Harris: 'We'll see those guys again... in Super Bowl'

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Harris: 'We'll see those guys again... in Super Bowl'

Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010
9:27 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Defensive tackle Tommie Harris just slowly nodded his head at the question: Are the New England Patriots really that good?

Oh yeah, said Harris, who was returned to the starting job hed lost after the second game this season. Theyre that good.

But if the Bears were indeed bent by the New England onslaught on offense and defense in Sundays 36-7 embarrassment, they were far from broken. Harris followed his frank assessment of the Patriots excellence with a de facto prediction:

The Bears and Patriots will face off in Super Bowl XLV.

I feel like well see those guys again down the road, Harris said. Yeah. I feel like we will see them in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots clinched a playoff berth with their win. The Bears could clinch the NFC North division next Sunday with a victory over Minnesota, wherever that game ends up being played, and a Green Bay loss at New England.

But what the Bears take away from Sundays humiliation at the hands of a ranking member of the NFL elite will perhaps be the most important lesson they learn or fail to learn.

The Patriots in the 2001 regular season lost to the St. Louis Rams, then coached by current Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The Patriots, left at 5-5 at the time by the loss, did not lose again and in fact did see the Rams again that season, beating them in the Super Bowl.

New England on this day, however, showed the Bears a very harsh reality that the Bears may have lost sight of during their stretch of five straight wins before Sunday.

Sometimes you need a good whipping and thats what we got, said linebacker Lance Briggs. A good whipping helps us get ourselves back to where we need to be. A loss like this can be good if it comes at the right time.

The 2010 Bears would not be the first team to be bashed late in the season and move from that loss to a championship. The 1985 Bears were embarrassed in Miami and then not again that season. The 2010 Bears are at their own fork in the road and know it.

If you want to be world champs, theres a difference in the level of play, said center Olin Kreutz. Every once in a while when youre climbing to the top in something, somebody at the top shows you what it takes to be there. If you learn from them and next time you see them you close the gap on them, then this could be a great thing for us.

They showed us today how far we have to go to be world champs. If we accept that challenge, who knows where we could be. We have high-character guys in here. But its easy to be pretty good and its hard to be great and guys have to decide if they want to be great.

Critics, skeptics and doubters may not see the Bears playing more than their scheduled 16 games in 2010 but at least one of the Patriots does.

They are a playoff-caliber team, said nose tackle Vince Wolfork.

Duly noted

Because of the Packers loss to Detroit, Green Bay will have at least two division losses for 2010. If the Bears defeat Minnesota next weekend they will stand at 5-0 in the division and win a tiebreaker with the Packers based on division records, the second tiebreaker after head-to-head, in which the Packers can do no better than a split with the Bears.

Maybe this was all a Bill Belichick-Mike Martz thing. The 40-22 win in 2004 by Belichicks Patriots at the expense of Martzs St. Louis Rams was the worst home loss suffered by the Rams in five seasons.

The last time the Bears faced Soldier Field in-game precipitation like Sundays was on Halloween 1994 and they did not fare much better in the sheets of rain that night either. The Packers buried the Bears 33-6 on the night that the franchise retired the uniform numbers of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.

Over-viewing

General Manager Jerry Angelo has never seen a final four games on a schedule to rival the Bears closing stretch of New England, Minnesota, the New York Jets and Green Bay. But as difficult as it may be, Angelo likes the thinking behind the situation. The commissioner had a great idea, putting our division games at the end, Angelo said on WBBM-AMs pregame show. Should be great football.

As positive as much of the offensive line performance has been through the Bears five-game winning streak, the line is still a work in progress and its probably going to be that way to the end, Angelo said.

Sitting out

Rookie defensive end Corey Wootton was a surprise active for Sunday, his third game this season, taking the place of defensive tackle Marcus Harrison in a move to add height in the pass rush against a quick-release quarterback like Tom Brady. The Bears made repeated use of three tight ends in a power-run plan early, using Kellen Davis, Brandon Manumaleuna and Greg Olsen together. Tight end Desmond Clark, however, remained on the inactive list for the ninth game in the last 10..

Nick Roach opened at strong-side linebacker in place of injured Pisa Tinoisamoa for the third time in the last four games. But Roach and Rod Wilson were rotated on alternating series.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Cautionary quarterback tales for Bears as playoffs move along

Cautionary quarterback tales for Bears as playoffs move along

Watching the playoffs from a safe distance since the Bears aren’t in them, you see things that make you think… .

Watching the Atlanta Falcons demolish the Seattle Seahawks might have raised a gee-what-if moment, as in what if Falcons coach Dan Quinn, the presumptive first choice of GM Ryan Pace to succeed Marc Trestman, had ended up directing the Bears instead?

Don’t spend a lot of time on that one. This isn’t quite GM Phil Emery deciding on Trestman over Bruce Arians, which earns some richly deserved second-guess time. And it’s not quite accurate to declare that John Fox wasn’t Pace’s first choice, because Fox did become that first choice when he somewhat unexpectedly came free from the Denver Broncos.

More to the relevant point, however, is that Quinn inherited Matt Ryan (not Jay Cutler) as his quarterback effected something of a breakthrough for the Falcons because of what he did having little to do directly with Ryan.

Ryan became “great” this season because Quinn, who has a deep defensive pedigree that included two distinguished stints with Seattle, turned the Atlanta defense into something ferocious. Ryan was 1-4 in playoff games before Saturday in very large part because the Falcons had given up 28, 28, 24, 48 and 30 points in Ryan’s five postseason games. Ryan didn’t have to throw-throw-throw this year because his teams weren’t behind; his total attempts this season (534) were the fewest of his last seven seasons.

So would the Bears have been better off with Quinn than Fox? Only if Quinn brought Russell Wilson with him from Seattle.

Jimmy Garoppolo the answer to the Bears’ quarterback quest? Consider carefully because those who do not learn from the mistakes in history are condemned to repeat them.

Ryan Pace is obviously right in placing the code-red priority on addressing his quarterback situation. And it increasingly difficult to envision a workable scenario other than Brian Hoyer signed as a veteran starter (more on that another time), Connor Shaw or Matt Barkley (probably not) as a No. 2, and a draft choice.

One reason was on display Saturday in New England, and a cautionary reason at that. Call it an object lesson.

The Texans cast their lot with Brock Osweiler to the tune of $72 million, their thinking being that he was a franchise answer based on his resume consisting of precisely seven starts (one against the Bears) with a really good Denver team in 2015. But Osweiler, who’d already been benched for a late-season week, was further exposed in the double-digit loss Saturday to New England, a game in which Osweiler threw 3 interceptions to dig a fatal hole for the Texans and a defense among the NFL’s elite even without J.J. Watt.

Like the Bears were with Jay Cutler’s contract in 2015 and 2016, the Texans are stuck for massive ($19 million for Osweiler) guaranteed money before next season even gets here. The cries for Houston to eat the deal have already started.

But the overriding lesson lies in expecting a backup, even a basically OK one, to somehow be more than he was with his previous team.

Notably, Brady proved what he was in 2001 when Bledsoe was injured and Brady guided the Patriots into the postseason, so effectively that Bill Belichick made the decision, as Jason Garrett did in Dallas between Dak Prescott and Tony Romo, to stay the course with the No. 2. He knew exactly what he had in Brady.

Others were victims of false hope/hype.

And the constant seems to be a mysterious assumption that if the guy is No. 2 to a pretty good quarterback, then HE must be a really good quarterback.

Scott Mitchell (behind Dan Marino), Matt Cassel (behind Brady), Matt Flynn (behind Aaron Rodgers), Kevin Kolb (behind Donovan McNabb), Chad Henne (behind Chad Pennington), Ryan Mallett (behind Brady), Osweiler (behind Peyton Manning) – all backups who gave enough of a tantalizing tease for some hopeful team to gamble – and lose, big.

Probably just a coincidence here, but Cassel, Mallett and now Garoppolo all back/backed up…yeah, THAT guy.

One epic exception is Drew Brees, whom the New Orleans Saints acquired as a free agent after the San Diego Chargers decided their future lay with Philip Rivers. But Brees is memorable for precisely that reason, that No. 2’s going on to greatness are easy to remember because they are so rare.

Pace was on the pro personnel scouting side of things with New Orleans when the Saints made the Brees move. Unlikely he would be a knee-jerk follower of something he was involved with that worked once.

But stranger, and worse, things have happened in the NFL.

Devin Hester: From busting returns to a bust in Canton

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AP

Devin Hester: From busting returns to a bust in Canton

Difference makers. Playmakers.  Game changers.

It's more of what the present-day Bears are trying to stock their roster with and develop the potential ones that might already be there. The Bears of the mid- and late-2000s either inherited, drafted, or signed enough of them on the defensive side to remain a contender that too often fell short. A big reason for that was their inability to do the same on the offensive side of the ball.

But general manager Jerry Angelo made a boom-or-bust roll of the dice in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft on a kid from Miami. He was definitely special and could be a difference makear, but didn't really have a position.

If Devin Hester did indeed play the final game of his career Saturday in Atlanta, the 11-year pro gave us a quick flashback at age 34, if only wearing the navy, white and neon green of the Seahawks instead of the navy, white and orange of the Bears.

An 80-yard punt return was nullified due to a holding call. But he had five kick returns for 194 yards. Had he produced like that more consistently in recent years with the Falcons, or this season with the Ravens before signing a pre-playoff deal with Seattle, he wouldn't be retiring, as he says he now will.

Those Bears teams with the frustrating, inconsistent offenses that fell short of the mostly-high defensive standard set during Lovie Smith's years needed something extra. That was Hester.

When you pore through the hits and misses of Angelo Era drafts, this gamble was a thumbs up, even if the desire to further implement Hester's natural gifts fell short (and confirmed by Atlanta's short-lived attempts to do the same once the Bears let him go three years ago).

The Brian Mitchells and Eric Metcalfs and Dante Halls and Leon Washingtons and Joe Cribbses who preceded him set a certain standard in the return game. Hester blew them away. Had Gale Sayers never suffered his knee injuries, perhaps that would have been the standard Hester chased, and could still be chasing.

But the combined 14 punt return touchdowns (first all-time), five kickoff return touchdowns and one missed field goal return should push Canton's door open for the first time for a return specialist. Whether it's five years from now, or if the wait needs to be a little longer, it's deserved.

The biggest stage, the one in Super Bowl XLI when Hester opened the game with his 92-yard scoring return, turned into one of just six losses the Bears suffered when he returned a kick for a score. Hester's weaponry capped a perfect special teams storm that picked up slack in those years when the offense lagged. He was the cherry on top of Dave Toub's group that rarely seemed a concern on gameday when the likes of Patrick Mannelly, Brendan Ayanbadejo, Jason McKie, Robbie Gould, Nick Roach, among many others, found often-overlooked ways to make a subtle impact.

And that rainy night in Miami was the highlight and, unfortunately, the exception to what was often common in games Devin would do his "ridiculous" thing.  His magic helped them to 12 wins, while most of the other five losses were ones in which the Bears fell short by 10 or fewer points.

B.H. ("Before Hester") was the time we'd get up in the press box, or watching at home, to take a bathroom break or go on a snack run as opposing teams set up to punt or kickoff. He changed that. By the time the NFL determined in 2011 that kickoffs should come from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, most of Hester's serious damage to opponents had been done.

Plus, the league was concerned about the growing number of injuries on kickoffs. But that likely took away a few more opportunities to add to Hester's record. Touchbacks went from 16 percent in 2010 to 52 percent in 2015. Then this past year, the league got even "safer" by giving offenses five more yards (to the 25) on touchbacks (a rule which will revisited this off-season).

Toub has the newest return sensation in Kansas City in Tyreek Hill, whose game so far seems more versatile offensively than what Hester was ever able to provide. Time will tell about his staying power.

But between rule changes, impact on games and opponents' strategy, the record, plus a don't-turn-your-back now change of mindset, it wasn't just us in Chicago who realized Devin Hester was a game changer. It's fun to listen to and watch smile when his former teammates relate the charge of energy that burst through the team whenever Hester took one to the house.

The second-most memorable, of course, was the one that capped the Monday night comeback in Arizona his rookie season. He was an impactful addition, just as he should eventually be the first of his kind in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Because he was one of a kind.

Sandberg in Cooperstown. Jordan in Springfield. Here's to another Chicago No. 23 in the Hall.