Bears, Pats brace for a frigid Sunday
December, 9, 2010
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Both teams own plenty of cold-weather experience entering Sunday's matchup between the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots at Soldier Field.
So with snow in the forecast, heavy winds and temperatures expected to dip in the coming days, both teams prepared at their respective workouts on Thursday expecting the most grueling weather conditions of the season. Interestingly, each of the 20 coldest games in Bears team history has taken place in Chicago, with the club owning a 15-5 record in those outings.
Despite his team being built for cold weather, Bears coach Lovie Smith didn't want any part of his daily meeting with reporters Thursday coming off the practice fields at Halas Hall.
"I assume we're gonna make this quick," Smith said, smiling. "In Chicago, you play in the elements. That's how we practice, too. It's Chicago in December. To us, it's a typical game in December in Chicago. Do we plan for it? Yeah. This is our home-field advantage. I say 'advantage'… at least it's our home field. You prepare for all situations that come up each week, but it's not like we're going to start doing things differently than we normally do this time of year."
With hand warmers strewn about on the floor in the team's locker room, the Bears took to the practice fields outside all week, as opposed to working in the Walter Payton Center, the club's indoor facility.
The Patriots used a similar approach to their preparation for Sunday's game in the elements.
"I hope it's snowing, and the field gets all torn up," Patriots guard Logan Mankins said. "It's harder for someone to run fast, and [offensive] linemen aren't fast. The [defensive] line is fast. [So] I'd rather it be all torn up so they can't move."
That's a definite possibility for Sunday's game. Not only will the teams have to deal with difficult weather conditions, the teams look to find ways to navigate traditionally-sloppy Soldier Field, which was recently re-sodded grass, making footing a difficult proposition.
Typically when the Bears are expecting sloppy conditions, the players request seven-stud cleats from the equipment staff with 3/4-inch cleats for better grip on soft or wet fields. There's typically a guessing game, for opponents who "go out there pregame, and they're wondering what cleats to wear, exactly," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said.
"You know, the turf is what it is," he said. "With our speed, we'd like to get something a little bit tighter [in terms of a playing surface]. We probably have one of the worst fields in the league at this point. We did last year as well. We've got to deal with it, and our guys know it. They're aware of how to cut and how to move on it. So we've just got to go out there and play."
New England plans to "test the field out, test our shoes, and try to get our footing under us," when it arrives at Soldier Field for pregame, according to Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Snow, cold, windy conditions, and a sloppy field could also wreak havoc on the kicking game. Bears kicker Robbie Gould is accustomed to the conditions, having bombed four of his nine career game-winning field goals at Soldier Field in December.
Patriots kicker Shayne Graham said the conditions likely won't drastically alter his approach.
"I've played in single-digit games before. I've played in below-zero games. I've played in 90-degree weather games," Graham said. "It's going to be different each time. You don't really do anything different when the ball is cold. You just do your best to focus on what your technique is, and on your execution. The biggest thing is to try to be a little easier on [the field], so you're not putting as much pressure on your cleats when you're trying to plant [for a kick]. You try to adapt the best you can."