Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011
By John Mullin
They were the new guys back in 2006, the young guys, and it came almost too easily.
And now, Devin Hester and Danieal Manning, rookies in 2006, and Chris Harris, who went to the playoffs as a rookie in 2005 and a Super Bowl the next year, are in a position to do what many of the greats of the game, including many, many Bears never did: return to a Super Bowl.
Dan Marino went in his second, lost and never went again. Wilber Marshall and Ron Rivera went to playoffs as rookies, a Super Bowl in their second year, and never got back there.
Its tough, Harris said. You have some guys with great careers, Hall of Fame players, who never played in a Super Bowl.
Hester didnt think getting to a Super Bowl was necessarily easy but I didnt think it would go like that, he said, shaking his head at the memory and at the thought of not even getting back to the playoffs since then. The team we had the Super Bowl I thought would be good for a long time.
Its a long season and every year something happens, every year it seems like theres a different team.
Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Olin Kreutz, Tommie Harris all know what it means to reach a Super Bowl and lose there.
And they are part of the reason why the Bears are unlikely to make the mistake of not treating the Green Bay game and the two weeks that follow as critical steps toward a goal that will never be taken for granted.
Its a long journey for this team, Hester said. This year, weve been doing pretty good. The record is looking pretty good right now. The bye, and everything is starting to show up. Our team is starting to do some great things, as far as offense, defense and special teams. We got a good shot.
Arguably the single most important player in the Bears playoff saga, Jay Cutler, has never been in uniform for a playoff game. He has never had the experience of anything beyond regular-season playing speed.
But his motivation should be perhaps greater even than for his teammates who have been there but lost.
I dont think anybody in that locker room is gonna be satisfied until we win a Super Bowl, Cutler said. So theres a lot to be done yet. But weve got to keep getting better. Weve got to keep working. Weve got to keep coming to work. Keep the drive.
That makes Sunday in Green Bay important. If the Bears lose the drive, they will lose before they ever make the Super Bowl that some thought would have come again by now.
If the Bears were hoping to see more of Juaquin Iglesias in the future, theyll likely have their wish after the 2009 third-round pick was signed off the Bears practice squad Saturday by the Minnesota Vikings. Iglesias showed flashes back in training camp but was unable to demonstrate enough consistent playmaker ability to warrant a spot of the regular roster. Iglesias was inactive for all but one game in his rookie season.
Iglesias joins fellow No. 3 pick Jarron Gilbert on the former-Bears list, leaving the Bears with neither of their top 2009 picks. Its unlikely the organization is going to have serious laments on a bad draft, however.
Henry Melton (fourth round) is a force in the defensive-line rotation and possible successor to Tommie Harris as the three-technique in the Bears scheme. D.J. Moore, the Bears second pick in the fourth round, is the No. 1 nickel back and has 4 interceptions. Johnny Knox (fifth round) needs just 40 yards Sunday to pass 1,000. Guard Lance Louis has settled into a backup role but has shown some promise.
And the Bears No. 1 and first No. 3 picks of that draft? They went for Jay Cutler, who has begun to look every bit like the franchise quarterback the trade was intended to secure.
And one more thing.
I didnt make a call on this game earlier because I really didnt know how much the Bears would put into it, in terms of effort, personnel and both. The Bears really dont have anything to play for except what really matters, that being playoff preparations.
They have a quarterback who has never played beyond a regular season since high school and needs to not only stay sharp, but also needs to be better than he has been, because thats what playoffs are about quarterback play. The only player close to a starter that the Bears made inactive was receiver Earl Bennett and that because of an injury.
The other thing that playoffs are about is play on defense, and the Bears group has played progressively worse into this fourth quarter of the season. The Bears kept linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa active despite his chronic knee issues, if thats any indication of intent. The Bears had their usual list of inactives: defensive backs Craig Steltz and Joshua Moore; running back Khalil Bell; offensive linemen Herman Johnson and Edwin Williams; and defensive lineman Marcus Harrison.
The Bears will definitely take this game seriously, at least through the first half. But I dont think thatll be enough to beat a resurgent and overall very good Green Bay team.
Packers 27 Bears 21
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.