February 4, 2007

DESPITE THE ABSENCE OF THE BEST TEAM IN THE NFL, YOU CAN STILL WIN BOOKS...:

We've got some extra books we need to get rid of -- thanks to the folks at FSB -- so pick the winner, the score and the MVP of the Super Bowl and clear our shelves.


MORE:
Big Play Potential May Be Key to Bears' Victory (AARON SCHATZ, February 2, 2007, NY Sun)

There aren't a lot of hidden stories in Super Bowl XLI. The Bears have a strong defense and a weak offense. The Colts have a strong offense and a weak defense. The two head coaches are best friends, and they run the same defensive scheme. Peyton Manning is looking for his legacy, and Rex Grossman is looking for respect.

The real hidden story is that the game itself is much more of a toss-up than most people realize. Each team has significant flaws, and whoever wins will rank among the least impressive of the 41 Super Bowl champions. There's a much better chance of that being Chicago than the oddsmakers would have you believe.


Difference at Quarterback Too Much To Overcome (ALLEN BARRA, February 2, 2007, NY Sun)
What's it's all going to come down to is how well Peyton Manning throws against the Bears defense, and, simply put, the prognosis for the Bears is not good.

There was a really sharp division in the Bears play between their first seven games and their last nine. Up to their October 29 meeting with San Francisco (which they won 41-10) Chicago was still fooling everyone with their creative coverages and blitzes, and the effectiveness of their defense enabled them to hide quarterback Rex Grossman's deficiencies, namely a lack of accuracy and touch on short and middle-range passes. For those first seven games, the Bears looked like the best NFL team of the 21st century, averaging slightly more than 31 points per game while allowing slightly fewer than 10.

At that point, opposing defensive coordinators had analyzed most of Chicago's tricks and diagnosed their weaknesses. From then on, they were only slightly better than mediocre; on November 5, they lost to the Miami Dolphins 13-31 and went 6-3 over the last nine weeks with two of the wins over Tampa Bay and Detroit, two teams that were 7-22 last season when not playing the Bears. And those victories were by a total of just eight points. For the first seven games, the Bears' margin of victory was better than 21 points a game; over the last nine, it was just 2.2.

The unpleasant fact for Chicago fans is that in the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots, the Colts have already beaten two teams whose defenses are as good or better than the Bears' -- possibly much better. (Both teams posted comparable or superior numbers in all the leading defensive indicators, and they did it against AFC opposition that was much stronger than what the Bears faced in their conference.) It isn't likely on a dry, neutral field that the Bears are going to come up with anything that Manning hasn't seen already several times this year.


Face it, Urlacher is Bears (Christopher L. Gasper, February 2, 2007, Boston Globe)
he face of the Chicago Bears is not of a pretty-boy passer, it's the rugged and reticent one of six-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. The 6-foot-4-inch, 258-pound tackling machine represents the hard-nosed, hard-hitting, relentless style of the Bears, one that has taken them to the brink of a Super Bowl title and put Urlacher, an icon in football-mad Chicago, where the Bears are treated with Red Sox-like reverence, on the biggest stage of his career.

In the City of Broad Shoulders, Urlacher's brawny ones bear the burden of being the Bears' marquee player. The same player who is adept at wading through blockers to crush opposing ball carriers, looking like he was born for the role, looks slightly unsure and uncomfortable taking on the throng of media that expect him to be a spokesman for the Bears. He is a reluctant superstar.

"When I have to speak, I will. When I don't, I won't," said Urlacher. "I do what I'm told when it comes to this stuff, no more than I have to, no less than I have to."


Grossman gets the chance of a lifetime: Bears quarterback could become the latest to break out at Super Bowl if he makes the right moves (Lonnie White, February 2, 2007, LA Times)
The stage could not be set any better for Chicago's Rex Grossman to join a list of quarterbacks who had breakout games in the Super Bowl.

The New York Giants' Phil Simms did it in Super Bowl XXI, Washington's Mark Rypien did it in Super Bowl XXVI and New England's Tom Brady did it in Super Bowl XXXVI.

On Sunday, Grossman will get his chance against the Indianapolis Colts, who will crowd the line of scrimmage in an effort to entice him to throw more.

And why not? After all, Grossman has been a model of inconsistency this season. He had seven games with a quarterback rating over 100.0, but he also led the NFL with five sub-40.0 rated games.

In the playoffs, however, Grossman has been solid, completing timely passes and avoiding mistakes in leading the Bears to victories over Seattle and New Orleans and thereby securing their first Super Bowl appearance since 1986.


Bears rookie Hester is a paradox (Jerry Brewer, 2/02/07, Seattle Times)
The most dangerous X-factor in football attended a high school for brainiacs. Devin Hester is not the typical South Florida prospect who was engineered in some factory posing as an educational institution.

Hester went to Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach, a school about 75 miles from Miami that boasts a proud tradition in physics, speech and debate and mathematics. It's also nationally ranked in something called the Academic Games, a competition light on sweat but heavy on mathematics, social studies and language arts. A sign in front of the magnet school brags, "WE'RE THE #7 BEST SCHOOL IN THE U.S.A."

Hester's football team won three games his senior season. He played "wherever I could put him," said former coach Jimmie Bell, who compared Hester to a buffet. He was a wide receiver/running back/cornerback/return specialist. He scored 26 touchdowns that year, but according to his coach's memory, only one came on special teams -- a return of a blocked field goal.

High-school coaches were smart enough not to kick to Hester. Perhaps NFL coaches should be so wise.

Look at the kid now.


It's the biggest game of Manning's life: The pressure is on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to secure his legacy as an NFL great with a Super Bowl win. (ARMANDO SALGUERO, 2/02/07, MiamiHerald.com)
The stakes and the game are bigger now, so Peyton Manning probably should forget about the success he had in the most important game of his life 12 days ago.

Yes, it was big when he won that AFC title against the New England Patriots. Before that, people wondered if he could win a championship -- any championship.

But with Super Bowl XLI looming, the significance of that conference title has shrunk like a cheap shirt in a commercial dryer.

''A lot of people are saying [Manning won the big one] in the conference championship,'' former Dolphins Coach Don Shula said. ``But the big one is this Sunday.''

Shula's voice rises when he says the word ''big,'' to underscore its importance. And Shula is only one in a growing chorus that believes Manning did well, but not great, in winning his last game.

''He has to win this game or he'll be back to square one,'' ESPN NFL analyst Tom Jackson said. ``His reputation will be what it has been if he doesn't win.''


Berrian is deep thinker (Christopher L. Gasper, February 3, 2007, Boston Globe)
[H]arrison and Wayne are not the only big-play receiving threats who will be on the field at Dolphin Stadium. Chicago Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian doesn't possess the résumé or name recognition of his Colts counterparts, but he has been more productive this postseason. The slender, self-assured third-year receiver is averaging 19 yards a catch in the playoffs and has the same number of catches as Harrison (10), more receiving yards than Wayne (190 to 155), and more touchdowns than the Colts' duo combined (2 to 1).

"Bernard Berrian has gone beyond the call of duty," said Bears coach Lovie Smith. "He has established himself as the deep threat that we really needed in our offense."

The playoffs have been a continuation of a breakout season for Berrian. In his first two seasons as a pro, the wideout from Fresno State had 28 catches for 471 yards and two touchdowns. As Chicago's No. 2 receiver, he dwarfed those numbers this season, catching 51 passes for 775 yards and six touchdowns, tying the team high.


Pulling for Peyton: Hard not to root for one of the NFL's hardest workers (Peter King, January 22, 2007, Sports Illustrated)
So many writers and media people criticize Manning because he's never won The Big One, dating back to all his big losses at Tennessee, and then to his Curse of Belichick defeats at the hands of the Patriots. The words cut and sting, and I'm sure one of the reasons Manning has cut out almost all of his one-on-one TV interviews this season is because during almost every one of them in the last couple of years, if the TV person is doing his/her job, the question about not winning a National Championship or Super Bowl is asked. And so why should Manning subject himself to weekly reminders of the pain? I totally understand his refusal to deal with the the amiable but persistent grilling.

But even though the questions come, I don't know many of my peers who don't like Manning. Personally, I was thrilled to see him make the comeback of the year and put up 32 points on the league's No. 2 scoring defense on Sunday. I bet there's been 10 times since he's been in the league when I've had a conversation with him that was supposed to last 10 or 15 minutes, and it lasts 45 or 60; and he doesn't want to end it but has to or we'd be there all day. This summer, at training camp, I got him alone after practice and we sat on his golf cart for what was supposed to be 10 or 15 minutes. He just about cleared his throat and we were 10 minutes into it. But he stayed -- I think through lunch -- and we just talked about so many things other than my topic du jour. League gossip. What I'd seen at other camps. Riffing on his new practice technique -- a team cameraman videotaping his eyes from the position of a cornerback out on the practice field.

Of the guys I've covered regularly in recent years, what's remarkable is the three players who stick out for their interest in constantly getting better and doing only what's best for the team. All three played this weekend. Manning. Tom Brady. Brian Urlacher. They love the game, respect the game, work at the game and treat other players with respect. It's what we all should be teaching our children, not that Reggie Bush crap we saw Sunday ... the pointing and taunting.


Scary talent Hester provides fear factor (Bob Ryan, February 4, 2007, Boston Globe)
A game plan is good. Everyone knows you need a good game plan.

Devin Hester blows up your game plan.

Game plans can't account for Devin Hester.

The New York Giants know. They were kicking a field goal, which is a positive act. Devin Hester picked up the miss and ran it 108 yards for a touchdown.

"That kind of opened people's eyes around the league," Hester reasoned.

That wasn't the only touchdown return Hester had for the Chicago Bears this season. He also returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. That'll mess up the best of game plans.

Hester is probably the most pleasant surprise the Bears have had this season, and, yes, I know all about sackmeister Mark Anderson. But Hester may be the most pleasant surprise anyone had this season. The Bears grabbed him out of the University of Miami in the second round. They liked him, sure, and they thought they might have a nice little weapon on their hands. No one was expecting an immediate Pro Bowl kind of weapon, but that's what they got.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 4, 2007 5:44 PM
Comments

Colts, 31-27, Peyton Manning.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 2, 2007 7:59 AM

Bears 27-25 Devin Hester

Posted by: oj at February 2, 2007 8:10 AM

Bearts 31
Colts 20
MVP Grossman

Posted by: AllenS at February 2, 2007 8:15 AM

Do I still win if I can't spell correctly?

Posted by: AllenS at February 2, 2007 8:18 AM

Nope.

Bears 31
Colts 17
Benson

Posted by: jdkelly at February 2, 2007 8:21 AM

Colts 34
Bears 27

Posted by: Brandon at February 2, 2007 8:44 AM

and Harrison as MVP

Posted by: Brandon at February 2, 2007 8:45 AM

Bears 31
Colts 28
MVP Grossman

Posted by: erp at February 2, 2007 9:08 AM

Colts =
Count
On
Losing
The
Superbowl

Bears 31, Colts 17 and Cedric Benson. But then I picked OSU by the same score so what do I know.

Posted by: Rick T at February 2, 2007 9:32 AM

19-17 Bears. Hester.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 2, 2007 9:32 AM

Colts 27-24
MVP: Joseph Addai

Posted by: AC at February 2, 2007 9:40 AM

Go here to download an mp3 of the Solti CSO performing "Bear down, Chicago Bears" from 1986 and remember to crank it extra loud when Hester's 4th quarter kick-off return td wins it for da Bears.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 2, 2007 9:40 AM

Bears 26-24
Thomas Jones, University of Virginia

Posted by: Matt Cohen at February 2, 2007 9:42 AM

Bears 26-24
Thomas Jones, University of Virginia

Posted by: Matt Cohen at February 2, 2007 9:45 AM

Colts 20, Bears 17, in OT
MVP: Adam Vinateri

Posted by: Mike Morley at February 2, 2007 9:52 AM

24-17 Bears. Cedric Benson.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at February 2, 2007 9:54 AM

Bears 35
Colts 31

B. Berrian

Posted by: Bartman at February 2, 2007 10:12 AM

Indy 31
Bears 17

J. Addai

Posted by: BJW at February 2, 2007 10:12 AM

Had trouble posting earlier...sorry if it posts me twice.

Bears 35
Colts 31

B. Berrian

Posted by: Bartman at February 2, 2007 10:16 AM

Fort Wayne is as nutty as I've ever seen it. The Colts are bigger but the Bears are a significant and vocal minority. Nobody's done a lick of work all week. Dungy was right, they should have played the game here last Sunday. Anyway, I'm in the minority here.

'da Bears - 20
'da Horseshoes - 17

MVP: Lance Briggs (Fumble return for TD, INT to seal victory.)

By the way Matt Cohen, are you a 'Hoo? Great win over Duke last night. Hey Hey UVa!

Posted by: jeff at February 2, 2007 10:19 AM

31-17 Indy
Manning

Posted by: Tom C at February 2, 2007 10:47 AM

Colts 24 - Bears 10

MVP: Peyton

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 2, 2007 10:49 AM

Colts 31 - Bears 13
MVP: Marvin Harrison

Posted by: Rich Plumb at February 2, 2007 10:57 AM

DESPITE THE ABSENCE OF THE BEST TEAM IN THE NFL

You mean the San Diego Chargers, right?

DaBears 19
Dolts 17

MVP Walter Payton

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 2, 2007 11:02 AM

BEARSBEARSBEARSBEARSBEARSBEARSBEARSBEARSBEARSBEARS

Haven't taken off the dog's Bear collar yet, let's see if that helps.

Posted by: Sandy P at February 2, 2007 11:06 AM

Colts - 24
Bears - 21

MVP - Peyton Manning

Posted by: jefferson park at February 2, 2007 11:25 AM

Until the Pats 2nd half collapse the vaunted Colts offense had scored 10 FG and 2 TDs over 2 1/2 games. Colts were 8-0 at home but 4-4 on the road. The Colts receivers don't like to be hit and the Colts running game can be shut down. And Peyton's monkey may simply be shifted to a bigger game.

On the other hand Chicago's D isn't as good as mid-year and there is of course the Grossman factor and that the AFC is probably better than the NFC.

Bears 28
Colts 24
MVP - Urhlacher

Posted by: AWW at February 2, 2007 12:01 PM

Until the Pats 2nd half collapse the vaunted Colts offense had scored 10 FG and 2 TDs over 2 1/2 games. Colts were 8-0 at home but 4-4 on the road. The Colts receivers don't like to be hit and the Colts running game can be shut down. And Peyton's monkey may simply be shifted to a bigger game.

On the other hand Chicago's D isn't as good as mid-year and there is of course the Grossman factor and that the AFC is probably better than the NFC.

Bears 28
Colts 24
MVP - Urhlacher

Posted by: AWW at February 2, 2007 12:03 PM

I'm starting to get pretty pumped up about the Super Bowl. When can we start drinking?

By the way, Brett Favre just announced he will return next season. I guess I just answered my question.

Posted by: AllenS at February 2, 2007 12:06 PM

Colts 35
Bears 17

Posted by: pchuck at February 2, 2007 12:23 PM

Colts 17
Bears 14
Manning

Posted by: JV at February 2, 2007 1:02 PM

Colts 40, Bears 17 Peyton Manning

Early turnovers and big kickoff returns would give da Bears a chance, but more likely they're down two touchdowns by halftime and Grossman falls to Indy's pass rush.

Posted by: Mike Earl at February 2, 2007 1:13 PM

Colts 40, Bears 17 Peyton Manning

Early turnovers and big kickoff returns would give da Bears a chance, but more likely they're down two touchdowns by halftime and Grossman falls to Indy's pass rush.

Posted by: Mike Earl at February 2, 2007 1:14 PM

Colts 40, Bears 17 Peyton Manning

Early turnovers and big kickoff returns would give da Bears a chance, but more likely they're down two touchdowns by halftime and Grossman falls to Indy's pass rush.

Posted by: Mike Earl at February 2, 2007 1:16 PM

Bears 35, Colts 28 Erlacher
refered by Ted Welter

Posted by: Sarah Welter at February 2, 2007 1:28 PM

Bears 35 - Colts 28 Erlacher for MVP

Posted by: ted welter at February 2, 2007 1:41 PM

Colts 34
Bears 17

Manning

Posted by: Pilgrim at February 2, 2007 2:35 PM

jeff - yes I am a Hoo. I was at UVa for Tiki Barber's 3 (2.5) starting seasons and Thomas Jones' first. It's great to see TJ thriving on a good team. And yes, despite a key late injury and erratic shooting in general we smacked Dook last night which was fantastic.

Posted by: Matt Cohen at February 2, 2007 3:02 PM

Matt:

I'm a good deal older than you. I was there for the Sonny Randle years, when I left THE University we had the longest losing streak in the country. (That losing streak followed me to MBA school at Northwestern.) The athletic high point of my time there by far was the totally unexpected victory in the ACC Tournament in 1976. Once in a lifetime, so far at least.

Posted by: jeff at February 2, 2007 4:13 PM

Matt Cohen:

Beg your pardon, were you present at their glorious win over FSU?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 2, 2007 4:32 PM

Matt Murphy,

Not only was I at the Thursday night ESPN game during the 1995 season when we beat #2 FSU (33-28) giving them their first loss in ACC history (29-0 up to that point I believe), my fraternity brought one of the goalposts back to our house in celebration.

Jeff,

Sorry to hear about that. We had a good thing pretty good sports-run in the mid-to-late 90s. I even got to watch us (and everyone) beat up on Duke the year that Krzyzewski faked his back injury and let the asst coach run the team for the year when his roster was garbage.

Posted by: Matt Cohen at February 2, 2007 4:47 PM

Matt Cohen:

I live in Nebraska and the Huskers were vying with FSU for the top spot that fall. I went to a boarding school so our TV time was limited. I chiefly remember how our classroom cheered when a teacher let us know that FSU had been defeated.

As I recall, I only got to see the end of the game years later when it was on Classic Sports Network. I thought Warrick Dunn might have purposely fumbled the ball but then recovered in the endzone when he wiggled free. I'm not sure how that ought to be called, if there is reason to believe it was done purposely. I do remember hearing that the guy who tackled Dunn knew the ball was going to him because he usually shifted his eyes before a play, and on this one he was staring straight ahead.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 2, 2007 5:27 PM

Colts, 17-13
Manning

Posted by: Tom Wall at February 2, 2007 7:59 PM

Colts, 27-20
Peyton Manning

Posted by: msmary at February 2, 2007 8:26 PM

Matt Murphy:

My enduring memory of that last play is Anthony Poindexter on his knees pushing Dunn away from the goal line with Percy Ellsworth, laying flat on his stomach, arms fully extended pushing the ball out of the end zone. Probably the high point in UVa football history. The game still shows up a couple times a year on ESPN Classic.

Posted by: jeff at February 3, 2007 12:49 PM

Yankees 8
Red Sox 2

MVP: Igawa

Posted by: Sducks at February 3, 2007 12:52 PM

Colts, 34-24; MVP- Peyton Manning

Posted by: ed at February 3, 2007 6:04 PM

Colts: 38,
Bears: 17

Posted by: todderchek at February 3, 2007 9:16 PM

Colts 28-24 over the Bears...Peyton Manning

Posted by: Mike L at February 3, 2007 9:21 PM

COLTS:39
BEARS:22
MANNING

Posted by: des harte at February 3, 2007 10:01 PM

Colts 23-20, Manning

Posted by: pj at February 4, 2007 7:05 AM

Colts 23-14

MVP Manning

Posted by: Bob at February 4, 2007 5:57 PM

Calling all Pitchers and Catchers.
And not a moment too soon.

Posted by: Sducks at February 4, 2007 10:21 PM

Well done Tom C.

Posted by: Bartman at February 5, 2007 9:13 AM

Congrats, Tom. Send your address & we'll send a book.

Posted by: oj at February 5, 2007 8:50 PM

Congrats, Tom. Send your address & we'll send a book.

Posted by: oj at February 5, 2007 8:51 PM

OJ:

Not to be presumptuous, but do I get a book for being the first guy to guess Manning as MVP?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 6, 2007 7:30 PM

Sure, half of The Deluge.

Posted by: oj at February 6, 2007 8:25 PM

OJ:

So I get to keep it? ;-)

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 7, 2007 9:41 PM

Absolutely.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2007 10:07 PM

Matt Cohen:

Are you the some Matt Cohen who I knew so many years ago? If so, pretty cool. Heard you married the girl. Happy for you. Kids yet? Hope all is well with you and your family. - Eira

Posted by: Eira at March 20, 2007 9:25 AM
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