December 18, 2017

The Long View: Bush and Hawk Get Cut

The Green Bay Packers cut linebacker A.J. Hawk on Wednesday, the same day the Detroit Lions said goodbye to running back Reggie Bush. If this is the end for them it’s fitting that they go out together because they came into the league together, burdened with huge expectations.

Did they meet them?

Bush, a Heisman trophy winner at Southern Cal, was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. Hawk went to the Packers three picks later, fifth overall.

When a player is picked in the first round they’re expected to be a Pro Bowler. When they’re taken in the top five the hope, and the hype, is that they’ll end up in the Hall of Fame. Bush and Hawk have zero Pro Bowls between them and neither will make the Hall of Fame.

But are they busts?

Bush, who has been a hybrid in the NFL playing running back, receiver and returning kicks, accumulated 1,326 all-purpose yards and nine total touchdowns his rookie year and helped the Saints reach the NFC title game for the first time in franchise history (they lost to the Bears.)

Bush, despite battling injuries, contributed more than 1,000 yards in total offense in each of the next two seasons for the Saints (including three punt return TDs in 2008) and was a vital contributor in 2009 when the Saints advanced to their first and only Super Bowl, pulling off a huge upset of the Indianapolis Colts.

In 2011 Bush went to the Miami Dolphins and did something many thought he could not, rush for a thousand yards, 1,086 to be exact while also catching 43 passes for 296 yards and seven total touchdowns, numbers that he almost duplicated the next season in Miami.

Bush’s first year with Detroit in 2013 was the best of his career, statistically, with 1,512 yards from scrimmage and seven scores. This past season Bush appeared in just 11 games for Detroit with 550 total yards.

On draft day nine years ago if you had a crystal ball and saw that Reggie Bush would never win a rushing title, never make a Pro Bowl and play for three different teams you might have said he was going to be a disappointment.

But what if you looked into that very same mystical forecaster and saw that Bush would last nine seasons in a league when most players (especially small running backs) don’t last half that? And what if you were also told Bush would help a moribund franchise play in two conference title games and win one Super Bowl?

A.J. Hawk joined the Packers in 2006 and started all 16 games with 82 tackles, a number that he would never reach again.

But there are other numbers. Aaron James Hawk appeared in every game his rookie year and would do that again every year of his career except 2011 when he missed a grand total of two games.

Hawk was a starting linebacker in 136 of the 142 regular season games the Packers have played since 2006. He never had fewer than 53 tackles in a season, compiled nine career regular season interceptions and 19 sacks.

With Hawk, the Packers had the league’s second best defense in 2009 and fifth best in 2010, the year Hawk helped Green Bay win a Super Bowl, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Let’s jump in the wayback machine and break out that crystal ball again. No Pro Bowls for Hawk, never led the league in tackles, didn’t create a lot of turnovers…but nine years as a starter means something. It means a lot of things.

If you’re still not impressed with Hawk or Bush we understand.   If you’ve read this far you’re obviously the demanding type and we respect that.

So let’s see how Reggie Bush and A.J. Hawk measure up with other first rounders from 2006.

The first overall pick that year was defensive end Mario Williams who went to the Houston Texans. Williams played in two Pro Bowls for the Texans and two more since joining Buffalo in 2012 including the last two seasons and appears to still be going strong.

The third overall pick was quarterback Vince Young who went to the Titans. He was the offensive rookie of the year and appeared in two Pro Bowls. But his career came to an end with the Eagles in 2011.

Offensive Tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson went fourth overall to the Jets. He has made three Pro Bowls and is still going. Other future Pro Bowlers in the 2006 first round were Vernon Davis, Jay Cutler, Haloti Ngata, Chad Greenway, Antonio Cromartie, Tamba Hali, Davin Joseph, Jonathan Joseph, DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Williams, Nick Mangold and Joseph Addai.

They all made at least one Pro Bowl but we confess there are a few in that group we’ve never heard of. And more importantly, perhaps, which one of those would you have rather had than Hawk or Bush? Ngata and Mangold almost certainly. The others spark a good debate.

The last player taken in the first round of 2006 was defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka who went to the Giants. Like Bush and Hawk, Kiwanuka was released this week. And like Bush and Hawk, Kiwanuka has a Super Bowl ring. Two of them.

Bush and Hawk might have a kindred spirit in Keith Van Horne, the All-American offensive lineman from Southern Cal who was taken by the Chicago Bears with the 11th overall pick in 1981. Chicagoans expected Van Horne to be a stud, a killer, an All-Pro, a legend.

He wasn’t. He was, however, a very solid football player, starting 169 games from 1981 until 1993. The Bears had great teams with Van Horne, making the playoffs seven times and winning one Super Bowl. There may have been other right tackles the Bears could have plugged in and had the same success. But the point is they didn’t need to look for another tackle because they had a good one.

Van Horne, Bush and Hawk are on the football’s Mount Rushmore of “take the long view.” All first round picks are expected to be great. Everyone wants a Lawrence Taylor, Peyton Manning, Patrick Peterson or J.J. Watt. But just because a first rounder doesn’t become a star doesn’t mean he was a bad pick. We all want winners, we all want stars and we all want it now. But patience can pay off. Availability, durability and determination cannot be measured at the combine.

Or maybe they can be and that’s really why Reggie Bush and A.J. Hawk were taken so high, and lasted so long.

The future…what can you do with it?

 

Saints 31, Bears 15: The Unholy Season

December 15, 2014

Saints 31, Bears 15: The Unholy Season

The Chicago Bears handed out aprons to the first 40,000 loyal souls who walked into Soldier Field on Monday night and they were quickly put to good use catching tears and other fluids flying around a frustrated stadium as the Bears were damned by the New Orleans Saints, 31-15 in another nationally televised kick in the crotch.

It started ugly, stayed ugly and ended ugly, emblematic of an intolerable season that now has the Bears at 5-9 and questioning their choices, their path, their pride and their religion.

The Bears took the opening kick and committed a penalty. Their first play from scrimmage was a two-yard run, followed by an incomplete pass and then a Jay Cutler interception, the first of what would eventually be three on this cold, rainy night that made even Santa Claus a doubter.

The Bears did manage to get the ball back two plays later by forcing a fumble but refused to take advantage of this rare bit of good fortune and instead responded with a weak five-play drive that included a curious incomplete Cutler deep pass on 3rd and 1 and, well, we were really glad we had those aprons.

The Saints, an NFC South powerhouse at 6-8, are not very good either and, like the Bears, couldn’t do much early on as the first quarter of this contest looked less like an NFL game than a shoving match between a bunch of fat guys in a yard full of reindeer droppings.

Alas, New Orleans’ badness was not as bad as Chicago’s and Drew Brees and his fleur de leaf helmeted pals put up 14 points in the second quarter to lead 14-0 at halftime and if it hadn’t been for a spectacular fireworks show, and those awesome aprons, probably many more fans would have left an already sorry crowd that had about 11,000 no-shows at kickoff.

There were actually a lot of Saints fans in Chicago for this game, which proves that people will follow football anywhere, even if it’s bad December football.

The Bears were outgained 443-278 on the night and those numbers would have been far, far worse if it wasn’t for a couple of Bears touchdowns on garbage-time drives in the fourth quarter by which time our hot chocolate was cold, our aprons were soiled and our souls, in tatters since the Green Bay game five weeks ago, were in need of serious spiritual reconstruction if not an outright exorcism.

The Saints committed three penalties for 25 yards. The Bears were flagged nine times for 74 yards.

The Bears turned the ball over three times, the Saints just once.

Drew Brees averaged nine yards per pass attempt; Jay Cutler averaged four.

Brees was sacked twice by the Bears; Cutler bit the turf seven times.

Thank God for those aprons.

The Bears have dropped three straight games giving up an average of 35 points per game and, for the season, are surrendering an average of 29 points per contest, worst in the NFL.

Chicago’s offense through 14 games is scoring at a pace of 21.6 points per contest, 19th best. This, from a team that was expected to have the best offense Chicago has ever seen. The Bears have seen a lot of great offense this year, wearing the other jerseys.

When it was all (officially) over on Monday night we the few, the proud, the cold, the downtrodden, trudged out of Soldier Field into the dark, misty, wintry air and perhaps the most troubling thing was that no one seemed surprised, or even disappointed. Those reactions were all used up against the Panthers, Patriots, Packers and Lions.

At this point, Bears fans are just tired, with no one even heard firing back at the “Who Dat?” chants from New Orleans fans echoing into the cold December night.

Instead, we clutched our aprons and checked our phones for the Bulls score.

They lost, too.

Seahawks 23, Saints 15

The first game of the divisional playoffs had the New Orleans Saints hitting the road again to play at Seattle.  The Saints were coming off a 26-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seahawks were coming off a bye week.  Heavy rain and heavy winds were expected throughout this game as Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka sent the opening kick through the end zone.  The Saints ran three plays and gained a total of four yards.  Punter Thomas Morestead sent a wounded duck off the side of his foot that only went 16 yards and the Seahawks took over at the New Orleans 40-yard line.

Two plays netted negative one yard and on third and 11, quarterback Russell Wilson tossed one up the left side for wide receiver Percy Harvin.  The pass was incomplete, but Harvin got nailed by safety Rafael Bush and that resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty and a first down at the 27.  They got as far as the 20 and were forced to try a field goal. Hauschka came on and his 38-yard attempt was good.  That put Seattle up 3-0 with 10:19 to go in the first quarter.

Another kickoff through the end zone put the Saints at their 20 again.  Running back Mark Ingram got the drive off to a good start as he gained 18 yards on two carries.  Quarterback Drew Brees completed a 13-yard pass to running back Khiry Robinson and the Saints were in Seattle territory.  Ingram ran up the left side for 12 more yards and was pushed out of bounds.  On his way back to the huddle, he let anyone with earshot know how great he was.  Nice run, Mark.  Now get back to the huddle.  Gaining 12 yards won’t get you into the Hall of Fame.  The Saints got as far as the 27 and the drive stalled there.  Kicker Shayne Graham fresh off a good game last week came on for a 45-yard field goal attempt and it was wide left.  With five minutes to go in the first quarter, the score was still 3-0.

Some good runs by running back Marshawn Lynch and a 13-yard pass to Golden Tate had the Seahawks heading into New Orleans territory again.  On first down from the New Orleans 46, Wilson completed a pass to Lynch for a gain of seven.  Running back Robert Turbin got the call on the next play and got five yards and a first down at the 31.  They would go no farther than that.  Hauschka made his 49-yard field goal attempt and the Seahawks led 6-0 with 37 seconds to go in the first quarter.

On second and six from the 24, Ingram ran up the middle and the ball was knocked loose and recovered by defensive end Michael Bennett.  That set the Seahawks up at the New Orleans 24-yard line.  Harvin ran a reverse up the right side for nine yards on first down and Lynch finished off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run right up the middle.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were up 13-0 with 14:17 to go in the second quarter.

The next three possessions all resulted in punts.  But with six minutes to go in the first half, the Seahawks got the ball back at their 29.  Two runs by Lynch totaled 19 yards and a short scramble by Wilson and a 16-yard pass to Harvin moved the Seahawks down to the New Orleans 35.  Lynch got the call again and gained three yards.  But a holding penalty moved them back to the 40.  No problem.  Wilson completed a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for a first down at the 15.  But once again the Saints defense stiffened and the drive stalled at the eight-yard line.  Hauschka was inserted into the game again and he made his 26-yard field goal attempt.  The half ended with the Seahawks up 16-0.

The second half started and it looked like the sun was about to come out.  Things were looking a little brighter in Seattle for a few minutes.  That didn’t last long and the sun was quickly covered up by more dark clouds.  Then it started to rain again.  There were lots of punts in the third quarter and neither team seemed to be able to get the ball rolling.  With 6:22 to go in the third quarter, the Saints got the ball back at their 39 and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Seahawks got them a first down in Seattle territory.  They got down to the Seattle 44 and on fourth and three, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton decided to go for it.  Brees felt pressure from his left and he ran to his right.  Wide receiver Lance Moore was open across the middle, but the throw was off target and the Seahawks took over at their 43.  They went nowhere and punter Jon Ryan got off a short punt that went just 26 yards and was downed at the New Orleans 26.

With just a little over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Saints knew they had to get their offense moving.  A six-yard pass to wide receiver Marques Colston and a six-yard run by Ingram got them a first down at the 38.  Brees then found tight end Josh Hill down the middle for a gain of 23 and a first down at the Seattle 39.  They were moving now and Brees found Colston again for 25 more yards.  A short run by Ingram and a nine-yard pass to Moore made it first and goal from the two.  Two plays later, Robinson found the end zone for a touchdown.  That was followed by Ingram running it in for the two-point conversion.  That made it 16-8 with 13:11 to go in the game.

The ineptness continued for both offenses until the 5:30 mark.  The Saints started at their 28 and a holding call moved them back ten yards.  Then Seattle was flagged for defensive holding.  From the 23, Brees floated one up the left side that surely looked like it would be picked off as there were two Seahawks standing in front of wide receiver Robert Meachem.  Both defenders went up for the pass and the ball bounced off them and landed squarely in the hands of Meachem.  He was dragged down at the Seattle 25-yard line.  A delay of game penalty moved them back five yards and that was followed by three incomplete passes.  Graham came into the game and once again, his kick sailed wide left.  The Seahawks dodged a bullet and remained up 16-8 with 3:51 to go in the game.

The Seahawks took over at their 38 and on third and three from the 45, Wilson put one up the left side for wide receiver Doug Baldwin and he hauled it in for a gain of 24 yards.  The Saints challenged the play, but it was ruled a complete pass and the Seahawks had a first down at the New Orleans 31-yard line.  Saints, do you think Marshawn Lynch might get the ball on the next play?  I bet he does.  Sure enough, Lynch ran up the left side for a 31-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 23-8 with 2:40 remaining.

The Saints started at their 20 and two passes to Colston and one to Moore moved the Saints to the Seattle 40.  Brees found Colston again for 16 yards and running back Darren Sproles caught a short pass for a gain of six.  An illegal substitution penalty on Seattle got them five more yards and a first down at the 13.  On third and ten from the 13, the Saints were flagged for offensive pass interference and that moved them back ten yards.  That made it third and 20 and Brees completed a 14-yard pass to Sproles to set up a fourth and six from the nine.  Brees tossed a pass to the right side that was hauled in by Colston for a touchdown.  Graham made the point after and Seattle led 23-15 with 26 seconds remaining in the game.

The only thing the Saints could do was try an onside kick.  The ball hit wide receiver Golden Tate in the hands, but he couldn’t control it and the ball was recovered by Colston.  The Saints had a shot to tie it up.  Brees completed an eight-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham and then spiked the ball.  From the 49, Brees completed a 13-yard pass to Colston on the right sideline.  Instead of stepping out of bounds, he hesitated and threw the ball across the field to running back Travaris Cadet.  The only problem with that was it wasn’t a lateral.  It was an illegal forward pass and with that penalty comes a ten second runoff.  In other words, the game was over.  The Seahawks hung on to win 23-15.

For the Saints, Drew Brees completed 24 of 43 for 309 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.  Marques Colston led all receivers in receptions with 11 and yards with 144 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Khiry Robinson had the most yards with 57 and a touchdown.  As a team, the Saints rushed for 108 yards on 26 carries.  Defensively, safety Roman Harper led the Saints in solo tackles with five.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson has seen better days as he completed 9 of 18 for just 103 yards.  Losing Percy Harvin to a concussion didn’t help matters and Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with two and yards with 30.  The ground game was where the damage was done.  Marshawn Lynch led the way with 140 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 174 yards on 35 carries.  Defensively, safety Earl Thomas and linebacker Bobby Wagner tied for the lead in solo tackles with seven apiece.

Up next for the Seahawks is a visit from one of their division rivals.  The San Francisco 49ers are coming to town on Sunday at 6:30 eastern time.  When they met in week two, the Seahawks had no problem with the 49ers and came away with a 29-3 win.  But when they met in San Francisco in week 14, the 49ers won 19-17.  That should be quite a battle to determine the NFC champion.

As I concluded this article, I was informed of a family emergency and won’t be able to do recaps of the remaining games today. I hope to have the rest of the articles up tomorrow.

 

Saints 26, Bears 18: Slain By Saint Jimmy (With Help From Saint Drew)

The Chicago Bears had the ball on fourth-and-two from the New Orleans Saints’ 25-yard line trailing 23-10 with 8:25 to play when Jay Cutler threw a short pass to wideout Earl Bennett who caught it for a first down.  Then dropped it.

The Saints took over and, six plays later, had fourth-and-one from their own 47 and were going to go for it but, really, were just trying to draw the Bears offsides.  Shockingly, it worked, as perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs jumped too quickly giving the Saints a fresh set of downs which they used to march down the field, milk the clock, and kick a field goal to make it 26-10 in what would soon be a 26-18 New Orleans victory.

The Bears lost this game, their second straight after a 3-0 start, because of a lot more than just these two plays but it’s much less painful to concentrate on two plays than an entire game and admit to having lost because the fellas on the other sideline have more talent, better coaching and a character out of Greek mythology playing tight end.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham spent much of this sunny afternoon at Chicago’s Soldier Field terrorizing the Bears defense by catching 10 passes from Drew Brees for 135 yards and, after each reception, whispering into the ears of Bears defenders that the tooth fairy was dead.

That’s at least what it looked like on TV.

The Bears did manage to keep Jimmy Monster out of the end zone for the first time this season which is more difficult than keeping Rob (Evil Santa) Ryan away from a plate of hot wings, but Jimmy created quite enough havoc anyway, not the least of which was opening things up for New Orleans’ other receivers including running back Pierre Thomas who caught nine passes, two for TDs, and was officially uninvited from Marc Trestman’s Sunday brunch.

Let’s stop picking on the Bears’ defense, though.  They had a rough enough day already and, truthfully, Mel Tucker’s guys actually played well, if not downright heroically, for much of this contest and managed to keep the Bears in the game when Chicago’s offense looked like it had eaten far too much gumbo.  The first five drives for the Bears when punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt and it looked like the Jacksonville Jaguars had stolen the Bears uniforms.  By the time Jay Cutler and the O got moving the Saints offense had figured things out and it was 20-7 at halftime and a fair-haired child named hope was seen skipping toward the exits extending both middle fingers.

Numbers can be deceiving.  If you’re not convinced just consider that Justin Bieber has more Twitter followers than Twitter itself.  Cutler ended up throwing for 358 yards, which was 70 more than Brees, for two touchdowns, the same as Brees.  And despite the size, speed and chipmunk-chewing relentlessness of Jimmy Graham, the true receiving star in this contest was Bears wideout Alshon Jeffrey who hauled in ten passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.

Jeffrey’s yardage was a record-setter, launching him past Johnny Morris who had a 201-yard day for the Bears back in 1962.  How many other NFL teams have any receiving record holders from fifty years ago?  And Morris still holds the Bears’ all-time career receiving mark of 5,059 yards.  Saints receivers get 5,059 yards just by showing up.

So, the Bears are now 3-2, 0-2 against winning teams and, frankly, probably feeling a little bit bad about themselves.

But there is a bright side.  Maybe a couple.  First off, next on the schedule is a Thursday night affair at Soldier Field with the 0-5 New York Giants who are so bad that Georgia State feels sorry for them.  After that, the Bears travel to Washington and the only thing keeping the Redskins out of the NFC East cellar is that the Giants have already climbed down there and locked the door.  So, the Bears could be 5-2 before National Nut Day.  Then they have a bye week and then, gulp, a trip to Green Bay.  Being 5-3 midway through isn’t too bad.

Chicago also has other things to grow on.  Everyone knows how valuable wide receiver Brandon Marshall is and in the first few games the Bears’ best offensive weapon was tight end Martellus Bennett and now Jeffrey has shown he’s clearly Chicago’s best #17 since Dave Krieg.  And there’s still Matt Forte.  Weapons, weapons, weapons.  All they have to do is figure out how to keep people blocked so that the arsenal can be unleashed not just for a drive or two but all day long.

Someone said during the 49ers’ rout of the Texans that a team with a 3-2 record has about a 50% chance of making the playoffs.  Those aren’t the numbers the Bears thought they would have at this point, but at least their heads are above water.

That’s good.  Winter is quickly approaching.

Other Football Things:

–The Broncos beat the Cowboys, 51-48, in the type of offensive explosion that the NFL wants to see every week.  But in a game like that, or any game, it should not be allowed that the winning score comes on a chip-shot field goal after letting the clock tick down to its final seconds.  That’s how the game is played but it just doesn’t feel right.  To win you should have to get in the end zone, not kick the ball over it.

–Is it fun or just weird that Chargers-Raiders didn’t start until after Chris Berman went to bed?

–Charles Woodson should play forever.  Charles Woodson might play forever.

–Northwestern lost a thriller to Ohio State in a huge Big Ten showdown.  Nick Saban yawned.

–What exactly is going on with college football uniforms?  It seems each week teams have different logos, shinier helmets and copious amounts of sartorial weirdness.  Notre Dame’s helmets in its victory over Arizona State were almost as ugly as the Sun Devils’, which were really ugly.  Football isn’t pretty but c’mon, son.  –TK

 

They Were Marching…

The New Orleans Saints marched out to Oakland, California to take on the Oakland Raiders.  They were coming off an impressive 31-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons and the Raiders were coming off a humiliating 55-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.  The Raiders won the toss and elected to receive.

With running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson still out, the running chores belonged to fullback Marcel Reece.  Starting at their own 23, the Raiders went to work.  Reece got the game off to a good start with a 17-yard run.  An eight-yard run set up an easy second and two.  On second down, running back Taiwan Jones went up the middle for a gain of three and a first down.  No he didn’t.  Wide receiver Derek Hagan was flagged for an illegal block on the play and that moved them back ten yards.  Quarterback Carson Palmer looked for Hagan on second down and the pass fell incomplete.  A six-yard pass to wide receiver Rod Streater meant the Raiders were forced to punt.  The kick went through the end zone and the Saints would start at their 20.

Quarterback Drew Brees found wide receiver Marques Colston on first down for a gain of 14.  On first down from the 37, running back Mark Ingram got a carry and appeared to be stopped.  Yet he managed to make a second effort and ended up plowing over several Raiders for a gain of 16 yards.  Two plays into the drive and the Saints were already at midfield.  Running back Pierre Thomas also got in on the act and ran up the right side for 14 yards.  On second and ten, Brees found running back Travaris Cadet for a gain of 19 and another first down at the Raider 17.  Another run and a catch by Thomas made it first and goal at the eight.  Two more runs made it third and goal from the one.  On third down, tight end Jimmy Graham basically walked into the end zone, turned around and waited for Brees to find him.  He was WIDE OPEN and there wasn’t a Raider in sight.  Brees spotted him and tossed him the ball.  Graham caught it for the easiest touchdown he’s ever had.  Kicker Garrett Hartley made the point after and the Saints led 7-0 with eight minutes to go in the first quarter.  How you can leave one of the best tight ends in the game wide open is beyond my comprehension.

Guess what the Raiders did next?  They went three and out.  By some miracle, the Saints did the same thing.  The Raiders took over at their 48 and had a shot at tying the game up with good field position.  That wasn’t meant to be.  On second down from the 48, Palmer looked for tight end Brandon Myers and was picked off by safety Malcolm Jenkins.  Not a single Raider could catch him and he returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.  Hartley made the point after and the Saints led 14-0 with four minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders got the ball at their 16 and Reece continued to impress with a nice 14-yard run.  On third and eight from the 32, Palmer found Myers for a nine-yard gain and a first down at the 41.  On third and seven from the 44, rookie wide receiver Juron Criner made a nice grab for 13 yards.  Completions to Hagan and Reece gave them a first down at the Saint 12.  On third and six from the eight, Myers caught a pass on the right side and ended up just short of the first down marker.  Palmer took it up the middle on fourth and inches and that netted a first down at the one.  Reece was stopped for a loss of one on first down and that put offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp into panic mode.  Instead of trying another run play, he called a pass play and Streater was flagged for offensive pass interference.  On second and goal from the 12, Reece caught a pass for a gain of five.  Then, on third and goal, Palmer found Myers in the end zone.  The ball hit him in the hands, bounced up and was picked off by safety Roman Harper.  The Raiders went 87 yards on 16 plays and took nine minutes off the clock.  Yet they ended up with zero points.  Myers was sitting on the bench with a suicidal look on his face.  He has caught just about every pass thrown to him this year and somehow this one escaped him.  It’s nice to know that he’s one of the few players who still gives a damn.

Harper was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty after the interception and the Saints started at their ten.  They got as far as the 31 and were forced to punt.  Starting at their 19, with a little over six minutes to go in the first half, Palmer found Reece on the left side for a gain of 56 yards.  Palmer then looked for wide receiver Denarius Moore in the end zone, but the pass was incomplete.  However, the Saints were flagged for pass interference and that gave the Raiders a first and goal at the one.  Think they’ll run it this time?  I mean it’s only one yard.  Reece should be able to get that with no problem.  On first and goal, Palmer took the snap and dropped back to throw.   He stood in the pocket, ran to his right and threaded ball between two defenders to Myers for a touchdown.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the point after and the Saints now led 14-7 with four minutes to go in the first half.

The Saints were flagged on the kick return and started from their ten.  A run by Ingram, a pass to Colston and another run by Thomas moved the ball to the 43.  On third and four from the 49, Brees found Colston up the right side for a gain of 16 and a first down at the Raider 35.  From the 35, Graham caught a pass across the middle for a gain of seven.  The ball was knocked out by cornerback Joselio Hanson and despite the fact that there were several Raiders in the area, Thomas pounced on it to keep the drive going.  That was a golden opportunity lost by the Raiders.  An intentional grounding penalty on Brees moved them back ten yards.  On third and 13 from the 38, the Raiders brought the blitz.  That left wide receiver Lance Moore matched up with cornerback Michael Huff.  Moore put a double move on Huff and got by him.  I think Huff thought that backup safety Mike Mitchell would be there to bail him out.  Ha! Are you kidding?  Mitchell was nowhere near Moore and way out of position.  Brees launched the ball right down the middle and Moore caught it for an easy 38-yard touchdown.  This caused me to shout several things I can’t repeat at my television.  One of the most elementary rules of football is that you never EVER let a receiver get behind the secondary.  Where was Mitchell when that point was being stressed by his coaches?  I just wonder how in the world he could be a second round pick.  He’s capable of being a big hitter, but he has absolutely no awareness or instincts.  It just shows the lack of talent on the roster at the present time.  Hartley made the point after and the Saints now led 21-7 with under a minute to go in the half.  The disinterested Raiders didn’t even try to move the ball and the half came to an end.

Now it was time for the second half.  Aren’t you excited?  I’m not.  The third quarter is usually when terrible things happen to the Raiders.  This game was no exception.  Cadet took the kickoff two yards deep in the end zone and ran it back to the Raider 27.  On first down, Ingram ran up the left side for a 27-yard touchdown.  Two plays, 100 yards, no problem.  Hartley made the point after and with 14:43 to go in the third quarter, the Saints had a commanding 28-7 lead.

The Raiders managed to get a 40-yard field goal on their next drive to make it 28-10.  The teams traded punts and with six minutes to go in the third quarter, the Saints got the ball back at their 42.  They decided to give their ground game a try and runs by Ingram, Thomas and Chris Ivory got them marching into Raider territory.  On second and ten from the 15, Moore caught his second touchdown pass of the day to increase the lead to 34-10.  Hartley made the point after and it was now 35-10 with three and a half minutes to go in the third quarter.

The deflated Raiders took the field again at their 20.  Some more good running by Reece and a completion to Moore had the Raiders in Saint territory again.  On third and eight from the 47, Criner caught a pass for a gain of seven.  That made it fourth and one at the 40.  Reece was stopped for no gain and the Saints took over.  They added a field goal and later in the game, Palmer found Criner for a three-yard  touchdown to make it 38-17.  That’s how it would end.  The win improved the Saints to five and five and the Raiders fell to three and seven.  In this awful three-game losing streak, the Raiders have been outscored 135-69.  That sounds more like a lopsided basketball game.

For the Saints, Drew Brees completed 20 of 27 for 219 yards and three touchdowns.  He was not picked off and the Raider defense didn’t register a sack.  Brees spread the ball around to eight different receivers and Marques Colston led them with four catches for 69 yards.  Three different running backs carried the ball for the Saints and Mark Ingram led the team with 67 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled, the Saints racked up 153 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, Roman Harper led the Saints with nine solo tackles, one tackle for a loss and an interception.

For the Raiders, Carson Palmer completed 22 of 40 for 312 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  Marcel Reece and Darrius Heyward-Bey led the team with four receptions apiece.  Reece had the most receiving yards with 90.  He also had a good day on the ground with 103 yards on 19 carries.  All totaled, the Raiders finished the game with 120 yards rushing on 26 carries.  Mike Mitchell led the team with seven solo tackles.

One of the few bright spots besides how well Reece played was that the Raiders were only flagged four times for 40 yards.  The Saints were flagged 11 times for 109 yards.  Other than that, this game was a disaster.  Oh, the Raiders had their chances.  IF Myers had caught that pass in the end zone, the game may have been different.  IF a Raider would have recovered that fumble by Graham, the game may have been different.  But the things that MIGHT have happened DIDN’T happen.  Simply put, the Raider defense found themselves out of position throughout the game, applied little pressure to the quarterback and couldn’t stop the run.  This has been a recurring theme throughout the year and I don’t think we’ll see any improvement.

As I look at the schedule for the remaining games, the Raiders play at Cincinnati next week.  Then they have three consecutive home games against Cleveland, Denver and Kansas City.  They finish the year on the road at Carolina and San Diego. Theoretically, who can they beat? Cleveland? Kansas City?  Who knows?  The more they lose, the more uninterested they look.  It’s possible they could end the year with a 3-13 record.  That would likely mean picking in the top five.  That will be a nice start to fill all the needs this team has.  But, I cannot predict the future.  I can only watch and hope that they can put together a few wins to salvage this disastrous season.  Anyway, I hope everyone out there has a good Thanksgiving!  Take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

Roger’s Hammer and Fighting For Football’s Future

Standing atop a $9 billion hill of blood and bones, Roger Goodell looks into the distance and sees the end of football.

And it’s terrifying.

The NFL Commissioner took swift, harsh and shocking action on Wednesday by suspending New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season, GM Mickey Loomis for half the season and yanking former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from the NFL indefinitely, perhaps permanently, as well as doling out other penalties with more likely to come because the Saints not only defied the NFL’s new world order, they spit in its face.

The Saints are getting smacked down so historically and mercilessly because the league alleges (with apparently undeniable evidence) that New Orleans broke the rule against “bounties” on opposing players, a program which the league says included the Saints giving payments for “knock-outs” and “cart-offs,” plays on which an opposing player was forced to leave the game.  At times, the bounties even targeted specific players during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons which have been New Orleans’ glory years, featuring three straight playoff teams and their one and only Super Bowl title.

Bounties have always been a part of football but the game is changing.  Only those who adapt will survive and cavemen like the Saints will be left on the frozen tundra of yesterday.

The NFL was built on violence and fans love it.  Watching a guy get crushed is a lot of fun.  But players are so big and so fast now and so many of them are suffering concussions and losing their memory at a young age and dying young often from suicide due to the effects of head injuries, that the NFL can no longer afford to be the game of Dick Butkus and Ray Lewis.  Instead, the league is trying to transform football into something like a very rugged two-hand touch.

It might just be what has to happen.

Football has always been dangerous.  In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to abolish the game as 18 college players were killed that season alone.  Football is certainly safer now because of better equipment, stricter rules and more swift and sophisticated medical response but the game, as unbelievably lucrative and successful as it is, could truly be in danger.  Many youth football programs across the country have been disbanded because of lawsuits and liability concerns and who can blame any parent for saying they don’t want their son to play football?  If your kid was a great athlete wouldn’t you encourage him to try baseball, basketball, (hockey?) or golf instead?

If more youth programs disappear the college game will suffer and then, soon after, so will the quality of the NFL which already has legions of former players who limp, mumble and die young.  What happens to the NFL when a player is killed or left a quadriplegic during a game and the league is then sued by the player, his family or fans?  Nothing.  But what happens when those groups urge others to tune out and boycott advertisers on ESPN, NBC, CBS and other NFL media outlets?

It could never happen, right?  The NFL is too big to fail, right?  The average price for a ticket to an NFL game is more than $250.  The league is not for beer-drinking, blue-collar guys.  It’s for those with deep pockets.  And while most fans would rather watch at home anyway, what will happen to a league – any league – that creates a generation in which the vast majority of fans never see a game in person?  The love for the game becomes tenuous.  The loyalty will lessen.

Roger Goodell can’t change all of this, and probably won’t attempt to, but he does know that his game faces a possible future of having a fan base comprised almost exclusively of the wealthy and the fanatic which are fun groups to party with but the NFL has become a cultural and economic juggernaut because it appeals to everyone.  Making football safer won’t drive down ticket prices but it will go a long way toward keeping it a game that most of us will still want to watch even if few of us play.

This is what Roger Goodell can see while standing atop a huddle of one-hundred-dollar bills.  This is why he has gone punitive on Mr. Payton and the Saints.  Injuries will always happen in football but if they happen deliberately through the actions of a player who was given financial incentive to do so then that’s something the public en masse, the media, and the courts just won’t stand behind.

It nearly seems impossible to think that the NFL could one day go out of business or even get downsized.  But Roger Goodell  is considering the impossible very seriously.  He sees cracks in the walls of the golden castle.  He sees sweat, blood and downfall leaking through them.

 

 

Saints 45, Lions 28

Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz had to be feeling good about his team early in this game.  The Lions got the ball first and marched right down the field to take an early 7-0 lead as quarterback Matthew Stafford found tight end Will Heller for a ten-yard touchdown.  The defense also forced two fumbles in the first half.  When you’re playing the Saints, you have to capitalize on the opportunities that are given to you.  Unfortunately for the Lions, they couldn’t capitalize on those turnovers.

After a two-yard touchdown run by running back Darren Sproles tied the game at seven, the Lions came back with a 14-play, 87-yard drive that was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Calvin Johnson.  The score remained 14-7 until the Saints took over at their own 16 and moved the ball to the Detroit six-yard line.  The drive stalled there and kicker John Kasay made a 24-yard field goal to make the score 14-10 in favor of the Lions at halftime.

The Saints got the second half off to a fast start when quarterback Drew Brees tossed a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devery Henderson and a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham to put the Saints on top 24-14.  The Lions still had some fight in them as Stafford took his team on another 80-yard drive and capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to make it 24-21 at the end of the third quarter.

However, the fourth quarter belonged to the Saints.  They picked Stafford off twice and outscored the Lions 21-7 with a 17-yard touchdown run by Sproles, a 56-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Robert Meachem and a one-yard touchdown run by running back Pierre Thomas.  Calvin Johnson did manage to catch a 12-yard touchdown pass late in the game, but it was too little and too late to mount a comeback.

For the Lions, Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 43 for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.  He spread the ball around to seven different receivers and Calvin Johnson led the team with 12 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns.  The Lions finished the game with just 32 yards rushing as a team.  Kevin Smith led the team with 21 yards on six carries.  Linebacker Stephen Tulloch led the Lions with eight solo tackles, two passes defensed and one tackle for a loss.

For the Saints, they were never forced to punt and Drew Brees had another outstanding game as he completed 33 of 43 for 466 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  He spread the ball around to eight different receivers with Marques Colston leading the team with seven catches for 120 yards.  The Saints rushed for 167 yards as a team.  Pierre Thomas led the team in rushing yards with 66 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.  Cornerback Tracy Porter led the team with seven solo tackles.  The Saints had possession of the ball for 37 minutes, ran 81 plays and racked up a total of 626 total yards.

The next game for the Saints is next Saturday at 4:30 P.M. Eastern time against the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers.  The 49ers pride themselves on having the number one run defense and the Saints won’t have the comfort of their dome to protect them from the temperamental  Bay Area weather.  It will definitely be a game worth watching.

They’re Pistols

Thirty-two years after his final game and more than two decades after his death, Pete Maravich remains a unique and divisive figure in the history of American sports.  Maravich was perhaps the most entertaining basketball player of his time and certainly the most watchable college basketball player of all time.  In three seasons at LSU (1968-1970), Maravich averaged 44.2 points per game and, with his colorful socks and mop of hair, looked like the lovechild of Pete Seeger and Elgin Baylor.

Maravich was born in Pennsylvania but his blood was Cajun as he played college ball in Louisiana and then, after spending his first four NBA seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, moved to the New Orleans Jazz for whom he would play five seasons including his most spectacular.  Maravich was flashy, brilliant, confounding, frustrating and, deservedly, a Hall of Famer and it’s painful and supremely unjust that he died so young, of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, in 1988 at the age of 40.

Much of what makes Maravich such a debate starter is his style of play and philosophy toward basketball.  He scored a lot, yes, but wasn’t so keen on trying to stop the other guy from scoring.  Maravich said he never understood his defensive detractors noting that when he would look at the box score at the end of the game and he had scored 40 points and the guy who was guarding him had scored only 20 “isn’t that defense?”

Maravich’s blood, hubris and plan of attack is alive and well in the state of Louisiana and has long since captured the hearts and minds of the New Orleans Saints.  The Saints are football’s merry band of Pistol Petes adorned not with sloppy socks but a regal fleur-de-lis.  And while Sean Payton’s apostles don’t shoot jump shots they do run a fast break offense that scoffs at ball control and clock management and lives by the belief that footballs were created for the one and only purpose of being moved past the goal line.

The Saints unapologetically pistol-whipped the Detroit Lions, 45-28, on Saturday night in New Orleans in their NFC wild card game, rolling up an NFL playoff record 626 yards of offense.  Quarterback Drew Brees, as always, was the point guard of this pigskin blitzkrieg completing 33 of 43 passes for a Maravichian 466 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a whole lotta funk and fun.

The Saints are to offense what Picasso was to nudity.  They make the practice of moving the football a transcendent, Avant-guard affair in which shock is common, yardage is sacred and points are more valuable than time.  Whether it’s through the air or on the ground, New Orleans never concedes that another touchdown cannot be compiled and only turns off the guns when the game is safely in hand as it was tonight when the Saints, graciously, took a knee at the end rather than punk those Lions with a 52-spot.

It seems as if nothing can stop the Saints as long as…they’re playing inside.  Especially on their home carpet.  The Saints are now 9-0 at home this season, averaging 41.5 points per game and, in their last three home games, including the playoff victory over Detroit, have scored exactly 45, 45 and 45.  But on the road the Saints turn from Pete Maravich into merely George Gervin, putting up 27.2 points per game.  It seems the only thing that might be able to slow down Brees, Payton, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Robert Meachem and the rest of the French Quarter is an act of God.  The Saints are sinfully offensive but can they score in the cold?  The rain?  The wind?  San Francisco?

New Orleans now has a date in San Francisco with the 49ers who sport the NFC’s top defense, allowing just 308 yards per game which is what Drew Brees can usually rack up with a sneeze.  The weather forecast for San Francisco next Saturday is sunny and 60 degrees so maybe the indoor Saints won’t turn blasphemous in such conditions.  If the weather holds, the Saints will roll and will almost certainly find themselves in Green Bay a week later for an NFC Championship game tussle with the Packers which will be a rematch of the NFL’s opening night thriller.  The Packers won that one, 42-34 at Lambeau Field on a warm September night.  The average high temperature in Green Bay is 24 degrees in January which is a field goal below New Orleans’ road game points average.

Pete Maravich was unstoppable but he never had to play at Lambeau in January.  If the Saints can get past the Niners then brave the elements and beat the Packers (assuming, of course, Green Bay makes it that far) it will be a religious experience and a remarkable triumph.  It can happen so long as the Saints think warm thoughts and keep on chuckin’.

…As the Saints continue their playoff march they are accompanied in their home state by the quest of Pistol Pete’s alma mater to claim college football’s national title.  LSU hosts Alabama at the home of the Saints, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, in the BCS Championship game on Monday night.  With a victory, the Tigers will claim their third national championship since 2003 and Louisiana will be to football success what California is to fake body parts.

Is there something in the water?  In Walker Percy’s 1987 novel The Thanatos Syndrome, a heavy supply of sodium is added to the drinking water and LSU’s football team goes unbeaten for three years.  No mention was made of the Saints, though.  Back in the 1980s, the Saints had a good defense but were nothing like the offensive juggernaut they are today.  Back then, a team averaging 41 points per Sunday in New Orleans was something that not even science fiction dared to play with.

The truth has turned out to be more fantastic than fiction.

 

Grisly

New Orleans is known for its elaborate jazz funerals in which mourners proceed on a long march in step with sorrowful dirges as they say goodbye to their beloved deceased.  But then, it changes.  Once the final ceremony has ended, the music becomes upbeat and raucous as the volume goes to 11.  Family and friends dance and march, no longer in lament for the life lost but in celebration of the life lived.

Jay Cutler has been to his own funeral.  It was Sunday in the Superdome and while it was mostly a somber affair, it actually ended with jubilation, even for the Bears, because they can celebrate that Cutler is actually, miraculously, still alive.

The Chicago Bears, one week after a promising start with a plucking of the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field, lost all religion in week two, suffering a 30-13 desecration at the hands of the New Orleans Saints–a collection of misanthropic misnomers who apparently think the Sabbath Day is actually an opportunity to practice the dark arts rather than a day of rest and love.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was the primary recipient of all the voodoo that the Saints do so well, getting sacked six times, kicked in the throat and permitted only a plastic spoon for his postgame gumbo.  Cutler is tough and anyone (including Maurice Jones-Drew) who thinks differently is either a fool or a faux football fan.  But while toughness is a prerequisite for football success, so are intelligence, adaptability and eyes that both open and function. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz was lacking in all such areas on Sunday.  The Bears attempted 52 times to throw the ball while running only 12.  I know this isn’t 1961 and I’m not suggesting the pass/run ratio should be reversed but this also isn’t a slaughterhouse, or at least it’s not supposed to be.  Cutler had no chance, Chicago’s offensive line had no chance and so the Bears had no chance.  The result was Cutler looking like a man carrying the last bit of tofu in a jungle of starving, angry vegans.

It didn’t have to be this way.  We in Chicago recall, fondly, Matt Forte’s second carry of the game going for 42 yards.  And yes, we know that Mr. Forte’s next carry, on the very next play, went for negative four yards…but don’t you think he was a little tired?  Whatever the reason, the Bears all but abandoned the run for the rest of the game, choosing instead to constantly drop Cutler back to pass behind a line that couldn’t protect him as he tried to throw to receivers who couldn’t get open.  Bad combo there.

Let’s be fair.  The Bears were without starting receiver Roy Williams and backup running back Marion Barber, lost starting right tackle Gabe Carimi to injury in the second quarter and also played the game without starting right guard Lance Louis. So they couldn’t have been expected to have a stellar day offensively.  But, doesn’t Martz have full access to all these tidbits?  This is the NFL and this is 2011 so you have to throw the ball but with a depleted and, let’s face it, inadequate receiving corps, a suddenly patchwork offensive line and playing in the cacophonous Superdome…(hey, just thought of something, wouldn’t Cacophonous Superdome be a great name for a bad guy in a movie?) wouldn’t the wise, prudent and Cutler-preserving thing to do have been to run the ball more?

Yes, you’re more or less forced to throw the ball when you fall far behind, but the Bears only trailed 16-10 at halftime and held the Saints to a three-and-out to open the second half. Then on Chicago’s first possession, they did nothing but pass the ball.  And actually, it worked, as the Bears marched down and got a field goal, something which seemed to embolden Martz as he stuck with the pass while Cutler counted his teeth.

But let’s be fair, part two.  Cutler was sacked six times in the game but that first sack didn’t happen until the third quarter.  And the other five all came in the fourth when, as previously mentioned, the Bears were trailing big and had to throw.  So was it really Martz’s fault?  Jay Cutler, like any quarterback on Earth, always thinks he can pull out a victory and it’s not insane to adopt the analysis that since the Bears were only down 23-13 to start the fourth that a comeback victory for Chicago was still very much in play.  The problem is, when the fourth quarter started the Saints were amid an eight-minute drive that began in the third, and so by the time the Bears even got the ball in the final quarter it was 30-13. So we revert, once again, to our earlier statement that the Bears at that point, still trying to win the game, had to pass and the Saints had their ears pinned back, guns loaded and brought hell down on Mr. Cutler’s person all quarter long.  The result was those five more sacks and thousands of Bears fans buying Cutler life insurance policies.

There are those who say (probably into their pillow as they’re falling asleep and trying not to wake the wife) that in football the amount of yards you gain by running the ball is of secondary importance to how many times you run it.  In other words: keep running even if you’re going nowhere.  It keeps the defense on its toes, keeps your offensive linemen interested, eats up the clock and keeps your quarterback alive.  The top ten rushing teams in the NFL after two weeks, in terms of number of times they ran the ball, are Houston, Jacksonville, Oakland, Detroit, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, Minnesota and the New York Giants.  Four of those teams – Houston, Detroit, Buffalo and Washington – are 2-0.  (Seriously!) Jacksonville, Oakland, Philadelphia, Cleveland and the Giants are 1-1.  Only the Minnesota Vikings are 0-2.  The ten teams that have run the ball the least amount of times are Tampa Bay (1-1), Seattle (0-2), our beloved Bears (1-1), Arizona (1-1), Tennessee (1-1), Indianapolis (0-2), Atlanta (1-1), St. Louis (0-2), Kansas City (0-2) and…da-da!  – the New England Patriots, who are 2-0.  Memo to all the world’s football beings: You are not the New England Patriots.

The Chiefs and Seahawks have gotten absolutely slob-knockered in their first two outings so they have to throw when they’re behind. Two weeks into a season might not exactly be demonstrative and there are a million things to consider but, especially because I spent so much precious time compiling these statistics, let’s at least be open to the notion that unless you have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick on your side, it might be wise to approach each game with the mindset that you will run the ball at least 35% of the time…or at least throw very effective screens and quick slants.

And I know, it’s all easy to see, and say, from here.

Enough of this offensive analysis.  The Bears defenders, while not the primary culprits, are not blameless, either.  Chicago’s defense is geared to bend, not break, and create turnovers. The Bears didn’t force any turnovers until late in the fourth when, as pointed out by Troy Aikman and Joe Buck on Fox, it actually did more harm than good because it only meant that Cutler was given one more opportunity to be victimized with extreme prejudice.  And while the play that likely determined the game’s outcome more than any other was Cutler’s sack and fumble in the third that led to a Saints score and a 23-13 advantage, the Bears defense has no one but themselves to blame for the 79-yard bomb that Drew Brees connected on with Devery Henderson for the Saints’ first TD in the second quarter.  There was no way the Bears were going to keep the Saints out of the endzone for 60 minutes but giving a potent offense a quick score is bad clams, brothers.  Interesting thing on that play, though.  Usually when a player has the ball tucked away and is sprinting toward the goal line, the pursuing defenders will keep running for several yards and then dive for his ankles, often unsuccessfully.  But on that play, Bears safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte both dove at Henderson almost immediately.  Was this because they both know Henderson is faster than them and figured, quite quickly, that their best chance of nabbing him was right after he caught it?  Or was it just bad tackling?

The Bears now head home for a grudge match with the Green Bay Packers, a team that beat the Bears in the NFC title game last year and then won the Super Bowl, all of this after finishing behind the Bears in the NFC Central.  If the Bears don’t have Carimi, Williams or Barber and don’t adhere to a more balanced offense, the Packers will be picking little pieces of Cutler out of their teeth and cleats and the Bears will be 1-2 and asking to join the Big East.

But let us Chicagoans express optimism, if not meliorism.  Last year the Bears were in a tailspin when Martz agreed to put down the joystick and run the ball more.  The result was that the Bears played their best football of the year.  But even with a balanced, life-affirming offensive game plan, it won’t be easy to beat the 2-0 Packers, a team that still seems to have that Super Bowl mojo workin’ while also having a healthier roster.

The Bears and Packers will be playing for the 183rd time and in a rivalry as storied and testy as this, it’s often said that the records don’t matter.  Maybe not.  But the score does.  The Bears can win but they must stare deep and long into their pigskin souls and realize that first, they must change.