him? The pressure, focus and criticism, and all the boos -- especially the boos -- will not go away with rest and sun. It's going to get much worse next season.

Couch is correct about this, unfortunately. Here's the thing: this statement is more about the fans at Soldier Field than it is about Grossman.

If you ask me, the fans were unfair to Grossman this season with the booing. It's the oldest joke in sport that the most popular guy in town is the 2nd-string QB. We all know better than that damn coach of ours. But usually the joke gets put on mothballs when the team's 9-1.

Not to come up with logic or set rules & regs for booing, but I think booing has its place and can be productive, primarily as a way to jostle management types and tell them we're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

On that level, the booing of Grossman this season wasn't helping anything. The team was winning games and no one was going to stop showing up. They're booing Lovie Smith for sticking with Grossman, but Lovie had already stated a dozen times that he wasn't going to make a change.

I'll stop short of saying anyone should have given Grossman a show of support, but at times I felt the booing going on was unwarranted and showed a certain level of unsophistication.

So Couch is right. The Bears had a great season and there was booing, so there will certainly be more booing next season to pay Rex back for the Super Bowl. Maybe they'll even do the hockey-game cheer where everyone points at the goalie and chants "It's all your fault! It's all your fault!"

The question is whether Grossman can improve his play with the booing going on or he'll cave under the pressure and have even more blunderous yips than before.

95% of the boo birds would have bet you a beef with hot peppers that Grossman would be on IR by week 6. 100% of them would have wagered that this Grossman pussy wouldn't start 16 games. They were wrong, but that doesn't take away their God-given right to keep on booing.

If you're booing a 15-4 team because your answer is Brian Griese, I'm not so sure you understand the question.

I've prattled on for a while now. Is Greg Couch still here? Go ahead, Greg.

It's not just that he didn't play well, but that he flopped so colossally on the biggest stage. Sure, he's still young. But what did he learn this season? He didn't get better as the season went on. He got worse.

The fact that he flopped on the biggest stage ensures the jeers next season, no question. But let's not go overboard here or confuse reality with what we know-it-alls think is going on.

Did he really get worse as the season went on? I don't think he did. This is trying to put a logical trend on something that is as maddening as it is because it's so wildly inconsistent.

We've all seen the statistics. I'm not going to look up the exact numbers. Basically he led the league in games with a passer rating over 100, as well as games with a rating below 40. Within that, he had games where he was mostly fine but flipped out and engineered turnovers in ways you would never imagine happening in an NFL game not involving Jake Plummer or Aaron Brooks.

Point is, he was bad in game 3 -- he threw a fairly typical Pick Six, and Minnesota would have won if not for a miraculous fumble. Obviously he was horrible in game 6 in Arizona. To cut to the chase, two of his better games, against Tampa and St. Louis, were late in the season. There was not a steady decline.

What I really meant to pick on from Couch's statement was his claim that Grossman didn't learn anything. I mean, come on.

The guy had played in 9 NFL games. This year he played twice that, including the Super Bowl. I'm quite sure he learned a lot. Couch is on the same level with the boo-birds there if he's going to say "See, right there, he threw an interception. I told you - he's learned nothing!" It's not that simple, there's no direct correlation.

This was my favorite line.

The humane thing would be to let him go, find someone who will take him for a decent draft pick.

The "humane" thing to do, like we're talking about Zippy the Chimp on his deathbed here. Pull the plug!

The knee-jerk is to ask which someone "will take him for a decent draft pick," but the Wannstedt Bears traded a high first-rounder for Rick Mirer and he was already confirmed lousy.

The Bears can sign Jeff Garcia or Damon Huard and let him compete with Brian Griese and Kyle Orton for the job.

A Steamed Reader azibuck refers to this recurring Garcia/Huard idea as dumpster diving. Brian Griese's already here. If you want a raw rookie, I'll take my chances with Kyle Orton instead. He was lousy, but he has a right to improve.

For some reason, there are many pretending Lovie Smith and the coaching staff blindly decided Grossman is the starter and these people now demand an "open competition" next season.

Guess what? There was an open competition. Grossman won it by open lengths. I have to stop and ask myself why any knowledgeable football fan would have a hard time believing Brian Griese belongs on the bench. Sounds very plausible to me.

They can't afford another season of hearing Lovie Smith intone "Rex is our quarterback. Next question."

This is just media speak. The only reason Lovie "intoned" this answer 200 times is because you guys asked him 200 times. As much as you wanted him to live on the edge of a knife and whip out the hook if Grossman threw an interception, the man's telling you that the competition between Grossman and Griese isn't close. He's suggesting you ask about something that is in question.

Couch ends up saying Grossman is another Corey Patterson or Eddy Curry -- young Chicago players who were booed and whose games apparently took a steep downturn as a direct result, who've subsequently resumed their careers with more success in other cities.

This is the humane path Couch suggests for Grossman. I don't fully accept the comparison. Grossman was the QB of a Super Bowl team in his first full season. Patterson and Curry were the easiest targets on lousy teams whose only attraction was showing up to boo. And Grossman's problem is wild inconsistency more than it is constant underachievement.

At this point, there's not much the Bears can or need to do. Grossman is not a disappointment of the Patterson or Curry order, as troubling as his Super Bumbling was.

The comparison will become more apt if Grossman does come out next year and wilt under the pressure of the boo birds, instead of taking the step forward expected of a young quarterback who gained as much seasoning as he did in 2006.

If Grossman does flop, 2007 is the final year of his contract anyway. The Bears aren't in jeopardy of being on the hook for a huge salary and a player they need to trade away for pennies on the dollar.

I'm not going to play amateur psychologist here. Couch says Grossman can never recover and he may be right. But Grossman's shown more than enough (such as 23 TD passes) that he's a better bet than Griese, even if he doesn't make the strides one might expect.

If Grossman's simply too weak to handle the criticism and his game regresses shitcan-ward, the demise will be recognizable early next season. They'll pull the precious Griese out of its case and things will move onward.

It'll all sort itself out, Papa Bear will see to that. Hard decisions about Grossman would have needed to be made if he had any more or less than the 1 year remaining on his contract.

Though Couch didn't pursue this angle, I'd give Rex some advice with regard to the comparison. Corey Patterson and Eddy Curry started hearing the boos when they weren't reaching their obvious physical potential fast enough, and that can be a little unfair.

But things didn't become irreconcilable until those two guys demonstrated that they simply didn't give a shit. Grossman's going to be held to a higher, sometimes impossible, standard by Bears fans next season. As much as the Super Bowl pain has to do with that, the vitriol stems from the nagging suspicion that the mistakes are the result of him not giving two damns, just like he didn't for the Packer game on New Year's Eve.

Chicago doesn't abide that type of thing humanely.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

And Now Is the Time For Healing

I can usually count on Peter King to write something so outlandishly uninformed and rigoddamnediculous that it cheers me up, and he didn't disappoint while the deep gashes from the Super Bowl are trying to scab over.

From King's Monday Morning Quarterback, for some reason, under his "non-football thoughts of the week":

I love how Favre announced he was coming back on the Friday of Super Bowl week, and told the local paper in town. That is so classic Favre. He picked the time where the world would be most focused on something else, so he could get the minimum amount of attention. Beautiful.

Esteemed reader Joey Jo-Jo called this a few weeks out, and it wasn't a prediction that Favre would wait until Super Bowl Week for this important announcement in an effort to get the minimum amount of attention, I assure you.

Somehow King tries to turn it into a "What a great, unselfish guy Favre is" story. Also not clear on how that's "classic" Favre. In last year's version of non-retirement, he held the Packers hostage until April. He called at least one press conference in between where the reporters showed up, he got on the mike, and he mocked them for chasing ambulances. To the press conference he called. As they say on the radio, "It doesn't have to be good to be a classic."

As long as we're sharing things we love about Favre, I love that he's coming back next season to eclipse the all-time INT record. I'll be right here counting it down, you fun-loving gunslinger.

Oh, he's going to break Dan Marino's TD record and we'll hear all about that. He's 6 behind. He may even break Marino's yardage record next season - he's got about 3800 yards to go.

But here's the thing: he's only going to be keeping those TD & yardage records warm. The longer Favre hangs around and keeps the Packers in the limbo between the playoffs and rebuilding, the more certain it is that when he's giving his Hall of Fame speech, he'll own only the record for All-Time Interceptions.

Peyton Manning will have shattered the others, the ones that help mitigate being the most intercepted ever. You can do the math based on the each player's totals and their current clip

Favre 414 TDs, 273 INTs
Manning 275 TDs, 139 INTs

Moving on, it takes the rare power of Peter King to bring me somewhat close to continuing to defend Rex Grossman. I've defended him plenty, while also stating my awareness that he's a tit short of an udder, if not more (tits). I'm not blind or hard of smelling when a turd is laid in front of me -- my ocicat Jake jumps in & cranks out a fresh one for me the instant I start scooping his shitbox, every single time. Some of them are even goochers.

Perhaps it's because Grossman said before the Super Bowl that the media was ignorant to how the Bears' offense works and what's expected of him. I can understand firing back and ripping him for his Super Bowl performance. There's more than enough to rip and he set himself up for it.

But I do think a different QB in his first full season, playing a Super Bowl in the rain throughout, playing against Peyton Manning as a 7-point underdog, might get enough slack that someone would say something like "He'll be less nervous and better for the experience, if ever he makes it back to the Super Bowl again."

I'm sure that's how the Bears will look at it, anyway. And I think it's fair to say if the Bears make it back next year with Grossman at the helm, his chances of taking a snap without a pratfall will be improved, due to the horror show he ended this season with.

I'm not sure the light will ever come on for Grossman. If the light does come on, I have serious doubts that his is bright enough to melt away the flopsweat that betrays his hands.

But I do feel better about one thing: Peter King's list of 5 options for the Bears to pursue, to try and land the big fish again in 2007, can be filed under I for "It Could Be Worse." Grossman-Griese-Orton is better than all of his brainstorming, so maybe we can somehow feel good about this.

1. Offer Houston a second-day draft pick for David Carr, who has no future there. Carr won't be able to revive his career in Houston. Too many bad memories in 2006 that coach Gary Kubiak can't get out of his mind. Carr needs a new start. Let him compete with Grossman and Griese, and may the best mediocre quarterback win.

His favorite plan is to add a 4th QB to jostle for rungs on the depth chart. That'll be huge. Being a football writer, it should be fair to expect King to have heard of the salary cap. Carr's signed up for $5.5M in 2007, $6M in 2008. Great idea for the Bears to trade a draft pick and spend that money on a quarterback he admits is mediocre.

Don't bother re-signing Lance Briggs or trying to get some kind of safety in here. For the record, if franchise-tagged, Briggs will cost $7.2 mil. Obviously we're hoping for a long-term deal, but any hometown discount that's been mentioned only goes so far for a guy who made $720K this season. Hard to disagree with him that the Bears have to pony up and make up for lost time. Back to King.

2. Sign Jeff Garcia in free-agency. Promise him the starting job, with an asterisk -- that the leash won't be long.

Now we're signing and making promises to Jeff Garthia? What's that going to cost? Newsflash: as good as Garcia looked in abbreviated duty, Andy Reid's genius-like in orchestrating an offense. Let's burn some big money in free agency on an older Brian Griese instead of unwrapping the one we have already.

3. Do not sign Grossman long-term. Bad strategy. Make him earn a new deal in 2007, the last year on his contract.

This doesn't fit on the list, now does it? This isn't a "plan," unless he believes the Bears are feverishly working on that multi-year extension for Rex.

4. Wait for the Broncos to cut Jake Plummer. If that doesn't appear likely to happen this offseason, do the same thing you would done for Carr, only make it a sixth- or seventh-round pick. If not, go with a lesser veteran like Damon Huard in free-agency.

Playing the veteran angle again, I have a few questions. Since when is Damon Huard lesser than Jake Plummer? Since when is Jake Plummer greater than Brian Griese?

Or to keep it simple: Jake Plummer? That's a suggestion?

5. Draft Troy Smith with the 31st pick in the first round. The Heisman winner, who was terrible in January bowl games, will have lots to prove.

In one sense, this is the most interesting option, in that it's the only one with any shot in hell of bringing in a marked improvement. However, in every other sense, it's moronic.

Since this is the "Instant improvement in 2007" plan, I don't see how bringing in a raw rookie would fit this silly exercise. Every other rookie QB who's drafted, King will say they need at least a year of holding the clipboard so as not to risk crushing their fragile psyche.

Troy Smith has "something to prove." Very good. I'd say Rex Grossman has plenty to prove, if that's the criteria, but it's a hell of a lot less than Troy Smith. Kyle Orton has plenty to prove: that the 10 wins he piloted last year weren't entirely despite him, and another year in the league along with some training camp snaps this time around would make him viable.

Listen to me, I don't know what the answer is. All I do know is that the Bears have in the fold: a QB who threw 23 TDs this season and now has Super Bowl experience, an average but mostly useful veteran, and a young guy who the team regarded highly but who wasn't good when pressed into extended duty as a rookie.

Maybe we're all overthinking it. Each of the 3 in-house options is a little different, but there is a common thread. The answer's been right in front of my face all along -- literally. I've been given this advice many times and now I pass it on to the Chicago Bears' QB depth chart. I'm looking at all tree of youse:

Sober up, dumbass. You're a miserable drunk and everyone knows it. There. Now improve.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Super Bears, Super Weak

To once again quote the great Corky St. Clair, "I'm going to go home and bite my pillow!" Corky, by the way, is no relation to Bears' backup offensive lineman Bob St. Clair.

I couldn't even bring myself to pick up the newspaper today to relive the ugliness of last night. No, literally, it's -9 this morning and my fat fingers were too cold to pick up the paper.

Just like when Rhapsody In White lost the Mayflower dog show, this was surreal and extremely disturbing.

The Colts did their very best to give the Bears a chance. Heck, they let the Bears stay within 5 points into the 4th quarter, despite the fact that the Bears offense had barely seen the field and the defense couldn't tackle anybody. What the hell was going on out there?

Let's back up. Tony Dungy, the skeleton of a coach, is a bonehead. I have nothing against the man, otherwise I'd crackpot right now that he doesn't deserve to win a Super Bowl if he's not bright enough to kick away from Devin Hester. It's got to be the worst coaching decision a winning coach has ever made.

What could he have been thinking? Perhaps he figured out by game's end that it was the Bears' only chance of scoring, what with Rex Grossman repeatedly tripping over his guitar string, as Bruce Coslet used to joke of Chad Hutchinson. Coach Coslet always knew how to bust himself up.

What a move by Hester on that kick return. With one fart of thunder, you've got Vinatieri laying face-down in a mudpuddle and a 7-point lead 15 seconds into the Super Bowl. The most predictable return TD ever was as good as it was going to get for the Bears. If not for this, the jets buzzing over the stadium after Billy Joel's National Anthem (clocked in at 1:40, the Under) could have been the highlight of this night. Those jets kicked ass.

I'd say Hester outclassed his team, but even he didn't have his head on straight, watching himself on the jumbotron as defenders closed. He's done this before, Lovie's gotten on him, but apparently he thought there was room for showboating. Regardless, what a breathtaking runback.

Then the Colts come out with very uncharacteristic false start penalties and another early interception by Manning, which was a staple this playoff season. The interception by Chris Harris was an aberration. And in fact, it may have worked against the Bears in the end.

The Bears came out with a 3-and-out, frustratingly 2 of which were passes, followed by the flip-side of the interception. On 3rd and 10, with Tank Johnson hanging on his shoulder, Peyton Manning found Reggie Wayne for an uncontested 53-yard TD. The perhaps-overconfident Chris Harris opted to take up the chase with 3 other defenders on Dallas Clark while Reggie Wayne was left alone. If Harris stands still, Manning has to take that sack or, worse, chucks up another INT and starts doubting himself.

The Bears then fumble the ensuing squib kick, further showing what a fool Dungy was, then Alex Brown makes a tremendous individual play, nearly taking the handoff from Manning and forcing a turnover. A 52-yard run by Thomas Jones later, and the Bears cash in with the TD pass to Muhammad. 14-6.

This was almost the last hurrah for the Bears, but not quite. The defense turned in a fine 3-and-out, giving the offense good field position at the 35. Quick strike to Berrian for 13, and then Bob Sanders gets his hat in there and knocks it away from Cedric Benson to give the Colts the ball at midfield.

Things were still OK here, thanks to another 3-and-out turned in by the defense. But you did start getting that familiar feeling, the one where you wonder how many times the defense can hold up and bail them out.

The Bears followed with a very ugly 3-and-out that included the end of Cedric Benson's season. Losing Benson was big, because he'd run so tough throughout the playoffs, then Sunday ends with 2 carries for 1 fumble and 1 knee injury. Bad times.

The injury wouldn't turn out to be as profound as expected, because the Bears would have the ball so rarely for the rest of the night, there was no risk of Thomas Jones needing a breather. Although we wouldn't have minded seeing Adrian Peterson get a few chances.

Somewhere in here, I recall one other golden opportunity the Bears had to put a chill into Peyton Manning. It may have been much earlier, but Nathan Vasher had an interception hit him right in the chest on a play in which Marvin Harrison fell down. Ian Scott later had a screen pass bounce off his hands, but that was a 1-yard rocket that I doubt I could have caught, so I don't blame the big fella. But Vasher should have snagged his when he had the chance.

Also early in this game, my buddy Pez made an astute observation about the ballyhooed commercials: in nearly every one, someone got injured. That was the payoff to the bit. Whatever they were selling, they were doing it by hitting someone with a wrecking ball or having a monkey kick them in the nuts.

Sadly, there was more carnage and pain being doled out in the ads than by the Bears defense, who simply couldn't tackle anyone. I give them a tiny bit of slack based on the aforementioned turnovers and 3-and-outs in bad situations created by the offense and special teams.

But as the game wore on, I stopped apologizing for them, especially when the Colts have a rookie offensive tackle playing in place of mammoth Ryan Diem. The Colts are riding a rookie tackle and backup cornerbacks in the Super Bowl, and the Bears had no answer. Extremely disturbing, that, both coaching and execution-wise.

Where I have to admit I started losing faith was the opening of the 2nd half. Prince had perked me up by fighting some Foo, but the Colts dampened the spirits again with a 7.5 minute drive that took back any wind the Bear defense had regained during the break.

Down 19-14 now, the Bears offense needed to sustain a similar drive and move the chains. Pass. Pass. 2nd-and-1. Guitar string. Sack. Fumble. Sack. Punt.

Bears fans ended the first half thankful that nothing went terribly wrong. Yet. To start the 2nd half that way, Rex, you're going to make me use that picture again. I can't help it. You earned it.

I blame the coaching staff and Ron Turner for not running, but it's got to be hard for them to call plays if they have to expect the circus is about to roll into town.

I may have missed it, but I don't recall seeing either Bears coordinator on the field. This was the case for the playoff games in Chicago, where they were up in the booth behind a cold mist, but I assumed they'd be on the field in Miami.

They may have been there and I missed them. I damn well saw the Colts' Tom Moore and Ron Meeks braving the rain. I also saw Peyton Manning on the blower discussing things, and I always wonder why Rex Grossman's always jogging off, putting on his baseball cap, and standing off to the side. Aaaap, doesn't anyone have anything they want to say? Anyone want to talk about what the Colts are doing on D and how to beat them? Pictures are worth a thousand words, is anyone looking over those and mapping out some good shit? I guess not.

Shockingly, the Bears were still in this game, if only they could pull out one big play. Not a bad deal to do nothing since the first 15 seconds of the game and still be in pouncing position. They even survived Todd Johnson slamming into Adam Vinatieri on a made field goal, which the Colts were forced to leave on the board when the refs called it a 5-yard Running into the Kicker penalty.

It was a glancing blow by Johnson, but we've all seen 15-yarders with far less contact on the kicker. The way Johnson came barreling in like a fool, it probably should have given the Colts 1st-and-goal on the 1.

There weren't too many questionable calls in this game, but there were a few fishy ones, and the Bears caught breaks on all of them. It's what makes the loss all the more frustrating. With the benefit of a Bears crowd, "conditions not 100%" as Nantz put it, and calls by the refs, the Bears contributed nearly zero through skill.

By the time Grossman threw the crushing Pick Six, it wasn't a surprise. He'd already thrown some ill-advised lobs and was using all of his powers just to take a snap from center, while the Colts were working the shotgun without incident.

Small observation, but Lovie did the famous Jauron challenge on the Pick Six, which was surprisingly rubber-stamped by the announcers who said you have to challenge just because it was such a big play. You have to blindly hope for the best. Yeah, the guy almost stepped out of bounds, but he didn't. It's a waste of a timeout when what you really want to review is why (the hell) no Bears offensive player could bring the guy down for a straight 56-yard dash up the sideline.

Definitely saying this out of hindsight, but the review would have been better used on the next Grossman interception, where Bob Sanders picked it off, bounced off of Berrian then the ground, then got up and ran for 38 yards. Lovie would have won that one, but it had just become a moot point, because this severe underthrow to a wide-open and behind-the-defense Berrian was officially the end for the beloved Bears.

The Bears have nothing to be embarrassed about for the 2006 season, of course, but I'm sure they're very embarrassed by their performance last night. We got our asses whipped, gang.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Super Sunday Has Arrived for the Chicago Bears

Like Mike Ditka said, the Chicago Bears are like the locust, descending on the scene and taking over about every 20 years. Despite the difficulty in locating experts who think the Bears will win, everything will change this evening. I fully expect Dolphin Stadium to be filled with Bears fans. We may even hear the "Let's Go Bears!" chant that was prominent in 1985.

The 2006 Bears don't have the circus appeal that the '85 team did, but the Bear faithful will not be silenced today. I'm sure there are faithful hoosiers to swing their Colts hankies, but these are step-faithful. Relative Johnny-come-latelies. Their team has barely been around for a generation. Their fans of previous generations are in Baltimore, hating them.

It doesn't make them lesser fans, but the difference will be heard today from the Bears fans, who've been living and dying with the Bears since a hell of a lot longer than 1984. Let's Go Bears.

It's already a special day. I appear to be breathing and functional despite the tradition of crawling through 11 bars on Super Bowl Saturday, this time with the Chicago temperature below zero throughout. Couldn't quite get the distance on the 12th and final, thanks mostly to some hiccoughs.

I've checked 6 times and my wallet's here, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. I'll need to check a few more times. Tonight I'll have a Bears championship to celebrate and the victory parade swinging past my place of work on Tuesday. As the great Corky St. Clair says: "It's all coming together, sir."

Just like in January of 1986, the Bears will parade in arctic conditions.

Besides the Bears crowd on hand, the Colts will be further disadvantaged away from the comforts of their dome and their turf. They're built for turf and it's where they did their damage this season. When they're put on real grass, they're not the same team.

I'm in the minority, but I see a low-scoring affair. I expect no TDs in the first half, as these first-time Super Bowl teams work out the nerves and dance around the ring sizing each other up. Both teams want to run and both defenses are built on the premise of making the opposing offense put together a 20-play drive, 4 yards at a time.

These offenses stand a better chance than most at mounting a sustained drive because both play almost penalty-free. 4 yards at a time stops working when it's 2nd and 20. It'll be interesting to see if nerves or flag-happy referee Tony Corrente take either team out of their comfort zone.

I've said it before, but the unappreciated aspect of the Bears that will key victory is outstanding tackling. If they blow tackles tonight, they won't win, and they won't even stay within a touchdown.

But once again, the Bears rarely give anything away with missed tackles. It's not flashy to stop the ballcarrier at first contact. The pundits are more thrilled with the big plays that are often sprung by shoddy tackling, the kind that were essentially every play by the Jaguars when they beat the Colts 44-17 in December and rushed for 375 yards.

The Colts have gotten a safety back from injury, changed linebackers, adjusted to more of a Cover One than Cover Two, and had their speed-rushing defensive ends rush inside instead of their usual tact of spinning outside, all to make their run defense non-laughable. And it has been successful. But all of the scheming in the world hasn't taught them how to tackle. Cedric Benson enjoys running these people over, and Thomas Jones has whipped out the stiff-arm recently.

I'd run a Devin Hester threat past while I'm at it, because the shoddy tackling carries right over to a terrible Colts special teams unit, but as I said in my matchups post earlier in the week, the Colts will likely do the smart thing and not give Hester a chance despite his fumbling issues. I'd suggest ancient Colts return man Terrence Wilkins grip the ball tightly, but I believe it's coming out regardless.

Let's Go Bears. See you at Daley Plaza on Tuesday. I've got to check if my wallet's here.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Beat the Shitwit: Super Bowl XLI Predictions

Talk about one of the all-time backfires. I talk a good game trying to make a name for myself, and every last shitwit has me beat. I'll get the final score just right and totally redeem myself.

I'll also try to accrue expert predictions and paint the full landscape. Bearss.

Line for this week:

Ind -7 over Bearss (O/U = 48)

Remember to denote the final score.

Shitwit #1: Mike North (7-3, 2-1)

Da Bears

A steamed guest: azibuck (6-4, 2-1)
Colts 23, Bears 10

Shitwit #3: Dan McNeil (5-5, 1-2)


Esteemed reader: Freen (4-6, 1-2)

Bears 33, Colts 19

Shitwit #2: dhort (4-6, 1-2)

Bears 23, Colts 15

Punch Me Harder:

The Sports Illustrated Posse

Peter King: Colts 27, Bears 21
Paul Zimmerman: Colts 34, Bears 24
Don Banks: Colts 30, Bears 17
Jeffri Chadiha: Colts 27, Bears 23
Nunyo Demasio: Colts 31, Bears 24
Michael Silver: Colts 27, Bears 13
Tim Layden: Colts 38, Bears 35

Mike Ditka: Bears 28, Colts 21
Sporting News Vinnie Iyer: Colts 34, Bears 24

Mario Batali: Colts 38, Bears 28
Jimmy Buffett: Colts 27, Bears 0

Here's 100 celebrities. 27 picked the Bears. If the Bears are good enough for Ed Asner, they're good enough for me. Screw Mark Wahlberg.

The oddest comment there has to be from the obviously punch-drunk Sylvester Stallone: "Colts, 38-30. They are a team of destiny and nothing could be harder than what they went through to get here."

Sly should hook up with Cloris Leachman. They can discuss the hurricanes that pelted Indiana. Cloris's prediction: "Who are the Colts with? And the Bears? I am from Chicago. I will watch. Who is supposed to win? Who do they think?"

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Peyton and Rex: A Different Take

Rex Grossman has been asked a couple hundred times a day what it feels like to be the worst QB ever to reach the Super Bowl.

We know about all that. I've gone over the national and media doggie-piling on Grossman. The only thing that surprised me about it is the degree and the hostility.

Ironically, Grossman won an award this season from the local football writers for his cooperation and decorum.

Everyone's in agreement that the QB matchup in Super Bowl XLI is no match at all. It's a mismatch. Beyond the obvious statistics, Manning's a crusty veteran and Grossman's started fewer NFL games than perhaps anyone except Tom Brady in his first Super Bowl.

On Sunday night, America may watch a quarterback shouting at his teammates and making a point of dressing them down on camera when a play goes awry, Marino or Favre style. We may watch a quarterback beg the officials for penalties, hang his head and slump his shoulders like a child if things aren't going his way.

And that quarterback would be Peyton Manning, not Rex Grossman. You can look it up. Make a prop bet on it if you can, you'll probably get good odds. Though we're hearing over and over what a class act Peyton Manning is, Grossman is a classier competitor and teammate, hands-down.

I've read a lot of Super Bowl coverage this week and you'd think I'd have read at least once about how Peyton Manning's season ended a year ago.

Manning was famously bailed out by the officials when the interception he threw to Troy Polamalu was mysteriously overturned, giving the Colts another chance in the game they trailed 21-10. In the end, the Colts would fall short and the Steelers went to the Super Bowl.

Manning's take afterward?

"I'm trying to be a good teammate here... Let's just say we had some problems in protection."

What a terrific competitor and stand-up guy to blame it all on the offensive line. That's some gratitude for the guys who make him the least touched QB in the NFL, year in and year out.

Even in victory 3 weeks ago, Manning made purely selfish, woe-is-me comments: "Either give me all the credit when we win or give the team the blame when we lose."

Rex Grossman has a lot of faults, but accountability and conducting himself with class on the field aren't among them. Even when he made the idiotic and unacceptable comments about not being prepared for a game because he was thinking about his New Year's Eve party, he said HE wasn't prepared.

Impossible as it is to fathom, Manning can watch and learn plenty from his counterpart on Sunday. Study the film, Peyton.