Sunday, January 23, 2011
Bears-Packers: Five things we learned
By Jeff Dickerson
CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned following the Chicago Bears’ 21-14 season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
1. Jay Cutler did not fake an injury: Take a deep breath. The notion Cutler somehow faked a knee injury to get out of playing in the second half is ridiculous. Cutler is many things, but he's never been soft on the football field. Remember, you're talking about a guy who got sacked 52 times in the regular season and missed one game. He's taken a ton of pulverizing hits over the course of two years in Chicago and always bounced back up. It's fair to question Cutler's decision making, but his toughness? No way. Early indications are Cutler suffered ligament damage -- at the very least a sprained MCL -- and he is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday. Hopefully the Bears do the quarterback a service by releasing the injury information to the public, so they can put an end to the rampant speculation.
Caleb Hanie led the Bears to two fourth-quarter touchdowns in Sunday's loss to the Packers.
2. Caleb Hanie was unfairly buried on the depth chart: Don't take a deep breath. The mere fact Todd Collins spent the final nine games of the regular season and both postseason games as the Bears’ No. 2 quarterback is insane. What did Mike Martz possibly see in Collins after a disastrous, four interception performance in Carolina on Oct. 10? It's nothing personal against Collins, but his teammates had zero faith in him. On the other hand, Hanie proved in limited stints he was ready to be the No. 2, but Martz demoted Hanie following the bye week. You'd think an "offensive genius" would have a better grasp on the depth chart. Obviously, we don't know if Hanie would have led the Bears to points in place of Collins on those two series, but the Bears did take over close to midfield after the Brian Urlacher interception. Hanie is not a finished product -- he made his fair share of mistakes -- but the backup quarterback position was handled poorly the entire season. That's on Martz, and Lovie Smith for failing to step in and correct the problem.
3. Even a "genius" can call a terrible end around on third down: I can live with the timeout the Bears called on third-and-3 from the Green Bay 27-yard line with 1:15 left on the clock. Sometimes plays get lost in translation, and if Hanie had difficulty hearing the entire play in his headset, it's better to err on the side of caution. But to call an end around to Earl Bennett after the timeout on maybe the most critical play of the game? Wow. Why not put the ball in Matt Forte's hands? Or how about a Chester Taylor run? Or better yet, why not let Hanie -- a mobile quarterback -- roll out and try a short completion or perhaps pick up the first down with his feet. But an end around to Bennett? Wow. Maybe it's time to remind everybody the Bears ranked No. 30 in total offense this year, No. 28 in passing offense, No. 21 in points scored and No. 22 in rushing offense. Think about that before you start pumping up Martz for offensive coach of the year honors. The offense had some good moments this year, but they also had moments that made you want to pull your hair out. That third-down call was one of them.
4. Defense failed to stop the run: Give the Bears defense all the credit in the world for hanging in there and limiting the Packers to zero offensive points in the second half. That was a true testament to the veteran leadership of Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Chris Harris, etc. But they gave up way too much on the ground in the first half -- 104 yards to be exact. Some of those holes were so wide James Starks wasn't even touched until he was 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. The Green Bay running attack was a big reason the Packers were able to jump out to a 14-0 lead. Like we said all week; Starks is a nice player, but not one who should average 4.6 yards per carry on his first 12 carries. Plus, they completely lost containment on Aaron Rodgers, who made the Bears play with a couple long scampers in the first half. The Bears really clamped down in the second half, but much of the damage had been done long before Cutler left the game with a knee injury.
5. Bears lost out in return game: The Packers did kick to Devin Hester, but the Pro Bowl return man couldn't get anything going. Credit goes to the Green Bay coverage units, however, Hester had the ball in his hands four times and only gained 40 yards. The Packers really turned the tables on special teams -- one of their weaknesses -- pinning the Bears offense inside its own 20-yard line three times in the first half, and twice in the second half. Green Bay actually averaged better starting field position than the Bears on Sunday, which is a big surprise. It's not like the Bears special teams performed poorly, they just weren't "special".