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.


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 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.


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:


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


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.


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


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."


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.


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.