Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bears try to work toward two seed in final home game


The Bears are almost assured of being either the NFC's two seed or three seed. It's extremely likely that the Eagles will be the Bears' main competition in that race, and it pretty much comes down to this: if the Bears win as many or more games than the Eagles over their final two, they get the bye. If the Eagles win more than the Bears, then the Bears get a home game in the first round. (The Eagles host the Vikings and Cowboys in their last two games.) While it's nice to be the three seed at worst, that bye is still a pretty big carrot hanging out there, and the Bears should be plenty motivated this Sunday and next. That's good, because the Jets have plenty to play for as well.

Rex Ryan's bunch is a tough team to figure out: they've beaten bad teams (Denver, Detroit, Houston and Cleveland) by close margins, and recently they got crushed by the Patriots and lost an ugly 10-6 game to Miami. So just when their bandwagon emptied out, they went to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers.

With the forecast calling for temps in the 20s and snow and two top-five defenses taking the field, it should be a bruising battle at Soldier Field. It was great to see the Bears have success in the cold last week, if for no other reason than they'll be hosting at least one more cold game in the playoffs.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Kick returns. The Bears average 27.0 yards per return, second-best in the NFL, while the Jets hold opponents to the fourth-fewest yards on returns. And watch out for Jets' returner Brad Smith--he averages nearly 30 yards per return and has two TDs.

Blitz pick-up. Any team using a 3-4 defensive scheme--as the Jets do--is going to blitz. But Rex Ryan likes to blitz as much as he likes to f--king swear. We've seen the Bears have trouble with this in the past; Cutler's availability for the playoffs might depend on their ability to do it this Sunday.

Interceptions. Sanchez and Cutler have thrown 12 and 13 picks, respectively, but while the Bears have snagged 19 balls from opposing QBs, the Jets have just seven interceptions all year.


And with that, I'm signing off until 2011. Enjoy the rest of the NFL season and have a happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

After Peterson and Favre get subtracted, Bears add a win and claim division

'Twas five days before Christmas, they were playing outdoors,
But not a Viking was stirring, not even Ol' #4,
Hester and Cutler got the Bears a big win,
And everyone hoped Favre would never be seen again

Merry Christmas to Bears fans! Wow, Santa! I mean, all I expected was maybe a new hat or a video game, but all THIS?!

Let's see what's in my stocking ... whoa, three touchdowns from Jay Cutler? That's nice. That's really nice. Wait, what's this one sort of hidden at the bottom? Wow, five turnovers! This is fantastic!

Okay I wanna open this little one over here under the tree. Oh my gosh. No way. Devin Hester's record-breaking punt return for a touchdown? Santa, you're really gettin' after it this year. Can I open this one over here now? Oh come on. This is too much. Brett Favre decided to play at the last minute but then the Bears f--king steamrolled him and he laid on the turf seemingly lifeless before coming out of possibly his last game ever with a head injury? F--king SWEET, Santa! THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED! It's like you had access to the Christmas list IN MY BRAIN. That image where Favre is apparently comatose on the turf with several Bears peering down at his decrepit body will literally get me through the next 7-8 months of my life. By that I mean anything, literally anything terrible could happen to me but I will still wake up each morning with a huge grin on my face because I will have mental access to that image. That play was a Christmas miracle.

What's that? There's one more present but you have to go get out of the garage cuz it's so big? Oh man, is this going to be what I think it is? Holy crap, IT IS. An NFC North title after just 14 games. I can't believe it. This is ... man, I'm all choked up ... this is the best Christmas EVER. Where did you get this? Back in August, I didn't even think they made these any more! You and baby Jesus really did it up right this year, Santa.

For much of the season, the Bears and Packers jostled back and forth,
But 'twas a Monday night victory gave the Bears the NFC North,
Could it be like '85, could it be like '06?
Might we see a Super Bowl Shuffle remix?
Cutler's playing well, Devin Hester's ridiculous,
In the backfield, Bears defenders are ubiquitous,
The season's not over, for the two seed's still in sight,
But either way the Bears are in the playoffs, so all is right



Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

East Carolina disappointed by selection to new ShittyFootballTeams.com Bowl

Cam Newton on winning the Heisman: "I'd rather have the money"

Jon Gruden finally goes too far, says backup Dan Orlovsky is greatest QB of all time

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wood you believe it?


Just call this contract "For the love of the Cubs." Kerry Wood, aka Kid K, aka the man who had people walking around the North Side wearing shirts reading "We've Got Wood" for 10 years, is set to return to the team that drafted him fourth overall 15 years ago. But the contract isn't the two-year, $12 million he was reportedly seeking. And it's not for $3.5 million, which the White Sox offered him. And it's not a multi-year deal like the two-year, $10 million deal the Yankees offered him. Nope, Wood signed for one year, $1.5 million, just slightly more than the Mets will be paying back-up catcher Ronnie Paulino (that last stat courtesy of Ken Rosenthal).

And they said Cliff Lee left money on the table--Wood took $98.5 million less than him!

But seriously, it'll be great to have Wood back in the fold. He belongs in a Cubs uniform. He's a good clubhouse presence. On the mound, it's hard to know how good he'll be: in 23 games with the Indians in 2010, he had a 6.30 ERA; in 24 games with the Yankees, he had a stellar 0.69 ERA. Wood found himself on the DL twice last season, once with a back strain and once with a blister. But Wood, 33, clearly has the stuff to be a solid set-up man in front of Marmol, and it's basically impossible to disagree with the signing given that he'll be making about three times the league minimum.

Back to the clubhouse presence issue: I realize that championships aren't won in the clubhouse. The key ingredient for any successful team is good players, not good teammates. But there's still value in having a clubhouse full of guys who get along, pull for each other and are willing to take blame when things go wrong. Kerry Wood and Carlos Pena are the anti-Sammy Sosa, the anti-Milton Bradley in this regard, and it will be a nice change of pace.

The Wood signing is a feel good story. I personally didn't want any part of the two-year, $20 million deal he got when he left the Cubs after the 2008 season. So from a financial standpoint, I wasn't upset to see him go. But I was still sad that Wood would no longer be a Cub--it felt like the end of an era. Something feels right about having him back, and it's always nice to see a player take less money to be where he wants to be. It's even nicer to see a player refuse more money from the White Sox in order to play for the Cubs.

Kid K is no kid any more, but no kidding, I'm excited to have him back.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bears' season hinges on game against Vikings

I'm calling it: on Monday night, the Bears will clinch the NFC North title. Not that ballsy of a prediction, but still, I'm calling it.

Of course, for that to be possible, the Packers must lose to the Patriots in their prime time game Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers's status is still up in the air after he suffered his second concussion of the season, but I'm going Patriots either way. Even if Rodgers suits up after an entire week without practice, the Packers will have a tough time keeping up with the Pats in Foxborough. Last time Rodgers played after suffering a concussion, Green Bay lost to the Dolphins and Rodgers had an 84.5 QB rating.

Should New England prevail, the Monday night game will essentially define the Bears' season. A win gives them their first NFC North title since 2006. A loss gives the Bears their first divisional loss and therefore keeps the Packers in the hunt. Oh, man, I am ready for some football.
The Bears will have a couple of significant advantages. First, Minnesota won't have the benefit of a true home game because their f--king roof collapsed, though it will still be played in Minneapolis at nearby University of Minnesota. Second, they may not have the benefit of being able to start a true NFL quarterback because Favre is hurt, Tarvaris Jackson is out for the year, and third-stringer Joe Webb is ... well, to be honest, I have no idea who the hell Joe Webb is (Googling ... he's a rookie out of UAB). It looks like the Bears will be facing a third string quarterback for the third time in five weeks (Tyler Thigpen and Drew Stanton being the others). This is gonna be fantastic.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Focus on Peterson. This was one of my keys when these teams matched up in November, and it came to fruition: Peterson had just 51 yards on 17 carries and the Vikings scored only 13 points. The Giants held him to 1.9 yards per carry on Monday night and held Minnesota to three points. It's a great match-up for the Bears--they have the second-best run defense in the league. Stop Peterson, grab the lead, force the game into Joe Webb's hands, sack him 14 times, intercept him 17 times. That's the plan.

Double team Sidney Rice. Hell, triple team him if you want. The last two weeks, only Rice has surpassed the 30-yard mark in receiving for the Vikings. They got down big early to the Giants and had to throw all day, yet no receiver other than Rice did anything at all. Stop Rice and you pretty much stop the Vikings' air attack.

Bears offensive line vs. Jared Allen. Allen has 9.5 sacks this season and got Cutler twice back in November. If the o-line can keep him from getting pressure, Cutler should have success against this secondary.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2003 Cubs pitching staff making news ... huh?

Apparently Larry Rothschild going from the Cubs to the Yankees was only the beginning of the offseason connections between the two teams.

In case you missed it, the Yankees signed former Cub Mark Prior to a minor league contract on Tuesday. Prior pitched briefly in the Rangers minor league system last year. Now 30, he'll have a chance to battle for a rotation spot in New York. Only Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett are locked into the rotation for now, though Andy Pettitte may return as well.

In other news, Kerry Wood, who ended the 2010 season as a Yankee, remains a free agent and could potentially be on the Cubs' radar. He is reportedly seeking a two-year, $12 million deal.

And lastly, the Yankees are rumored to be interested in Carlos Zambrano now that they've missed out on Cliff Lee. It seems like the stove has been pretty cold when it comes to guys like Fukudome and Zambrano--this is the first I've heard about any legitimate interest in either of them.

**UPDATE**It's more than just casual interest between the Cubs and Kerry Wood: they're close to a deal.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pat Hughes eulogizes Ron Santo

This is 18 minutes long, but definitely consider watching it if you have some extra time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Patriots weather Bears weather, bear down on down Bears

Week 14: Patriots 36, Bears 7


*Title courtesy of Chris Kawakita

Man, losing sucks. I almost forgot how much it sucks. After all, the Bears hadn't lost since October. That is, until they got buried under the avalanche that is the New England Patriots. Good Lord.

What I learned most from that game is that the Patriots have a REALLY good chance of winning the Super Bowl. The last two weeks they played a 9-2 team and a 9-3 team, respectively, and won both by a combined score of 81-10. That sh-t ain't right. You're supposed to have to rely on the running game, field position and clock management to win when there's a f--king blizzard taking place, but the Patriots didn't care. You get the feeling they could play a game at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and put up 35 points.

As far as the Bears are concerned, I'm choosing to forget that game ever happened. Or at least try. That game was like a colonoscopy: fate demanded that it take place, there's nothing we could do about it. But it's over now, and let's not think about it any more. "A colonoscopy? No, I've never had a colonoscopy. I definitely have no idea what that feels like."

Yes, let's focus on the BIG picture, because if that game was the little picture, it was kind of like looking at a picture of a nice old lady getting eaten by a crocodile. But the BIG picture is beautiful, because while the Bears' offense was snowed out on Sunday, the playoff picture cleared up considerably with Green Bay's surprising loss to Detroit. All of a sudden, it's possible the Bears could clinch the NFC North next week. If the Packers lose to these same Patriots on Sunday night and the Bears beat the Vikings Monday night, the Bears will have clinched the division by virtue of the tiebreaker, which is one's record within the division. Even if the Packers win out, the Bears can win the division simply by winning their next two, against Minnesota and the very vulnerable Jets.

It was such a bad day on the field for the Bears, and yet in a way it was a very good day for them overall, as they are now in complete control of the divisional race. Put it this way: for the Packers to win the division, they need to win out and have the Bears lose two of their final three games. Otherwise, we'll be tuning in to the NFL playoffs to watch the NFC North Champion Chicago Bears.

On top of that, Aaron Rodgers suffered his second concussion of the season in that loss to the Lions. Such a serious injury weakens the Packers at the very least; it may end their season.

And now it's time for today's depressing STAT OF THE DAY. Cutler had a chance on Sunday to make it three straight games without an interception, something he's never done in his career. That's right: he's never had a three-game stretch with no picks. And alas, that's still the case. Two picks for Cutler, giving him 10 on the season. That's not terrible, though--his career-low is 14. And that was today's less-than-thrilling STAT OF THE DAY.

'Til next week, when the Bears can potentially redeem themselves for an absolutely atrocious performance against the Patriots. The 33-0 halftime deficit was the worst in franchise history, but they may be able to make that game history if things fall their way in Week 15. Here's hoping that come next Monday night, Brett Favre is as banged up as the Metrodome (but that he still plays, because frankly the Vikings are worse off with Favre than Tarvaris Jackson). Speaking of the Metrodome, news right now is that the game might be played there, but might be played outdoors and nearby University of Minnesota if the dome isn't ready.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hendry inks rare one-year deal to fill first base void


When I heard the Cubs had signed Carlos Pena to a one-year deal to play first base, I joked that the deal was probably still backloaded, and that Pena would get $1 million through August and the other $9 million in September. Turns out Hendry did find a way to backload a one-year deal--Pena will get $5 million next year and $5 million in January of 2012. It goes to show you just how little wiggle room Hendry has with the payroll right now.

While I don't think Pena had any business getting $10 million--he essentially didn't take a pay cut at all despite a near-career low .325 OBP--I love that it's just a one year deal and think that overall Pena will be a good addition to the team. My favorite part of his skill set? His defense. He won the Gold Glove in 2008, and after we've been spoiled by Derrek Lee for the last seven years, it will be very nice to see a minimal downgrade at perhaps the most important position on the field.

Word around the Internets is that Pena is a good clubhouse presence as well, which is always a positive. And while the Cubs have sometimes blown out of proportion their need for left-handed hitters, it will be nice to have a power bat from the left side in the lineup.

Let's get to the down side. This is the best way I can think to say it: Pena hit for a lower average than Cesar Izturis last year. But not just lower ... 34 points lower. I suppose I could have described Pena's struggles by pointing out that he had the lowest batting average among qualified hitters in the AL, but I think the whole Izturis thing provides a little better perspective.

But the thing is, we're budding sabermatricians here, and we don't really care about average, right? Pena's OBP was .325, which isn't good but is actually sort of impressive given his abysmal average. Get this: In each of his four years in Tampa Bay, Pena drew more walks than either Derrek Lee or Aramis Ramirez have ever drawn with the Cubs. So it's not that Pena is insanely impatient; he just really struggled to get hits last year.

But he has two big positives working for him heading into 2011:

1) He battled plantar fascitis in his foot last year, something he says is completely healed now.
2) His BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is generally viewed as a stat that should even out over time, was just .222 last season, easily the lowest of his career. It was .250 in 2009, and at least .284 every other year of his career. Translation: Pena had really bad luck last year.

I don't want it to seem like I'm suggesting Pena is some phenomenal hitter who simply crossed a black cat's path last year. Pena will have a low average in 2011, but he's very likely to have a decent OBP. He's also very likely to put up power numbers; even last year he hit 28 home runs and had 84 RBI, and he had at least 31 home runs and 100 RBI in each of the three seasons prior.

Get ready to be frustrated at times, however: Pena also struck out more times last year than any Cub.

The bottom line: Pena will likely go through some ugly slumps in which he strikes out a lot and struggles to get hits. He will also go on some tears, banging home runs out of Wrigley and drawing walks with his strong sense of the strike zone. And he'll play solid defense at first base. Heading into a season in which the Cubs appear to have little chance of competing for a playoff spot, $10 million seems like an awful lot to spend on a one-year rental. But I think we'll have mostly positive things to say about him when 2011 is through.

By the way, there are now four Carloses on the Cubs' 25-man roster, which has to be some sort of record.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Bears face stiffest test yet against 10-2 Pats

Did you see that Monday night game? Holy sh-t. I guess the good news for the Bears is that the Patriots can't do that two games in a row, right? Right??

Here's more good news: The Patriots are coming off a short week. They're also coming off a game they had undoubtedly been looking forward to ever since Week 2 (when they lost to the Jets). And because of their huge win on Monday, this game now means more for the Bears than the Patriots.

So there's some good news. Here's the bad: The Patriots are really, really good. They've averaged 39.5 points over their last four games. Their defense had been struggling--they've allowed the 14th most points per game in the NFL--but then they suddenly stifled Sanchez and the Jets as if they had 15 guys on the field at all times. Brady leads the NFL in passer rating AND they have an above average running game.

In short, this one won't be easy. On the bright side, the Bears were actually bigger underdogs against the Eagles two weeks ago than they are against the Patriots. Few people thought they could stop Michael Vick and their cast of Pro Bowlers either, but they did. Here's how the Bears can win their sixth straight:

KEYS TO THE GAME

Keep the Patriots offense off the field. It's the best way to stop any prolific offense: keep them on the sideline. To do that, you need to eat up clock, and to do that, you need to run the ball. Forte's been better of late, and the Patriots allow 114 rushing yards per game (compare that to the Bears, who allow just 84). In New England's two losses, they allowed an average of 183 rushing yards.

Win the turnover battle. Obvious, I know, but this has been a huge key to New England's success: their +14 turnover ratio is second only to the Eagles. Brady has thrown just four picks all year, two of them in their first loss of the season.

Tackle. The running backs, of course, but more so the receivers. The Patriots make a living off of yards after catch (YAC), which is something the Bears have been doing in recent games as well. Without Moss as a deep threat, Brady throws a lot of short passes to guys like Wes Welker and Deion Branch--get them to the ground quickly and you can contain this offense.

Get excited, folks. This could be one hell of a statement game for the Bears.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

NFL Visions, Part 2

THINGS ARE LOOKING BLURRY

Dallas Cowboys, 4-8
Things aren't blurry for this season--the Cowboys are toast. But things are blurry in general. Will Jason Garrett return? (Probably.) Is Romo really the answer at QB? Can the Cowboys win with Jerry Jones running the show? Romo's injury makes for a convenient excuse for this year, but this team has been struggling to find its way for a decade now.

Indianapolis Colts, 6-6
It's been a long time since you could say the Colts' fortunes were blurry. But injuries to receivers and (of course) Bob Sanders have exposed a lack of depth, and with two more interceptions Manning will have his highest total since 2002. His QB rating is just 16th in the NFL. Not this Sunday but next, the Colts will have a revenge game against Jacksonville, and it appears to be a must-win game if the Colts want to make the playoffs for the ninth straight year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7-5
Back-to-back losses have essentially knocked them out of the divisional race, but they remain just one game back in the Wild Card chase. With games against the Redskins, Lions and Seahawks on the horizon, they're not out of it yet.

DON'T LOOK AT ME I'M HIDEOUS

Cincinnati Bengals, 2-10
Seriously, what is going on in Cincinnati? Turns out the T Ocho show is awful, but I'm not talking about what airs on Versus. The Bengals have a lame duck coach, a lame quarterback, and they lost on Sunday when they were drawn offsides even though THAT'S ALL THE SAINTS WERE TRYING TO DO. This is perhaps the one thing I could execute successfully if I played in the NFL: line up on the defensive line knowing the opposing quarterback is just going to
shout some sh-t out, and just don't move. It's entirely possible that the offensive lineman would look at me with angry eyes and say something mean-spirited and I would either sh-t my pants, which would certainly get me removed from the remainder of the game but I would still have executed my duty on that particular play; or I might turn around and run away from said lineman, but that too would not result in an offsides penalty. Yeah, I could totally execute that play.

Washington Redskins, 5-7
They're not actually THAT bad, but they have no running game. And they don't have any receivers who can catch. And Donovan McNabb is pretty terrible--the Redskins are definitely going to regret that five-year deal in about, oh, a year-and-a-half. Oh, and their defense isn't very good. It really pisses me off that the Bears lost to this team.

Detroit Lions, 2-10
Suh is awesome, and yeah, Stafford's been injured most of the year. But competitive or not, two wins is still two wins. Which is how many they had last season. Until they finish a few games with more points than the other team, they suck.

Denver Broncos, 3-9
Only Dallas and Arizona give up more points than they do. They're 1-5 on the road and have the fourth-worst point differential in the NFL. Things are so bad that Josh McDaniels done got himself fired on Monday, meaning this organization is clearly lost.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NFL Visions, Part 1

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP

Chicago Bears, 9-3
Boy, there isn't much that a five-game winning streak won't cure, is there? From 4-3 and on the precipice of a lost season to 9-3 and on the precipice of the NFC's #1 seed. The schedule is daunting from here on out, but things are definitely looking up in the Windy City.

New Orleans Saints, 9-3
Boy, there isn't much that a five-game winning ... sorry, I just used that one. But it's true of the Saints as well, whom many wrote off after a middling start. They've scored 30+ points in four straight and are just a game back of the Falcons for the best record in the NFC. Set your DVR: Monday Night Football, December 27, Saints at Falcons.

Jacksonville Jaguars, 7-5
Um, what the f--k? The Jaguars, who at one point fell to 3-4 after losing 30-3 to Tennessee and 42-20 to the Chiefs in back-to-back weeks, are now in first in the AFC South. And yes, the Colts are still in the AFC South. DOES NOT COMPUTE ... DOES NOT COMPUTE ... DOES NOT ... Oops, sorry, bit of a system malfunction there. If Jacksonville wins the Colts' division, there will have to be a lockout next year because the NFL simply won't make sense any more. After all, Jacksonville's in first despite having a worse point differential (-43) than teams like the Browns and Lions.

St. Louis Rams, 6-6
Let us not forget that for all the Lions' horrendous, laughable play over the last couple years, it was actually the Rams who had the first pick in the draft this year after winning just one game last year. One. Just one little teeny, lonesome game. But lo, the Lord did sayeth that their draft pick shall be Sam Bradford, and the Lord did command of him: "Go forth, Sam. Be strong and
courageous, and have a phenomenal touchdown-to-interception ratio. Do not fear, for I am in your heart, and you shall lead your men to a .500 record despite being a rookie. Take hold of the righteous path to which you were called."

THINGS ARE LOOKING DOWN

Miami Dolphins, 6-6
Their loss to Cleveland on Sunday makes them a pathetic 1-5 at home and puts them on the verge of elimination. 6-6 ain't that bad, but it ain't gonna work when you're in the AFC East with the 10-2 Pats and the 9-3 Jets. No wonder Bill Parcells left back in October.

NFC West
Oh my god, does this seriously have to be a division? Are we sure we absolutely have to allow someone from this division into the playoffs? I say we check the rules one more time. ... [flips through NFL rulebook] ... Dammit. All four teams have a negative point differential, and at the moment the Seahawks and Rams are tied for the lead at 6-6. That's really stupid.

San Diego Chargers, 6-6
So you thought you could just lay low early on and then rape the December schedule as usual, huh? Simon says no! Or rather, the Raiders say no. Before this season, the Chargers had won 18 straight December games, tying an NFL record, and had won 13 straight against the Raiders. But a 28-13 loss on Sunday puts San Diego two games back of the Chiefs (the two play this Sunday at 3:15) and two games back in the Wild Card. That means it's entirely possible--likely, even--that the team with the best defense and the second-best offense in the NFL will miss the playoffs.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Mirage Sports Book owes me $42

Week 13: Bears 24, Lions 20

Short-term betting victories are fun, but a long-term victory involving your favorite team is about as good as it gets. By earning their ninth win on Sunday, the Bears went "over" the total set for them prior to the season, and that means the betting slip I've had in my wallet since August will soon begin a trek to Las Vegas via the US Postal Service, and I'll find myself $42 richer shortly thereafter (I'm only winning $22, but I'll get my original $20 back as well). For the record, Bob Geraty took the same bet. The only more enjoyable long-term bet I can think of (should it work out) is the one my sister Mandy made--on the Bears to win the Super Bowl.

While they didn't quite look like eventual Super Bowl champions against Detroit on Sunday, the Bears battled and managed to escape Motown with one mo' win (sorry). The four-point victory was a perfect illustration of why Detroit is 2-10 and the Bears are 9-3: the Bears consistently do just enough to win (that's their fifth in a row) while the Lions find ways to end up on the wrong side of the final score (that's their fifth straight loss). In the case of Sunday's game, the key plays included an unexpected throw to Brandon Manumaleuna (he exists!) and a huge personal foul against Ndamukong Suh that helped to set it up.

For the Bears, this was a "rear-view mirror" game--playing a bad team starting their third string quarterback, they just needed to get in there, get the job done, add a W and move on to the next game. Beating the Lions is like asking a girl out and having her say "yes"; the Patriots game this week is the first date. Beating the Lions is the job application; this week's game is the job interview. It was a good win and an important one, but I'm really looking forward to the Week 14 duel at Soldier Field.

My two main thoughts on this game:

1) It was disheartening how the Lions practically dominated the Bears in the trenches. The Lions had four sacks to the Bears' two; the Lions gained more yards per carry; and they just generally spent more time in the Bears' backfield than vice versa. You'd hope your front lines would look a little better against one of the NFL's worst teams.

2) I LOVE the new offensive style Mike Martz whipped up. All the quick passes and hot routes reminded me of the Greatest Show on Turf back when he was with the Rams. I can't believe I'm saying that, but it's true. Earl Bennett looked like a legitimate play-making receiver for the second straight game, and those quick slants reminded me of Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt. Seven different guys caught passes in the game, and there were so many plays where Cutler got the ball to a receiver before the Lions even knew what hit 'em. The Bears are no '99 Rams--they're just 29th in the NFL in total yards per game--but they've got some weapons and Martz seems to be exploiting them well.

While the Packers get to feast on these same Lions next week, the Bears have a huge game against what is possibly the NFL's best team. Should be fun.

Though the highlight below is technically a Lions highlight, it is surely more embarrassing for Drew Stanton than for the Bears. This is known as the "Dougie"--popularized by John Wall, murdered by Drew Stanton. Time of death: about 12:30 pm CST, 12/05/2010.

Monday, December 6, 2010

To Ron Santo, Hall of Famer in our hearts: We'll miss you


I can't help it: the first thing I think about when I think of Ron Santo is how he deserved to be in the Hall of Fame but never got that call. Every Cubs fan knows how much it meant to him, and baseball fans all over the country recognize how deserving he was. (I made my case last year.)

But that's just the first thing that comes to mind. When I heard that Santo had died last Friday, a number of other thoughts flooded my mind. Like his sense of humor. Was there a broadcast in his 21-year radio career in which he did not have a good, hearty laugh about something? Whether it was with regard to a play on the field, a story from his storied past, or just Pat Hughes's choice of sweater for the day, Santo was always ready to be amused and able to make his listeners laugh.

His upbeat attitude was more notable when you consider that he suffered from diabetes, had both legs amputated below the knee, and battled various health issues virtually his entire life. When he was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 18, he was given a life expectancy of 25 years. He died at the age of 70.

But he rarely talked about his struggle. When he did, it was usually to make a joke at his own expense, or during one of the many fundraisers he organized and attended to raise money for diabetes research.

I also thought about how humble Santo was. While Santo clearly wanted to be elected to the Hall of Fame, he let others make his case for him. Unlike so many other color commentators who are former players, he wasn't constantly trying to find a way to squeeze in some personal success story or some example of his greatness, even though he had countless stories of success and embodied greatness on the baseball diamond. Those who knew him say that he was a very grounded, normal person, far from the typical ex-professional athlete. Ron Santo was different. He was much more concerned with being known as a good person than a good athlete.

I thought about the beauty of listening to Pat and Ron on the radio during a long drive, or out in the backyard. An objective analysis of Ron's announcing skills wouldn't be pretty (often fails to utilize cough button properly; frequently inquires as to what just happened in the game; tends to talk over the action; struggles with players' names), but a subjective analysis? Awesome. Heartfelt. Hilarious. Passionate. Ron was a necessary cog in the Cubs machine. I can't imagine tuning in to WGN next season and hearing Pat alongside somebody else. He wasn't a "good" announcer in the truest sense, but he was a great announcer nevertheless.

Perhaps more than anyone else in history, Ron Santo embodied the Cubs. He was a member of some of the most beloved Cubs teams of all time. He was one of the organization's most successful players of all time (Bleed Cubbie Blue has him 7th on the all-time list, behind only Banks, Cap Anson, Sosa, Sandberg, Williams and Hartnett). His jersey number flies from the left field foul pole. And he had been a fixture in the radio booth since 1990.

His name is on the short list one would use to describe the Cubs. As in, what do the Cubs mean to me? In no particular order: Bleachers, Harry Caray, Santo, Sandberg, ivy on the wall, Wrigley Field, Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, loyalty ... He's in there. Santo's a part of that answer for every Cubs fan. He was the Cubs. And even now that he's gone, he still is.

My overriding thought when it comes to Ron Santo is this: he was one of a kind. He put up Hall of Fame-caliber stats despite battling diabetes. He was one of the most colorful color commentators out there. He was happy, kind and humble whereas many people in his position wouldn't have been. He loved life, and fittingly brought joy to so many others' lives throughout his playing and broadcasting career. He was a Cubs legend and a baseball legend, and he was a legend in life. We will miss you, Ron.

Here is a tribute video courtesy of the Tribune:


While Santo would never get down for long, a bad play or a tough loss would definitely frustrate him. But that's what made his ebullience when the Cubs did well so much more real. There was nothing better than hearing the pure joy in his voice when something unexpected or exciting would happen on the field. Here is just one of those many moments:


Friday, December 3, 2010

Bears will try to maintain momentum against lowly Lions

We all remember the Bears' first matchup with the Lions--the ol' "did not possess the ball through the process of the catch" or whatever. All I know is I narrowly avoided a heart attack and the Bears narrowly avoided a loss that could have potentially changed the entire course of their season.

The Lions may get running back Jahvid Best back for Sunday's game, but backup quarterback Shaun Hill is out after breaking a finger on his throwing hand. Enter third-stringer Drew Stanton. He was forced into action against the Giants in Week 6 and played decently: 19-for-34 for 222 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and he ran three times for 30 yards. Nevertheless, the Bears catch yet another break; Hill had thrown for over 300 yards three times this season and the Lions have been running a relatively efficient offense. But just as the Bears caught a Dolphins team with Tyler Thigpen behind center and an Eagles team without cornerback Asante Samuel, they'll now face a banged up Lions team with a chance to go to 4-0 against the NFC North.

The Bears have won five straight against the Lions since losing in October of 2007.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Don't get trapped. Trap games do exist. We saw it with the Steelers just last week--they had to play the lowly Bills before a huge divisional showdown against the Ravens. Though they did pull out the win, they barely pulled it out. The Bears had a huge victory against the Eagles last week, have everyone in the country telling them they're "for real," and know they have a big game against the Patriots next week. But there's no room for error here--you have to win divisional games and you have to beat a two-win team if you want to stave off the Packers and win the NFC North.

Stop Suh. I don't think there's anyone on the Bears offensive line who can block Ndamukong Suh. Hell, I don't know if there's an offensive lineman in the NFL who can block Suh. But the extent to which they can slow him down and keep him out of the backfield might determine how successful the Bears offense is on Sunday.

Turnovers. The Lions were able to keep it close in Week 1 for four reasons: Cutler interception, Cutler fumble, Olsen fumble, Forte fumble. There's no doubt the Bears have more talent than the Lions, and if they can win the turnover battle (or at least not lose it), they should win the scoreboard battle as well.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

TCU vaults into second in BCS. In related story, NCAA announces championship game will now be #1 vs. #3

Jimmie Johnson, like, wins a race or something

Department of Bad Puns releases statement: "Michael Vick really taking a bite out of the competition, not dogging it out there."

Before Turkey Day game, Lions owner says he "honestly can't think of anything" he's thankful for


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cardinal sin: Theriot now a redbird

Ryan Theriot is back in the NL Central. But instead of playing for the Cubs, he'll be playing for their biggest rival.

On Tuesday, the Cardinals acquired Theriot from the Dodgers in exchange for righthander Blake Hawksworth. Ken Rosenthal says the Cardinals view him as a shortstop, which is a rare act of stupidity on their part. The only position from which Theriot can easily throw to first is ... well, first; he should be a second baseman. Brendan Ryan is the Cards' shortstop but they might consider moving him to make room for Theriot.

I always hate to see a Cub head to St. Louis if for no other reason than they might pull a Lou Brock and suddenly be awesome. I liked Theriot as a person and would like to see him do well, but I pretty much have to root against him now that he wears red. I also have to root against him because he said he's "finally on the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry." A--hole.

It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals, who preach the importance of getting on base, can get Theriot to buy in; he had a .321 OBP last season.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, your 8-3 Chicago Bears

Now THAT was fun. Cutler to Hester down the sideline? Delicious. Greg Olsen stealing the ball away from the defender in the end zone? Tasty. Peppers chasing down Vick from behind and getting enough of him to bring him down? Delectable.

It was the Thanksgiving dinner of football games. I'll have seconds of EVERYTHING. All of it. That game filled up my belly, just like the Bears filled up the stat sheet.

It was a game that made you ... well, it made you believe. It made you imagine and have hope and wonder what could be ... If the Bears can win in all three phases of the game against the Eagles, who can't they beat? The Bears are tied for the second-best record in the NFC, trailing only the Falcons who are 9-2. They pulled ahead of the Packers in the NFC North and gained a huge tiebreaker over the Eagles. 8-3 ... 8-3 ... 8-3 ... It's fun to say.

The Bears actually allowed their biggest point total of the season, but 13 of them were junk points at the end of the game and it didn't matter because the Bears also put up their biggest point total of the season on offense. It was FUN.

Here's what amazed me most: the Bears' receivers did their best impression of the Eagles' receivers, looking every bit as fast and athletic. DeSean Jackson? Meet Devin Hester. Jeremy Maclin? Meet Earl Bennett. The Eagles are widely regarded as the fastest team in the NFL, but the Bears one-upped 'em on Sunday. Too much tryptophan for the Eagles I guess.

The speed was evident on the defensive side too. While Vick rushed for a decent 44 yards, his longest run was 11 and he was sacked four times. Peppers was flying around, several others picked up partial or full sacks, and the coverage must have been phenomenal because Vick stood back there several different times and just refused to throw the ball down field. The Bears are FAST.

But Cutler was able to slow the game down, connecting for four touchdowns and refraining from any off-the-back-foot, throw-it-into-triple-coverage passes. Which brings us to today's STAT OF THE DAY! Cutler's QB rating of 146.2 was the highest of his career. Not just his career as a Bear, but his career period. Cutler OWNED the Eagles. Optimistic Bears fans have said all season that with their great defense, this team could be a force if Cutler and the offense could show signs of improvement. Done. And that was today's STAT OF THE DAY!

Martz called more runs than passes AGAIN, and Forte absolutely steamrolled the Eagles with 117 yards and 8.4 yards per carry. The offensive line spent a few plays in Week 4 Mode (when they allowed 10 sacks to the Giants) but ultimately held their own overall and opened up holes left and right in the running game. Maybe, just maybe, the offense needed time to gel under a new offensive coordinator, and maybe, just maybe, we're seeing it start to happen. Could this team be GOOD? I mean actually GOOD?

Ah, what the heck, it was all so much fun, let's just watch a recap:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Top teams prove themselves in final week of regular season

It pains me to say it, but Oregon and Auburn deserve the chance to play in the BCS Championship Game. While I want nothing more than to see TCU get their shot (I even wrote a now-useless blog post about that very topic while Auburn was down 24-0 to Alabama), Auburn and Oregon made rather convincing cases for themselves on Friday. (Side note: Obviously Boise State removed themselves from the conversation with their overtime defeat to Nevada.)

First, Auburn turned Black Friday into a very dark day for Alabama by completing a stunning comeback on the road against a bitter rival who was ranked 11th in the nation. Later, Oregon manhandled #21 Arizona 48-29. It's hard to deny that those two teams have earned the right to play on January 10. (CAVEAT ALERT: If Alabama loses the SEC Championship game against South Carolina or Oregon loses to Oregon State, I'm back aboard the TCU train. Hell, I'll be the conductor of that train.)

It sucks for TCU. After all, they're 35-2 over the last three seasons and, more importantly, they've handled every team on their schedule this season. They beat Oregon State 30-21, Baylor 45-10 and Air Force 38-7, all of whom have been ranked this season. But their signature win came three weeks ago on the road against then-#5 Utah--they absolutely destroyed the Utes 47-7. A win against New Mexico on Saturday put them at 12-0 to finish the season, and they deserve a chance to take the field in Phoenix with the possibility of being crowned national champs.

Problem is, Auburn and Oregon deserve it more. It wasn't always easy for Auburn--Heisman favorite Cam Newton has dealt with rumors of scandal and the Tigers have trailed by 10 or more points four different times this season. And yet, they remain undefeated.

It has been easy for Oregon, however. They've won by 20 or more points eight different times this year and were given a scare really just once when they beat California 15-13. It's clear that the Ducks deserve top billing heading into the bowl season.

Again, each of these teams have a potentially tough game remaining on the schedule, so TCU can maintain hope for at least a few more days. But while it looked for all the world like Alabama would smash the title hopes of their intrastate rivals, it turns out they only put a scare into them as Auburn did to the Tide last year.

The fact is, college football needs a playoff. (Oh, by the way, PLEASE read this phenomenal Sports Illustrated story about the BCS.) But we don't have one yet, and while I desperately want to see TCU get their shot, it's hard to argue against a team that survived the SEC unscathed or a team that continues to overwhelm opponents as if they accidentally signed up for a Pee Wee league. TCU and Boise came very, very close this season, and frankly, I'm holding out hope that Auburn or Oregon will slip up this weekend. But if they don't, it's hard to argue that the Horned Frogs should leapfrog their way into the championship game. If they BCS gods don't smile down upon them next week, here's hoping for next year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bears will try to ground Vick and the Eagles

Frankly, this will be just the second quality team the Bears have faced all season. And the Eagles have plenty of quality. Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin on the offensive side; Asante Samuel (who may miss the game), Trent Cole, Quintin Mikell and others on the defensive side. They've won five of six overall and have taken over first in the NFC East.

This game could have HUGE implications for the Bears' playoff hopes. If they end up battling for a Wild Card spot with the Eagles, this game will go a long way toward determining which team has a better record and would obviously determine the head-to-head tiebreaker should they finish with the same record. Additionally, should the Bears and Packers split their two games and finish in a tie and with the same divisional record (both of which are very plausible), the next tie-breaker is record against common opponents; the Packers have already beaten the Eagles this season. So with a win on Sunday, the Bears could potentially grab sole possession of first (the Packers have to travel to Atlanta); a loss could knock them behind the Packers and right into the thick of the Wild Card race against teams like the Saints, Bucs and Giants.

The Bears and Eagles matched up on a Sunday night last year and the Eagles pulled out a 24-20 victory.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Urlacher vs. Vick. I doubt the Bears will choose to use Urlacher as a QB spy because I'm not sure any linebacker in the NFL can keep up with him anyway. But Urlacher will usually be the first line of defense AFTER the defensive line when Vick chooses to run, and it should be a fun battle to watch.

Cutler doing his best Vick impression. The Eagles love to blitz, and Cutler will need to continue to show his mobility when the pressure comes. Obviously getting rid of the ball quickly is another way to deal with an aggressive defense, but chances are Cutler will have to make a few plays with his feet.

Try to limit the big play. What scares me about this game is that the Bears are better against the run than the pass, and the Eagles are more than willing to abandon the run if it's not working. With big play threats Jackson and Maclin, along with the solid Jason Avant, the Eagles have had their way with several teams in the passing game. The Bears secondary must try to limit the big play and keep Jackson and Maclin from getting behind the defense.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!


Things I'm thankful for this year:
  • The Bears are 7-3 and in first in the NFC North. On a side note, I'm two wins away from winning $20 on the bet I placed at the Mirage sports book while in Vegas.
  • The Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals and White Sox did not win the World Series.
  • This summer, I accomplished two golf goals: I broke 90 on 18 holes and broke 40 on 9 holes.
  • It's been a good fall for sports-hate: Favre's farewell has not been a fond one, what with several injuries, a sexting scandal, a 69.5 QB rating, 17 interceptions, a 3-7 record, and two losses to the Packers; the Cowboys have only one more win than coaches this year; the Heat are just 8-7; and Notre Dame is just 6-5 and now mired in scandal. Is it wrong to be thankful that I have so much to hate?
  • Sunday nights in the summer will be much better now that Jon Miller and Joe Morgan are out as the announcers of Sunday Night Baseball.
  • The 8-5 Bulls are in first in a weak division and look to have a solid squad. Also, Derrick Rose is third in the NBA in scoring thus far.
  • Illinois and Michigan are bowl eligible, both for the first time since 2007.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rothschild to Yanks


Last week the Yankees poached Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild, hiring him to replace Dave Eiland whom they opted not to re-sign. The Cubs say they will keep the search for his replacement in house, with candidates including minor league pitching coordinator Mark Riggins, Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode, Triple-A pitching coach Mark Mason and Double-A pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn.

Rothschild had been with the Cubs since 2002. In his nine-year tenure, the Cubs led the majors in strikeouts and finished in the top five in the NL in ERA five times.

I've never had a real strong feeling about Rothschild either way, and it may as well be a time for change what with a new manager and bench coach coming in as well. I guess the first thing that comes to mind with regard to whoever replaces Rothschild would be: good luck with Big-Z.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Bears defense as good as Gould

Week 11: Bears 16, Dolphins 0

Man, am I sick of Martz and his pass-happy play calling. He could have learned a thing or two from the Dolphins, the way they committed to the run game and just pounded it down the Bears' throats. If I've said it once, I've ...

Wait, what's that? That was the Bears who kept running the ball? The Dolphins' running backs only ran it seven times? Mike Martz called more runs than passes for the second straight game while the Dolphins were over reliant on the arm of their third-string quarterback? Wow. I thought I read somewhere that dolphins were smart. Apparently they have cool sonar abilities but also a tendency to develop ass backward game plans for football games. The "dolphin" Wikipedia page needs to be updated.

But game plan aside, the Bears defense was determined to make sure Miami's offense remained beached. They racked up six sacks and an interception and allowed just 39 yards on the ground. They also allowed just one third down conversion all game. Perhaps most impressively of all, the Dolphins never once made it into the red zone and only made it as far as the Bears' 35 yard line. It all added up to just the second shutout in the NFL this season (the Bucs added a third on Sunday).

Which brings us to today's STAT OF THE DAY! The Bears are allowing just 14.6 points per game, best in the NFL. That's right--by the most important measure, the Bears have the best defense in the league. And that was today's STAT OF THE DAY!

Julius Peppers finally got a chance to pad his stats, piling up three sacks lined up against an injured Jake Long. Having Urlacher back after he missed last season has clearly improved the D, and you have to give some credit to defensive coordinator Rod Marinellli who seems to have the defense clicking much more consistently than last year when Lovie ran the show.

While the offense managed just one touchdown, they had a different assignment on Thursday and accomplished it exceedingly well: keep the ball. The way the Bears defense was playing, it became clear early on that if the Bears could simply maintain possession, the Dolphins wouldn't have enough time for their banged up offense to catch up. By going 10-for-18 on third downs, Cutler and the Bears were able to nearly double up the Dolphins--they had the ball for 37 minutes.

The Bears were able to build an early lead on the strength of two Robbie Gould field goals, and he added another in the third quarter. Forte's touchdown scamper--which was nice to see on a third down from inside the five yard line--essentially put the game away late in the third. Cutler didn't do a whole lot, but he didn't have to; he was successful on third downs and helped the Bears control the ball. As usual, he made one bad mistake when he threw off his back foot right to a Dolphins defender. I don't know what it is with Cutler, but he really loves to throw off his back foot. It's like he has a constant inner ear infection that throws his equilibrium off and makes him lean backwards at all times. But oh well. One mistake in 60 minutes of action on three days' rest isn't too shabby.

So with back-to-back wins as an underdog, the Bears have recouped the two losses they had as favorites against Seattle and Washington. They're a solid 7-3 and remain tied with the Packers for the division lead. With only six games left on the schedule, things are becoming at least a tad bit more clear. Wins against the Vikings and Lions would get the Bears to nine wins, and a victory in Week 17 against the Packers would get them to 10. The Packers also have the Vikings and Lions on their remaining schedule, along with the 49ers. On the bright side, they have to play the Falcons, Patriots and Giants as well.

It should be a fun finish to the season, and that Week 17 game could loom incredibly large. For now, the Bears get some extra rest and then host the red-hot Eagles.

Hey Davone Bess, I think Danieal Manning would like to say hello:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

In ill-conceived Rookie of the Year sequel, Henry Rowengartner struggles mightily, gets cut from team, falls into downward spiral of drugs and alcohol

Chad Ochocinco actually just a really normal guy, say teammates while Chad Ochocinco is within earshot

Redskins give Rex Grossman 10-year, $150 million deal

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are you ready for some football?! No, not really. It's only Thursday.

Most teams would be completely screwed if they had to start their third string quarterback. The Dolphins, however, have a couple advantages over most teams:

1) Their third stringer is Tyler Thigpen. In 2008 with a bad Chiefs team, he threw for 2,600 yards and 18 TDs. He also has the ability to take off and run with the ball.

2) The Dolphins are a run-first team anyways. With both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, plus a tendency to utilize the Wildcat, the Dolphins don't rely on their QB nearly as much as most teams.

In fact, the last time the two teams matched up, in 2006, Brown ran for 157 yards as the Dolphins handed a 7-0 Bears team its first loss.

There's no doubt the Bears have caught a huge break by drawing Thigpen instead of Henne or Pennington, but the game is no gimme. Another odd advantage the Bears have is that they've managed a 3-1 record on the road this season while Miami is just 1-3 at home.

KEYS TO THE GAME

1st quarter sloppiness? Many of these Thursday night games have featured sloppy first halves. After all, teams are used to having six days to prepare for a game, but the Bears and Dolphins had just three. If the Bears can avoid playing ugly football, it could give them a leg up.

Force them to pass. Again, Tyler Thigpen is not necessarily awful, but he's still a third-stringer for a reason. And since the Bears have the second-best run defense in the league, they need to focus on slowing down Brown and Williams, forcing Miami to put the ball in Thigpen's hands.

Jake Long vs. Julius Peppers. Offensive tackle Jake Long is awesome. In fact, he went first overall in the 2008 draft. But he has a labral tear, and some are saying he's risking serious long-term damage if he plays through it tonight. Chances are he will in fact play, but hopefully Peppers can exploit his injury and have a good game.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not very Favre-fetched to think that was Brett's last meaningful game


Week 10: Bears 27, Vikings 13

Let us rejoice over the fact that Brett Favre's season--and essentially his career--came to an end on Sunday. With the Bears handing the Vikings their sixth loss, they essentially put the inscription on Minnesota's tombstone, and probably put the final nail in the coffin when it comes to Brett Favre's career as well. At 3-6 and basically out of the playoff race, there's actually very little reason for him to continue playing. I realize it's tough to bench a $16 million future Hall of Famer, but the Vikings would be better off seeing whether they have a future with Tarvaris Jackson. As he has done several times this year, Favre contributed significantly to his team's loss, throwing three picks and losing a fumble. He had just 170 yards on the day.

Minnesota found themselves in a position nearly identical to the one they were in last week--down 14 with about four minutes to go. But whereas the Arizona Cardinals allowed Favre and Peterson to snag an overtime victory, the Bears defense stayed strong and secured the win.

It was the best the Bears have looked all year. They played well against the Cowboys in
Week 2, but then we learned that the Cowboys are a bunch of turds. The Bears outgained the Vikings, forced more turnovers, won the time of possession battle and kept the Vikings from scoring a touchdown on any of their three chances in the red zone.

There were a couple phases where the Bears struggled--they had way too many penalties (11 for 116 yards), and Cutler made one inexcusable decision to throw into traffic in the end zone when throwing it away would have resulted in three points.

But I wanted to get the bad stuff out of the way early--there are a lot of positives to get to.

Cutler looked like an entirely different quarterback. He was consistently able to avoid the rush, moving around in the backfield and buying himself time. He was as mobile as an iPhone. (Sorry, that was bad.) He completed passes to nine different guys and threw three touchdowns. When I was in Denver this week, the rental car shuttle driver was pining for the days when the Broncos had Cutler. I told him that Cutler has not exactly exceeded expectations in Chicago, but he was adamant that Cutler went to a Pro Bowl for a reason and that with a good offensive line, Bears fans would absolutely love him. I definitely loved him on Sunday.

But it wasn't all Cutler. Martz actually called more running plays than passing plays, and the Bears had 130 yards on the ground. The offensive balance was a nice thing to see.

**We interrupt this game recap to bring you the STAT OF THE DAY! Third downs often tell the story in an NFL game, and that was the case on Sunday. While the Bears have struggled mightily in that area this season, they were a very successful 11-for-19 against Minnesota. On the other hand, the Bears defense held the Vikings to 1-for-9. And that was today's STAT OF THE DAY!

The Bears' special teams didn't miss out on the fun either. Rashied Davis and Devin Hester each had a nice kick return and Hester had a sweet punt return down the sideline as well. Hester added a touchdown reception in what turned out to be a big day for him with 185 all-purpose yards.

In pretty much any sport, it's always crucial to win within your division. After Sunday's win, the Bears have now beaten every NFC North team (and if you think about it, they beat themselves when they played the Redskins, so they've literally beaten every NFC North team). The win brought them into a tie with the Packers, though the Bears are technically in first by virtue of their head-to-head win over them.

There was more good news for the Bears on Sunday as well: both Chad Henne and Chad Pennington suffered injuries, meaning the Bears' opponent this Thursday night might be forced to start Tyler Thigpen who has played all of 18 NFL games in his life. The Dolphins are still no pushover, though. They beat the Titans on Sunday, they throw a lot of different things at you, including the Wildcat, and Thigpen actually had a decent season back in 2008 with the Chiefs.

In other action, God smiled upon us on Sunday by allowing Gus Johnson to go all Gus Johnson on the best play in the NFL this season. Please pay special attention to the famous Gus Johnson Laugh which comes at the :28 mark. The stupid NFL won't let YouTube show it, so here's the link.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Getting hitched without a hitch


It was a phenomenal and memorable weekend, and not just because the Bears beat the Vikings and Brett Favre had four turnovers. On Saturday, Trevor Sierra and Becky Krause tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony on Illinois Wesleyan's campus. The happy couple appeared to be, well, very happy! The reception was a blast, a great night was had by all, and there was one hell of a best man speech. Also, I gave a speech. And Trevor fell off the stage, which was hilarious.

Congratulations to Becky and Trevor, and I wish them all the best! They probably won't see this for at least a week as they are currently in the beautiful confines of the 50th state (Hawaii).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bears will try to put Vikings out of their misery

Down 14 with under four minutes to play on Sunday, the Vikings kept their season alive with a stunning comeback capped by an overtime field goal. They're now 3-5, two games behind the second-place Bears. But with a win Sunday and a win next week against Green Bay, they could pull to within one game of first.

On the other hand, a Bears victory would give the Vikes their sixth loss and put them on the brink of elimination (for all intents and purposes). There's a good chance it would also cost Brad Childress his job, what with fans demanding his ouster last Sunday and several Vikings players denouncing him in the Sun-Times this week.

So the Bears could continue to tread water and give the Vikings a lifeline this Sunday, or they could pull into a tie for first and write the Vikings' obituary. Suffice to say, it's a big game.

KEYS TO THE GAME

What can Sidney Rice do? Rice, who had over 1,300 receiving yards and eight TDs last season, has not played this year due to a hip injury. Word is he may return in a limited role against the Bears. There's almost no way he can play the entire game, and one would think he'll be a bit rusty in his return.

Stop A.P. Adrian Peterson has been kept out of the end zone just twice this year, and the Vikings lost both times. The Bears just might be able to slow him down--they have the third-best run defense in the league. And I'm calling it: Peterson will fumble on Sunday; after fumbling at least four times in each of his first three seasons, he has yet to put it on the ground this season.

Cutler's accuracy. The Vikings have just 12 sacks and six interceptions on the season. While nearly every team gets at least a little pressure on Cutler, he should have some time to look down field and find the open man. If he can do that successfully most of the time, the Bears can put up some points--the Vikings have allowed at least 20 points in five straight games.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NFL Visions, Part 2

THINGS ARE LOOKING BLURRY

Miami Dolphins, 4-4
Until their loss in Baltimore on Sunday, they were 4-0 on the road and 0-3 at home this season. If they could create any kind of home field advantage, they'd be in great shape right now. But so far, they've been the epitome of mediocrity: 13th in defense, 16th in offense. Their passing game has improved, but it's not a good sign that Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown have combined for three rushing touchdowns on the year.

San Diego Chargers, 4-5
All of a sudden, narrow victories over the Titans and Texans have them showing signs of life. Plus they've reached their bye week and get the lowly Broncos at home in Week 11. On the other hand, they're still a game under .500, trail both the Raiders and Chiefs in their division, and have just the 12th-best record in a strong AFC.


DON'T LOOK AT ME I'M HIDEOUS


Dallas Cowboys, 1-7
I don't even have to say anything at this point. And that's awesome.

...

But I can't help it. Seriously, how are they so bad? They've allowed at least 35 points in each of their last three games! Aaron Rodgers was 27-for-34 with three scores. David Garrard lit 'em up for four touchdowns, as did Eli Manning. They're terrible at everything. Just awful. Usually I'm pissed that Detroit's on TV every Thanksgiving, but this year it's Dallas I have no interest in watching. BAD.

San Francisco 49ers, 2-6
They've won as many games in England as they have in America.

Aging veterans who will potentially be in the Hall of Fame one day
-Brett Favre's impressive comeback on Sunday notwithstanding, he has the 27th-best QB rating in the NFL this season and he seems on the verge of death every week. It ain't over yet, but it seems like he may have retired one year too late (assuming he even retires after this season).

-Randy Moss is on his third team and has fewer receiving yards than Jahvid Best, who's a running back. For the Lions. Moss isn't even the best Moss in the NFL this season--Santana Moss has easily outperformed him.

-Donovan McNabb has looked old at times despite being brought to the Redskins to inject some life into a subpar team. Despite not having been pronounced dead or at least horrifically injured, he was replaced in favor of Rex Grossman at the end of a winnable game against Detroit. If getting benched for Rex Grossman doesn't say "You're not having a great season," I don't know what does.

Buffalo Bills, 0-8 and Carolina Panthers, 1-7
Um ... what to say ... At least you're not the Cowboys!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NFL Visions, Part 1

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP

Oakland Raiders, 5-4
I thought they'd have a turnaround season heading into the year, then gave up on them quickly after losses to Arizona and San Fran left them at 2-4. But then they curbstomped the Broncos and Seahawks and pulled out an overtime victory over KC to pull to within a half-game of the Chiefs. Maybe Al Davis isn't crazy after all? ... No, Al Davis is crazy.

Cleveland Browns, 3-5
I'm not saying they're great, I'm just saying things are looking up. With their top two quarterbacks hurt, they turned to rookie Colt McCoy and he's led them to wins over the Saints and Patriots. And the games weren't even close. How crazy is that? Plus they get Jacksonville and Carolina after a match-up with the Jets.

Rookies
-Jahvid Best has slowed of late, but he's been solid for the Lions and had 88 all-purpose yar
ds against a good Jets defense on Sunday.

-Ndamukong Suh has 6.5 sacks and was the October Rookie of the Month.

-Dez Bryant has a lot of competition at the receiver position on the Cowboys, but he h
as over 400 yards and four touchdowns.

-Mike Williams has done even better for the Bucs with over 500 yards and five TDs.

-As noted above, Colt McCoy has defeated the Saints and Patriots in back-to-back games.

-Sam Bradford has had a relatively incredible first eight games, at least when you consi
der that he's a rookie QB. He's on pace for over 3,200 yards and 22 TDs, the latter being more t
han Schaub, Sanchez, Favre, Henne, McNabb, Cutler ... the list goes on. Matt Ryan's rookie season is considered one of the best ever, and he threw 16 TDs that year. Bradford has also shown incredible poise for a rookie--he has a 101.1 QB rating and zero interceptions on third down.

New York Giants, 6-2
All of a sudden they can't be stopped: they've reeled off five straight wins and are tied (with five other teams) for the best record in the NFL. They've scored at least 28 points in each of their last four games.


THINGS ARE LOOKING DOWN

Houston Texans, 4-4
If you want a quick score, you're better off playing the Texans than dating Kim Kardashian. (Burned!) But seriously, only three teams give up more points than they do, and their horrendous defense suddenly has them at .500 and tied for last in the AFC South. Okay, granted, they're only a game behind the Colts and Titans, but the Texans' porous secondary has the arrow pointing down in Houston.

Minnesota Vikings, 3-5
Favre finally broke into his bag of magic tricks on Sunday, leading his team back from 14 points down to beat the Cardinals. However, they still find themselves at 3-5, 2.5 back of the Pack. Their next two weeks should go a long way toward determining the final trajectory of their season--they visit the Bears and then have their second match-up against the Packers.

Seattle Seahawks, 4-4
Like the Texans, they're still at least treading water. But they've been outscored 74-10 the last two weeks and suffered their worst home loss since 2002 on Sunday. Suffice to say, things are not looking up. In fact, they kind of look like what you'd find in a diaper.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Week 9: A win is a win is a win

Bears 22, Bills 19

The final result of a football game doesn't always tell the whole story. After all, the Bills went to overtime against the Ravens and Chiefs in their last two games. They fought hard, showed grit. Sports radio callers probably had a few positive things to say after each loss.

But ultimately, football--and every other sport, for that matter--is about winning. Grit also had the Bills up 19-14 in the fourth quarter Sunday, but through nine weeks it's gotten them to an 0-8 record. No wins. Zero. And that's all that matters in the end.

On the other hand, an appropriate simile for the Bears' performance on Sunday would not be, say, that it looked like a beautiful work by Picasso, or that it was exquisite like a delicious meal at a fine steakhouse. But the Bears did just enough to win. It wasn't exactly a game you want to keep on your TiVo and re-watch later in the week, but they put up a "W" and that's the bottom line. Knowing they won by three doesn't tell you the whole story, but it does tell you all you really need to know--that the story has a happy ending.

Cutler at least had moments in which he looked like a decent quarterback. He was able to evade the pass rush a number of times, and in fact was sacked just once. He also used his feet to gain yardage, running for three different first downs after the pocket collapsed. Overall, he was a modest 17-for-30 for 188 yards and two TDs, further decreasing the Bears' rather paltry average of 202 passing yards per game. But the most important number on his line is the zero below the letters "I-N-T." He did fumble once, but at least he never gave Buffalo the ball through the air.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two picks, including one to seal the game, but carved up the Bears secondary for much of the game. He's been doing that to a lot of teams ever since he replaced Trent Edwards in Week 3. Against the Bears, he finished one yard shy of 300 on 51 pass attempts.

It's great that we can be happy about the Bears' fifth win of the season, because otherwise we could complain about the fact that they rushed for just over half the yardage Buffalo gives up on average, and the fact that they couldn't get just one tiny yard late in the fourth when it mattered most. Nope, don't have to complain about those things.

The Packers pasted the Cowboys, not surprisingly, keeping them atop the NFC North by a half-game over the Bears. Though when it comes to that game, I think everyone in America lost--the Packers have found a way to make it excusable for their fans to yell "COOOON" (their running back is named Kuhn) at the top of their lungs throughout the game. I hope you're proud of yourselves, Packers fans.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a 307-pound man missing an extra point. Narrated by Gus Johnson.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Bears will try to keep Bills from getting their first win

I'm scared. So scared.

I'm scared because the Bears are playing the only remaining winless team in the NFL ... and I can't say I'm 100 percent sure they're going to win. The Bills took the Chiefs to overtime last week and the Ravens to OT the week before that. They put a scare into New England on the road and lost to Miami by five.

Meanwhile, the Bears offense has been in a downward spiral ever since Week 3. Plus, the Bills' most glaring weakness--their run defense--matches up with the Bears' biggest weakness--their ability to run the ball--so we'll have to wait and see if the Bears can take advantage in that area.

It goes without saying that this is a must-win. The Bears' schedule is backloaded worse than a Jim Hendry contract offer. This is one of the few "definitely could win it" games left on the schedule, and Lovie's squad absolutely has to leave Toronto at 5-3, or they can forget aboot the playoffs.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Commit to running the ball. Seriously. It's not even a question. The Bills give up 188 rushing yards per game. Next-worst in the league is Denver ... at 154. It's comical how bad the Bills' run defense is. If Martz puts the ball in Cutler's hands the entire game, he should be fired.

Don't let QB Fitzpatrick beat you with his feet. Despite not starting the first two games of the season, Fitzpatrick has the third-most rushing yards among quarterbacks. He doesn't quite require a QB spy, but the defense needs to keep containment on him whenever a play breaks down.

Maybe Cutler actually has a chance. Why do I say that? Because the Bills have just one interception all season. One. Every other team has at least four. Please, Jay, please keep this trend alive.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lincecum leads San Fran to giant World Series victory


A few random thoughts on the Giants' first World Series championship since 1954, when they were the New York Giants:

1) There's something pleasant about the fact that the Giants never won it all with Barry Bonds, but won it three years after he retired.

2) Part of me wishes the Rangers had won just so Cliff Lee would have been more inclined to re-sign with them. Anything to keep him away from the Yankees.

3) An important lesson learned: Having a manager on coke can get you to the World Series, but that's it.

4) Has there ever been a World Series victory that brought this many castoffs redemption? Cody Ross was cut from the Marlins this year; Aubrey Huff was placed on waivers by the Orioles and went unsigned by the Tigers last year; Pat Burrell was released by the Rays and subsequently signed to a minor league contract by the Giants; the White Sox let Juan Uribe walk; and the Padres let manager Bruce Bochy head north to a division rival. Congrats to them as well as all the non-misfits on the San Francisco roster.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Humor Vault Headlines

In game played in London, Broncos and Niners called for a shitload of hand balls

Robot from Fox's NFL telecasts escapes, kills seven

Fearful of a fine or suspension, Brian Urlacher uses bye week to practice new gentle, more tender form of tackling