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Thursday, December 16, 2010
Webb is another stroke of luck for Bears

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With a flurry of distractions surrounding their upcoming game against the Minnesota Vikings, cornerback Charles Tillman said the Chicago Bears need to focus on playing the sound defense that has carried them to the brink of clinching a playoff spot.

Joe Webb
Some Bears were so unaware of Joe Webb, they had to do some research on the Vikings' rookie quarterback.

"I don't think we can sit here and think about is Brett [Favre] going to play or they just signed Patrick Ramsey, is he going to start?" Tillman said. "I think you prepare for this team, this game, like you would for anybody else."

Um, Peanut, not to nitpick, but I think Joe Webb is starting.

"I can't sit here and talk about the rookie -- what's his name, Webb?" Tillman said. "I can't sit here and talk about him because I don't know the type of player he is. He could get in there and just flourish and just dominate the whole game."

Tillman's optimistic view was fueled by ignorance. Either that, or he's watched too much footage of Willie Beamon.

I only talked to a handful of Bears, but none of them had any idea about the rookie from University of Alabama-Birmingham's abilities, which are supposedly pretty good. Webb's unofficial nickname at Halas Hall is 'What's His Name.'

"I'd never heard of him," Bears backup quarterback Caleb Hanie said. "Didn't they bring him in as a receiver or an athlete? I only know that because we looked him up yesterday, because we didn't know who he was."

Hanie's right. Webb was a quarterback in college and then switched to receiver for the Senior Bowl and was drafted as a receiver in the sixth round this year.

But he got switched back to quarterback during the end of minicamp sessions and has toiled in anonymity ever since. He makes Hanie look like Jay Cutler in terms of name recognition.

I asked Cutler about the dangers of starting a rookie against this Bears defense.

"They've got a rookie starting?" he said.

Possibly, I replied.

"Possibly," he said. "We'll see. I wouldn't be surprised if Brett was out there."

That's probably not going to happen, unless this is an Oscar-worthy performance by Favre this week. ESPN's NFC North reporter Kevin Seifert reported that Favre seems at peace with the end of his career. Continued numbness in his hand Thursday makes it "foolish" to think he can play Monday.

With Tavaris Jackson placed on injured reserve after hurting his foot last week, and Favre coming off his first missed start in 18 years, the Vikings had to sign Ramsey off the street as a backup. Ramsey hasn't started a game since 2005 and has been out of the league since 2008, so he's got to some catching up to do to get back to his old form, and considering he wasn't very good to begin with ... Any way you slice it, the Bears are getting another break in a season full of fortune.

The timing is impeccable, as well.

Cutler We've had a few first-time starters go against this defense. It's tough. They're flying around that cover-2 and they play it very, very well.

-- Jay Cutler, on the Vikes' Joe Webb

A Packers loss coupled with a Bears win this weekend clinches the NFC North for Chicago. And it's looking good, on paper at least.

Green Bay is playing at New England with Aaron Rodgers concussed and Matt Flynn generally ineffective. Meanwhile Webb or Ramsey will start against a strong defense eager to make up for an ugly performance last week against Tom Brady in bad conditions.

You can't fault the Bears for benefitting from others' misfortune, but you have to wonder if Mike McCaskey planted a four-leaf clover field at Halas Hall. From the Calvin Johnson call in the opener to the flag-fest against Green Bay to the Packers losing last week to Detroit, the Bears have gotten the breaks a playoff team often gets.

For the third time this season, the highly ranked Bears defense will get to manhandle a backup quarterback. If the league really wants to go to 18 games, Jamie Foxx really might have to suit up for some team.

The Bears shut out third-stringer Tyler Thigpen in Miami and limited fellow third QB Drew Stanton in Detroit. And don't forget them terrorizing rookie Jimmy Clausen in Carolina.

Webb doesn't have much in the way of NFL experience. He went 2-for-5 Monday for eight yards in a 21-3 loss to the New York Giants in Detroit, also picking up a 16-yard run. I guess the Bears turned the channel on that one. And oh yeah, he has a hamstring injury.

While some people are reportedly high on Webb's potential, I expect him to be downgraded from "nervous" to "plagued by nightmares" of Julius Peppers by halftime. If Adrian Peterson -- who sat out practice Thursday -- gets bottled up again by the Bears defense (he had 51 yards on 17 carries in the Bears' 27-13 win earlier this season), this could be another shutout in the works.

"You've seen it. We've had a few first-time starters go against this defense," Cutler said. "It's tough. They're flying around that cover-2 and they play it very, very well."

Still, Tillman resisted any urge to trash talk about Webb or Ramsey, making me wonder where Lance Briggs was.

"As a rookie, I think you like the challenge," he said of Webb. "If he's a competitor, if he likes to compete, I'm sure he does, I'm sure he's licking his chops like 'I really want the Chicago Bears defense.'"

Right.

The only thing the Bears were really talking about Thursday was their uncertainty about playing at TCF Bank Stadium in lieu of the Metrodome. Through Twitter and interviews, the Bears have made no bones about hinting at the NFL's supposed hypocrisy with the way the league has handed out fines for dangerous play, while allowing both teams to possibly play on a frozen field with no heating coils.

The bone-chilling weather Monday night might be the only thing working against the Bears and their march to the playoffs. Chicago is a team built on speed on both sides of the ball and a dome would be welcoming, no matter where it's at.

But just when you thought the Vikings got a break, a fateful piece of news came out: No alcohol will be sold at the college stadium.

No drunk, rowdy fans. No Metrodome headache. No way the Bears lose the game. To paraphrase Jack Webb, those are just the facts.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.