Smart play may be keeping Bears healthy
by mike mulligan firstname.lastname@example.org December 21, 2010 10:48PM
Bears coach Lovie Smith loves the term, and perhaps with good reason. His teams have produced an impressive record in extreme cold conditions over the last seven years.
Year Team Result Temp. Wind chill
2004 Houston L 12 -7
2007 Green Bay W 19 -2
2005 Atlanta W 12 0
2006 Minnesota W 20 6
2008 Jacksonville W 19 9
2010 Minnesota W 23 9
2010 New England L 26 9
2005 Green Bay W 28 15
2009 Minnesota W 26 17
2008 New Orleans W 28 18
2006 New Orleans# W 28 19
2009 Baltimore L 32 20
#—NFC Championship Game
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The Bears were so delighted about ending their playoff dry spell and securing the NFC North division title on Monday night, you thought for a moment someone might make a snow angel, skate a figure eight or simply collapse from hypothermia. Another week, another winter wonderland for the team touched by magic. But lost in the rapture of achievement is a legitimate question about the best course of action for the final two games of the season.
In the macho bravado of the NFL, there is no question about what the Bears should do now that they are assured of the second or third seed in the NFC.
Winning is the only thing when it comes to pursuing the Lombardi Trophy. Beat the Jets on Sunday, eliminate the Packers a week later and sit back and wait for a home playoff game after a bye week. The formula is so simple only an idiot would argue its merit.
But somebody at Halas Hall — surely there’s at least one idiot up there — at least ought to consider the alternative. The battle cry might be that winning the division title is just one step, but you can’t help but wonder if you might be able to find a shortcut to the Super Bowl by settling on the No. 3 seed and calling it a day on the 2010 regular season.
Yes, it is a great betrayal of the integrity of the league and might leave an indelible stain on the franchise. It also might work out just fine.
Bye no guarantee
Once upon a time, getting a bye week followed by a home game was considered a sure-fire path to glory. From 1990 to 2005, the top two teams in the divisional round produced a 48-12 record. But parity and free-agent player movement have changed things dramatically. Since those days, the record has fallen to 10-10. Good health, as much as peaking at the right time, has changed things in a league where flawed teams now can win a Super Bowl.
One of the major reasons for the Bears’ success this season is that they are not only the healthiest team in their division, but among the tops in all of professional football. Is there a way that standing can change? Continue to play in inclement weather, and the Bears are going to find out.
Coming off a blowout loss to the Patriots in a game that was 26 degrees at kickoff with a 9-degree wind-chill factor, the Bears managed to blow out the Vikings in an outdoor game in 23-degree weather with a 9-degree wind-chill factor. Where is a dome when you need one? Now the Bears return to freezing Soldier Field on Sunday before finishing out the year in perhaps even colder Green Bay.
Bears coach Lovie Smith was back on his soapbox about Bear weather after the victory in Minnesota. Laugh if you want, but the guy has a point. The coach likes to break his season into quarters, and his teams have not done particularly well in the final quarters of seasons. They are just 13-13 in the final four games on each season’s schedule, including 2010.
Before this season’s cold-weather split, Smith had led the Bears in 11 of the 50 coldest games in team history and produced a 9-2 record. Of course, his teams never have closed a season with four consecutive games in northern weather. There always has been a domed stadium or trip south in the bunch. Not this season, with the Vikings out of their dome and the league staging divisional-rivalry games like the one in Green Bay to end the season.
Age is a concern
Games in extreme weather, be they very hot or very cold, tend to have the same effect on players’ bodies. It’s especially a concern on defense, where the Bears are one of the older units in the league with an average age of 27.3 years among starters, including five guys older than 30.
Remember, Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris said after the loss to the Patriots that the team’s scheme, which features single-gap, penetrating linemen, loses something when it is forced onto slick surfaces with bad footing.
‘‘With [New England’s] defense, it is a 3-4 where guys stand up, stand around,’’ Harris said. ‘‘So really traction, coming off the ball, is not a problem standing.’’
Quarterback Jay Cutler said he loves playing in the weather the Bears have had for the last two games for just that reason.
‘‘I like playing in the cold,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘It slows down those guys up front. I really enjoy it.’’
The Bears are likely to do all they can to maintain their grip on the second seed in the NFC and take the easy path to glory, which includes a bye week followed by a home game. The Falcons are poised to secure the No. 1 seed, so the Bears have to hold off the Eagles. The Bears have a tiebreaker edge against the Eagles after a Week 11 victory at Soldier Field.
The Eagles close with home games against the Vikings and Cowboys, both eliminated teams with 5-9 records, while the Bears host the 10-4 Jets before closing the season at Green Bay. The Packers effectively face a playoff game on Sunday against the visiting Giants. They need to win that game and beat the Bears the next week to get into the postseason tournament.
Sweet as it might be to consider running the Packers out of the playoffs in the season finale in Lambeau Field — defensive end Julius Peppers revealed that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre told him, ‘Beat Green Bay,’ when the two briefly chatted after the game — here’s hoping that game doesn’t end up mattering one bit and Todd Collins can spend the afternoon handing off to Garrett Wolfe.