Expect Bears-Packers II to decide at least one playoff spot


Expect Bears-Packers II to decide at least one playoff spot

The NFL schedule should be coming out before too long, so exact dates of particular matchups arent officially available yet. But one matters game is already pretty well established.

Every year except for 2009 since Lovie Smith arrived, the Bears and Green Bay Packers have played their second meeting as game 15 or 16 of their schedules. Given that a stated goal with bringing in Phil Emery as general manager was overtaking the Packers, that game in 2012 looms as nothing less than a potential referendum on Emerys first year of stewardship.

Were Brandon Marshall and presumed draft hits enough? Thats what Bears-Packers II will reveal.

Consider: In 2005 the Bears won at Green Bay in game 15 and clinched a home game in the divisional round (not that it ultimately mattered, but thats another story).

The 2006 season ended with a Bears loss in a throwaway game. The 2007 game-15 win wasnt enough to get the Bears into the playoffs; the next year it should have been enough but for a game-16 loss to Houston that undid whatever good the OT win had accomplished.

The Packers used their game-16 win in 2010 to punch their playoff ticket and went on to win the Super Bowl. Last year the game-15 loss to the Packers was the Bears fourth loss to Green Bay in one calendar year and probably did as much to end Jerry Angelos Chicago tenure as anything.

It also assured the Bears no better than an 8-8 finish in what turned out to be a year in which a team scraping into the playoffs at 9-7 would win the Super Bowl.

Eliot Harrison over at NFL.com rates Bears-Packers II No. 5 among his 12 games to watch in 2012. Considering that some of his higher-rateds are kitchy one-year novelty ones like Denver-New England because of Peyton Manning, or New England-Baltimore because of last years playoff field-goal gaffe, Bears-Packers II stands as one that points to far more significance than most.

Reports: Dolphins assistant Jeremiah Washburn to be Bears' new O-line coach

Reports: Dolphins assistant Jeremiah Washburn to be Bears' new O-line coach

The Bears have reportedly found a new offensive line coach.

According to multiple reports Monday, Jeremiah Washburn will become the team's new offensive line coach, replacing Dave Magazu.

Washburn worked as an assistant offensive line coach this past season with the Miami Dolphins under Adam Gase, the Bears' former offensive coordinator.

Prior to his season in South Florida, he spent seven seasons with the Detroit Lions, working three of them as the team's offensive line coach after three as an assistant offensive line coach.

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This past season, the Bears ranked 17th in the NFL in rushing with 1,735 yards as a team. Only eight teams allowed fewer sacks than the Bears, who saw quarterbacks dropped by opposing defenses just 28 times. Bears quarterbacks were hit 73 teams, also a top-10 mark in the league.

The Bears also committed a good number of holding penalties, 1.68 per game, which was only bested by seven teams.

Magazu was a longtime member of John Fox's staffs in Chicago, Denver and Carolina.

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Patrick Kane was summing up the Blackhawks' weekend, one that didn't go well in terms of points.

"Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we're at," he said Sunday night. "Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are."

Well, in a way, it is. You can't really compare Friday's loss to Washington and Sunday's loss to Minnesota on performance; the Blackhawks didn't show up for the first game and were much better in the second. Nevertheless, it was the same result in each. The Blackhawks' lengthy hold on first place in the Western Conference ended, with the Wild taking over following Sunday's 3-2 victory.

It's not a sound-the-alarm situation, but the Blackhawks are certainly cognizant of the missed opportunity last weekend and that they came up short against the league's best.

Artem Anisimov agreed with Kane's assessment.

"We just need to play better. All four lines need to play better in all areas of the ice. Just be better in the little things," Anisimov said. "Back check, put stick in the right position, box the guy out, short shifts. All little things need to be better."

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Many of the little things that were absent against the Capitals were back against the Wild. But coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with mistakes made on goals allowed, especially the first two. And while Kane and the second line were a consistent scoring threat against the Wild, the other three lines weren't. It's a problem that's plagued the Blackhawks a good deal this season, even when they were stringing together victories.

There is no reason to think that, because of this weekend's results, the Blackhawks are going to falter against strong teams. They've done well against others already this season. They beat Montreal earlier this season, when the Canadiens were healthy and steamrolling everyone. They beat the New York Rangers when the Rangers and former Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta were on their respective hot streaks.

Still, Kane's analysis is correct: This should get the Blackhawks' attention. The Wild have beaten the Blackhawks in eight consecutive regular-season games now and will face them three more times this season. They have two more meetings with the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them soundly in November.

The Blackhawks' long reign atop the Western Conference standings is over. They’re currently second in the Central Division, with an eight-point cushion over the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have done fairly well this season. But this weekend was a reminder that they can be better.

"The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you're one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might've even had more so, just kind of didn't pull it out," Kane said. "But (when) you've played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there's got to be room for improvement, right?"