Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Packers (01.02.11)

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The Bears fell to the rival Packers, 10-3, Sunday evening and aside from not being able to keep a good team out of the playoffs, the result was about as good as one could expect.

Sure, I didn’t like to see the Packers and their — unique, to be politically correct — fans celebrate as the final seconds of the game ticked away, but the Bears won’t have to face the Packers again until the conference championship, if at all.

The discussion leading up to yesterday’s game centered around whether Lovie Smith should rest his starters to preserve them for the playoffs or let them play so they don’t get rusty in what would have amounted to a two-week bye. To the surprise of some fans — and even the broadcasters — Smith not only played his starters, but he let them play the whole game. It was a roll of the dice, to be sure, but a gamble that paid off.

There’s an old adage in sports that says, you learn more from losing than you do from winning. That statement is 100% true. Other than knocking the rival Packers out of the playoff race, not much else could have been gained from winning yesterday. But because the Bears lost, it’s a reality check and an ego leveler.

I was on board with Smith playing his starters. In past years, Smith benched his starters in the final week of the season and the team came out rusty in their first playoff game. I didn’t want to see that this year. The Packers needed to win to make the playoffs, which made them a dangerous team. In essence, that made yesterday’s game possess a playoff-like atmosphere and it provided the Bears with a dress rehearsal and valuable experience for their real playoff game in two weeks. Could it have backfired? Sure, an injury to a key player could have soured everything. I cringed during each and every one of the Packers’ six sacks on Jay Cutler, but it was a risk that Smith had to take and he took it.

I had a fear before the game that the Bears would come out lackadaisical without any sense of urgency and that the Packers would roll over them, but that certainly wasn’t the case. In fact, early on it appeared the Bears were headed for victory with a stout defensive effort.

The first quarter was scoreless as the teams traded short drives and punts. Robbie Gould put the first points on the board in the second quarter with a 30-yard field goal and Mason Crosby tied the game for the Packers with a 23-yard chip shot in the third quarter. The Packers scored the lone touchdown on a 1-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Donald Lee early in the fourth quarter that secured the victory.

Cutler completed 21 of 39 passes for just 168 yards and no touchdowns. He threw two interceptions, including one on the final drive of the game that killed the Bears chances at a comeback victory. Interestingly, Johnny Knox was held without a reception, meaning he did not get the yardage necessary to reach 1,000 on the season, which would have made him the first Bears receiver to hit that plateau since Marty Booker did it in 2002. With Earl Bennett out nursing an injury, Rashied Davis got a lot of playing time and he led the team with 63 receiving yards on seven receptions. Matt Forte caught eight passes for 60 yards, Greg Olsen finished with five catches for 29 yards, and Devin Hester added a 16-yard reception.

Although Knox missed his milestone, Forte reached his mark. His 91 rushing yards — on 15 carries — and 60 receiving yards gave him 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards on the season, making him the first Bears player to achieve that since Walter Payton.

The defense did a good job containing a good Packers offense that is ranked 10th in points scored and put up 72 points in the last two games. I thought the pressure they put on Rodgers wasn’t good enough, although they did register two sacks, including one critical one by Tommie Harris on third down of a goal line stand in the third quarter that led to the Packers’ field goal. When facing a good quarterback, though, they’ve got to get better pressure or else they’ll have trouble winning. That’s one thing they’ll have to improve as they head into the playoffs.

Lance Briggs led the defense with nine tackles. Danieal Manning finished with five, D.J. Moore had four tackles and a forced fumble after a Donald Driver reception, and Julius Peppers added four tackles. Chris Harris and Brian Urlacher each recorded five tackles with Urlacher adding a half-sack. Henry Melton had the other half-sack. Charles Tillman had three tackles, a diving interception, and recovered the fumble that Moore created.

One note on the Tillman interception: that is the third diving interception for a third different defensive back this season. Manning had one against the Redskins — if memory serves — Chris Harris notched one against the Vikings and now Tillman has one. It shows great athleticism from the secondary.

The Packers claimed before the game that they had a secret plan for keeping the ball away from Hester on kick and punt returns, but it wasn’t anything new and special. They punted toward the sideline and sometimes out of bounds and then they kicked high, short kickoffs. For the most part, the kicks and punts prevented any big returns, but Manning did have a 28-yard kickoff return that set up the Bears offense at the 50-yard line in the third quarter.

The Bears will now have two weeks to rest up and prepare for their next opponent. They’ll either play the Eagles, if Philadelphia beats the Packers next week, or they’ll face the winner of the Saints-Seahawks game. Out of the three, I’d rather face the Seahawks because they’re the worst of the playoff teams and I’m sure the Bears would love to gain a measure of revenge against them for beating the Bears at Soldier Field before Mike Martz and the Bears offense “figured things out.”

The chances of the Seahawks winning are slim, though, so my second choice would be the Eagles. It’s hard to beat a team twice in one season, but I’d rather see the Eagles for two reasons: one, it would mean that they eliminated the hated Packers, and two, Michael Vick doesn’t scare me — nor does his supporting cast — as much as Drew Brees and the defending champions do.

So, let’s all hope Vick can do to the Packers what he and his Atlanta Falcons did in the 2002 playoffs.

The Bears came out of yesterday’s game healthy and with good “playoff-like” experience. And with the loss, the Bears have game film to watch to see what they need to improve on before the “real” season begins.

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