Bears reversing momentum is hard, not hopeless: Troy Aikman
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org December 15, 2012 1:26AM
Troy Aikman went on to win a third Super Bowl with the Cowboys after some late-season difficulties. | Getty Images
Updated: January 17, 2013 6:26AM
Since 1990, 37 NFL teams have started 7-1.
Five were Super Bowl champions, seven were Super Bowl runners-up and 11 reached the conference championship game, according to STATS.
Only one — the 1996 Washington Redskins (9-7) — missed the playoffs.
Like this season’s Bears, those Redskins had a defense that dominated early, then faded later. But unlike these Bears, those Redskins had a top-10-ranked offense, even if it struggled in the collapse as well.
Losers of four of their last five games, the Bears play a pivotal game today against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. With a win, they’ll put themselves in a strong position to secure at least an NFC wild card spot, if not the NFC North. But if they lose, the Bears figuratively hand the Packers the NFC North title.
Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman will call today’s game for Fox, the first time he’s been assigned to the Bears this season. He recalled his last Super Bowl season, when the Dallas Cowboys’ offense staggered to the end of the 1995 regular season.
‘‘Everything was hard,’’ Aikman said. ‘‘We were going into the last game not playing good football.’’
But they blew out the Arizona Cardinals 37-13, then rolled through the postseason, including a 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
‘‘You can catch momentum in a hurry, and you can lose it as well,’’ Aikman said. ‘‘Can [the Bears] get hot? Yeah. We saw it last year [with the New York Giants].’’
To be fair, Aikman’s final Super Bowl team finished 12-4 and featured a top-10 offense and defense. But in his illustrious career, Aikman had his ups and downs, and he noted the Bears are probably questioning themselves right now.
‘‘On my best of teams, we had periods where we didn’t play very good and you said, ‘Man, what’s going on?’ ’’ he said. ‘‘All teams face those periods, and the Bears are in the middle of it right now. But they have a huge game and a chance to make amends for a lot of poor play in recent weeks. It’s amazing what one win can do.’’
Statistics are often misleading. But the Aikman Efficiency Ratings factor in a number of variables. On defense, the Bears still rank No. 1. On offense, they’re 20th. Overall, they’re fifth.
While there was excitement with the arrival of Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, Aikman said the Bears’ M.O. hasn’t changed at all.
‘‘Let’s be honest — this has been the Bears for a long time,’’ he said. ‘‘They go as their defense goes, and if they don’t dominate people, they have a hard time winning games.’’
Still, Aikman noted that the defense wasn’t disastrous in last week’s loss against the Minnesota Vikings.
‘‘They gave up two touchdowns, one of which started inside the 10-yard line, and hold the quarterback 100 yards passing,’’ Aikman said. ‘‘That’s not a great defensive performance? I don’t quite get that.’’
Asked if the Bears have a championship defense, Aikman hesitated, then said, ‘‘I think the Bears are certainly good enough on the defensive side of the ball to win a championship. But are they good enough offensively?’’
That’s the million-dollar question that could determine the fate of many at Halas Hall in the near future.
Open to middle
When the Bears drafted Shea McClellin in the first round in April, there was a strong belief — despite what the organization said — that he was the heir apparent to Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker.
McClellin has had an uneven season, one recently slowed by injuries. But he has displayed his athleticism, his intelligence and his work ethic.
Last week, I asked McClellin about the prospect of him playing in the middle.
‘‘I think I could do it. Definitely,’’ he said. ‘‘That was the thing coming in, my versatility.’’
He played middle linebacker in high school, as well as safety.
‘‘It was fun,’’ he said of manning the middle.
McClellin also isn’t fazed by the leadership that comes with the position.
‘‘Definitely people look to you because you’re kind of the quarterback of the defense,’’ he said.
Taking a licking
Sunday’s game features two of the most punished quarterbacks. Jay Cutler has been knocked down 63 times, according to STATS, while Aaron Rodgers has been knocked down 72 times. Indianapolis Colts rookie Andrew Luck has been knocked down a league-high 100 times.