10 thoughts: Lovie made right call
BY MARK POTASH | Commentary January 3, 2011 7:56PM
4. Even worse than Clay Matthews deflecting a screen pass to Matt Forte for an incomplete — the misdirection on the play fooled none of the Packers. It was doomed even if the pass was completed.
Updated: January 4, 2011 9:20AM
Lovie Smith played it right.
Going all out to beat the Packers in a meaningless game Sunday was a risk worth taking. Too many NFL teams that have coasted in Week 17 have crapped out in the playoffs to do it any other way. The Colts have yet to win a Super Bowl when they coast into the playoffs in the Peyton Manning Era (though they did get there last year). The only time the Colts won the Super Bowl — against the Bears, of course — was when they played to win in Week 17 against the Dolphins.
And the Bears under Lovie Smith are part of that history. They coasted in Week 17 against the Vikings in 2005 — Leon Joe was their leading tackler, Jeff Blake mopped up for Kyle Orton at quarterback — lost 34-10, then lost at home to a Carolina Panthers team they had beaten 13-3 in the regular season.
And even in 2006, the Bears coasted in a 26-7 loss to the Packers at Soldier Field in Week 17, then needed a fourth-quarter field goal and a field goal in overtime to beat the Seahawks at Soldier Field.
It’s pretty clear a team like the Bears that doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience needs to go into the playoffs at full speed. The upset is that Smith played it differently than he has in the past. That might be the best sign of all for the Bears’ hopes in the playoffs.
And now, 10 other observations from the Bears 10-3 loss to the Packers on Sunday:
1. In one respect, the Bears almost tried too hard to win. They strayed from the run-pass formula that had been the foundation of the post-bye resurgence of the running game and the offensive line.
The Bears ran on 18 of 65 plays against the Packers (28 percent). In their seven victories after the bye, they had called running plays 45 percent of the time.
And it’s not like they weren’t successful. Matt Forte rushed for 91 yards on 15 carries (6.1 yards per carry), including back-to-back runs of 25 and 21 yards in the first quarter.
2. The imbalance in the Bears’ offense turned critical in the third quarter when the Bears’ reliance on the pass seemed to feed the frenzy of the Packers’ pass-rushing defense. After running on four of their first six plays in the second half, the Bears passed on 10 of their next 11 plays — in a game they were leading 3-0 or tied 3-3.
‘‘We had a lot of passes at the end of the game,’’ Smith said at his Monday press conference at Halas Hall. ‘‘I think at the half we [had] pretty good ratio. I think both offenses passed more a littl emore than they wanted to at the time yesterday, but that’s how it goes sometimes.’’
3. This game looked worse than it was — it always does when the quarterback plays poorly. The Bears’ defense faced a Packers offense playing just as desperately as their defense, and held them to 10 points, 60 rushing yards on 23 carries and forced two turnovers.
Or look at it this way: Aaron Rodgers torched the Giants at home last week with a career-best performance — 25-of-37 for 404 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, a 139.9 passer rating in a 45-17 victory. Against the Bears, he was 18-of-29 for 229 yards, one touchdown and one interceptions, an 89.7 rating.
4. Not sure what to make of Jay Cutler’s performance. The numbers told most of the story: he was 21-of-39 for 168 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 43.5 passer rating. That’s his second-lowest of the season after the 32.9 against the Patriots.
But a week after making several accurate long throws, he was off on even the shortest of throws against the Packers — Rashied Davis and Matt Forte had to make difficult catches on balls thrown behind them and other times Cutler just missed. Hard to say if that’s a one-time thing or a harbinger of bad things to come against a playoff-caliber defense in the future.
5. Maybe Earl Bennett is more of a security blanket for Cutler than it appears. Bennett, who has been a clutch third-down receiver during the Bears’ resurgence, missed Sunday’s game with a leg injury.
His absence seemed to throw Cutler off. Johnny Knox was held without a catch for the first time all season. And nobody else stepped up to make the Packers pay for giving so much attention to Knox.
6. You could tell the Packers, in desperation mode, were playing at a level the Bears initially weren’t ready for right from the start. Brandon Jackson bulled his way up the middle for an eight-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage — and Bears linebacker Nick Roach injured his shoulder trying to tackle Jackson and did not return.
The Bears did adjust, at least on defense. Jackson’s opening run was the Packers’ longest of the game. Their running backs gained 31 yards on 15 carries after that.
7. What game was Fox officiating expert Mike Periera watching Sunday? Periera indicated he would have ruled Charles Tillman’s interception an incomplete pass because he saw on the replay that the ball hit the ground. Good for analyst Troy Aikman for setting him straight: ‘‘I thought you could make the argument that his hands were underneath the ball,’’ Aikman said, being extremely polite. ‘‘It was a hard one to overturn.’’
8. Optimism is a dangerous thing regarding the Bears, but they are in better shape heading into the playoffs this season than at any time since the Ditka era. Not only healthier (Tommie Harris and Mike Brown were out for the season with injuries at this time in 2006), but with better playmakers at quarterback (Jay Cutler vs. Rex Grossman in 2005-06) and Defensive end (Julius Peppers vs. Adewale Ogunleye).
9. One of the unsung breaks the Bears got this year was a well-time bye week — Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were hurting and the offensive line was struggling when the Bears had a week off at 4-3. After the bye, Urlacher and Briggs were significantly better and the Bears helped solidify their offensive line by going to a more balanced run-pass attack.
Likewise, the Bears figure to benefit from the bye week in the playoffs. ‘‘To rest up a little bit as much as anything,’’ Smith said Monday. ‘‘But at the same time it’ll be good to have a couple of training-camp-style practices, getting ready for whoever we end up playing in our first playoff game.’’
10. The Bears were 3-3 against playoff teams, beating the Packers, Eagles and Jets; losing to the Patriots, Packers and Seahawks.
That’s about average for NFC teams — the Falcons (4-3), Saints (3-2), Packers (3-3), Eagles (2-2) and Seahawks (1-3).
The Patriots led the NFL with a 6-1 record against playoff teams — beating the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Colts, Bears and Packers; losing to the Jets in Week 2.