Moon Musings from a Sunday of NFL football

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Moon Musings from a Sunday of NFL football

Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010
10:45 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The play of Matt Flynn for the Green Bay Packers should serve to quiet some of the snickering about the Bears facing backup quarterbacks (which has happened a lot this season).

Flynn started in place of concussed Aaron Rodgers and had the New England Patriots reeling right up to the final, game-ending sack. Rodgers doesnt make some of the new-guy mistakes but Flynn played better against the Patriots that Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez and a lot of other quarterbacks this season.

A fluke? Well, Drew Stanton, that third-stringer who started against the Bears, guided the Detroit Lions to a road win over playoff-hopeful Tampa Bay earlier in the day and beat the Packers with Rodgers a week earlier.

Look, no one is saying that backups are the players that starters usually are. But would the Bears have lost to the Miami if the Dolphins had Chad Henne or Pennington starting instead of Tyler Thigpen? Or to Detroit if Matthew Stafford is in rather than Stanton? Lovie Smth has virtually owned (8-3) Brett Favre, and Tarvaris Jackson iswell, Tarvaris Jackson. Can Joe Webb really do all that much worse?

Remember those guys?

Not that the Bears or anyone else is looking that far back and it doesnt mean anything now, but what the Philadelphia Eagles did with their comeback against the New York Giants puts a subtle exclamation point to the Bears win over Philly a few weeks back. It also did the Bears a little favor that could turn out to be very big.

If the Bears and Eagles tie as division winners (assuming the Bears get their business done in short order), the Bears have the head-to-head edge over Philadelphia and that could get them a bye past the wild-card round. The division winners with the two best records get that first week off; one of those two will be the Atlanta Falcons and the other could ultimately be determined by those 28 points in the final 7:28 by the Eagles in the Meadowlands.

Jet takeoff?

A less helpful (for the Bears) turn of events was taking place in Pittsburgh where the recently inept New York Jets were taking the measure of the Steelers. The Jets had a total of three field goals in the combined previous two games and the Bears would like very much to have been playing a collapsing team on a three-game losing streak.

What raises an eyebrow is the fact that the Jets did it on the road, against the fourth-ranked yardage defense. The Jets also are now 6-1 on the road as they get ready for Soldier Field.

Detroit doins

The Detroit Lions are starting to play the way I thought they would all season after all the upgrading they did in the offseason. Its just a little late.

They put a significant scare into the Bears with that 17-14 halftime lead two weeks ago. Then, off a losing streak at five games, they rocked the Green Bay Packers and didnt allow at TD. Now they average 6.5 yards per carry and run for 181 yards against what appeared to be a playoff team at Tampa Bay. Operative phrase: at Tampa Bay.

This was the first road win since they beat the Bears in 2007.

So the Lions have defeated two teams with winning records in the last two weeks and threatened a third (Chicago). Early prediction: The Lions will not finish fourth in the NFC North next year.

Nice call

Compliments to Jeff Fisher for his presenting offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger a game ball after the Tennessee Titans defeated the Houston Texans. Heimerdinger is battling cancer and Fishers gesture was one of those moments that helps you remember that there are battles in life far greater and with more at stake than a football game. Nice going, Guppy, and good luck, Mike.

Sound of silence
With the Bears playing on Monday night, we wont have our regular Monday night chat on CSNChicago.com from 7-8 p.m. Those are always a good time and right now well figure on hooking up Tuesday night instead of Monday.

Same on checking in with the guys at WFMB-AM SportsRadio 1450 in Springfield. We usually visit in drive time at 4:40 p.m. but well gab Tuesday instead. Other get-togethers right now will stay the same this week.

And one more thing

Ive had the Bears at 10-6 or better for this season and this will be No. 10. I had thought the upset of the New England Patriots would be that onenever mind.

But this time for sure.

The Vikings lost the Leslie Frazier buzz last week in that showing against the New York Giants in Detroit. Theyre honoring their 50 greatest players and coaches this weekend but since Chuck Foreman, Alan Page and Fran Tarkenton are in their primes or suiting up, thats just good for a brief emotional tick. Hey, the Bears retired the uniform numbers of none other than Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers in 1994 and lost by 27, at home.

Minnesota is starting a rookie quarterback against a defense that has been roughed up the past two weeks. Joe Webb will give the Bears more problems than they would like, and the Bears could be in serious trouble if they prepared sloppily the way the Patriots did for Matt Flynn when the Packers came to Foxboro on Sunday night.

But while conditions should affect the dome-based Vikings more than the Bears, the biggest issue I see for the Bears to overcome is Jay Cutler. The quarterback simply does not characteristically play well in the dark, as the Giants, Dolphins and Patriots game confirmed. Even his play in the win over Green Bay produced a lower passer rating than his season average.

Turnovers will decide the game and if Cutler can avoid them, the Bears should post win No. 10 and pick up their third NFC North title in Lovie Smiths seven Chicago seasons.

Bears 13 Vikings 10

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.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

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What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.