Super Bowl lessons

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Super Bowl lessons

Super Bowls finish off the playing portion of the NFL year. They also serve as standards for measuring your team, your players, your coaches, whatever, in terms of where you stand vis--vis the elite in the league, and they point to some things you may need to do to get to that level.

1 - Let-em-score touchdowns just arent a good idea.

The Green Bay Packers and Mike Holmgren lost a Super Bowl when they let the Denver Broncos score a go-ahead touchdown in a fourth quarter in order to give themselves more time for an answering score. That didnt happen.

The New England Patriots appeared to go into a matador mode on Ahmad Bradshaws six-yard run for the winning points Sunday. Bradshaw tried not to go all the way into the end zone, stopping just short of the goal line but falling in when he couldnt stop his momentum.

The Patriots lost this Super Bowl when they, like the Packers, could reply with points to overcome the Bradshaw score.

It seems to make sense at the time. But the teams that have done it in the biggest game of all have lost. Not sure how else to really judge the strategy.

2 - Get a high-impact wideout, no matter what it costs.

New GM Phil Emery said he wont be talking about needs or players but the two teams in Lucas Oil Stadium for Super Bowl XLVI each had wide receivers that decide games, and the Bears simply dont have any at this point.

Not a new assessment but the Bears dont have a Hakeem Nicks (76 catches, 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns. Or a Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards, nine touchdowns). Or a Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns). Or a Rob Gronkowski (more on that later).

But a point here is that these types of gamers dont come through one portal. They can cost, however, and Emery and the Bears will need to shop aggressively.

Nicks was a No. 1 draft choice. Cruz was an undrafted free agent nugget (sort of a Dane Sanzenbacher thing) who almost was cut prior to this season. And Welker cost the Patriots second- and seventh-round draft picks in a 2007 trade.

The Bears have the No. 19 pick of this years draft. They have four picks in the first three rounds. And the free-agent receiver market includes Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson and Dwayne Bowe.

Jerry Angelo disliked investing No. 1s in wide receivers. Emery said at his introductory press conference that he and Angelo were different. How different, and how much he thinks an elite wideout is worth, will be a factor in whether the Bears are in a Super Bowl discussion a few months from now.

3 - Just get in the playoffs. Period.

The Giants won this Super Bowl after a 9-7 season. The 9-7 Arizona Cardinals were within a historic Santonio Holmes catch of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple Super Bowls ago. The Packers at 10-6 won Super Bowl XLV after qualifying for the playoffs via tiebreaker.

Coaches and players always say just make the playoffs and anything is possible. Couldnt have said it any better.

4 - This is enough Manning for a while. A couple days, anyhow.

Eli Manning said some months ago that he thought he deserved to be considered among the elite quarterbacks in the game. Well, it aint braggin if you back it up.

Manning won his second Super Bowl MVP award and pulled past brother Peyton in the ring race. And Peyton is a longshot to be contending for one anytime soon if for no other reason than the condition of his neck and nerves in his right arm.

Eli completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown, without throwing any interceptions despite being pressured enough for three sacks by the Patriots.

And Eli did this with another fourth-quarter comeback, a true measure of quarterback greatness; talk of that is going to running amok for a long time now.

We played smart, Manning said, refusing to get too into personal buzz from the award. There at the end when we had an opportunity in the fourth, quarter, wed been in those situations and we knew that we had no more time left. We had to go down and score and guys stepped up and made great plays.

A problem now is that Peyton will start up again in his taffy pull with Colts owner Jim Irsay. Theyll meet this coming week about Mannings health and whether the Colts will pay the 28 million Manning is due by Mar. 8 or he becomes a free agent. The heavy leaning is toward his release by the Colts.

In the meantime, Manning elder Archie was not about to buck family tradition and be quiet.

I dont know anything about the Hall of Fame, Archie said when asked about the possibility of being the father of two Hall of Fame QBs. Eli is in his eighth year and I know one thing: He might have said earlier in the year that he belonged with the elite quarterbacks. He will not be saying that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Well see on that one.

5 - One play doesnt win or lose a game. Also Period.

Unless its one where a Jay Cutler breaks a thumb, that is.

Welker was near tears talking about the fourth-quarter pass that went off his hands deep in New Yorks end of the field with four minutes to play. Instead of a clinching touchdown or crucial lead-building field goal, the Patriots were forced to punt.

It hit me right in the hands, Welker said. I mean, its a play I never drop, I always make. Most critical situation and I let the team down.

Hell put himself in the Hall of Shame somewhere between Scott Norwood and Jackie Smith in the Goats Gallery, but hell be wrong.

Wes was running down the field, it looked like they messed up the coverage a little bit and I threw it to him and he just couldnt come down with it, said quarterback Tom Brady. Hes a helluva a player. Ill keep throwing the ball to him as long as I possibly can.

One play isnt why we lost today.

Big picture: The Patriots did not score in the second half. That isnt all on Welker.

6 - Chicago should never be without a star tight end.

The modern tight end began with Mike Ditka. The Bears may not ever have a Hall of Famer at the position but they are at without one at an elite level when they are all over the NFL as never before.

The Mike Martz tenure in Chicago may have seen the Bears reach an NFC Championship. But the transformation of the tight end position on his watch set the Bears behind the NFL, helped tie the hands of successor Mike Tice and cost Jerry Angelo, who never wanted him running the offense in the first place.

The work of Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski for New England has been over-covered. But the Bears had their 6-6, 255 tight end and Martz had no use for him. So Greg Olsens value dropped to the point where he had no future in Chicago and he was dealt to Carolina.

On the flip side, Martz wanting Brandon Manumaleuna cost the Bears millions of wasted dollars, which did Angelo no favors with the accounting department, besides contributing absolutely nothing to the offense. Along with that, Kellen Davis was elevated to a level of expectation that he has never hit before.

Nothing is irreversible but Emery and the Bears will be playing catch-up at a position where they had someone who fit the mold that is working against the type of secondary players that struggle against big tight ends.

The 5 Bears players with the most to prove in training camp

The 5 Bears players with the most to prove in training camp

1. Mike Glennon

Glennon is, for now, the Bears’ unquestioned starting quarterback — a role the Bears made clear he wasn’t going to lose after drafting Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick in April. It would take a monumental effort from Trubisky — and a disappointing one from Glennon — for that to change. But Glennon has only attempted 11 more passes in the NFL than Trubisky since the beginning of the 2015 season, leaving plenty of uncertainty heading to Bourbonnais. Glennon’s three-year, $45 million contract is structured so the Bears could cut him for $2.5 million next spring, and with a highly-touted player developing behind him, he may not have as much leeway as his contract would appear to give him. As Glennon put it in May: “This is my year. There are no guarantees in the NFL.” The 27-year-old is well aware this year is his best opportunity to prove, either to the Bears or the rest of the league, that he’s capable of being a successful starting quarterback. That process begins in earnest this week. 

2. Mitch Trubisky

While it remains unlikely that Trubisky will be the Bears’ Week 1 starter, if he proves to be better than Glennon at the end of August…why would he not be the starter? It’s not a simple yes or no question, given Trubisky has to learn a largely different offense than the one he ran in college (unlike Philadelphia’s No. 2 pick, Carson Wentz, a year ago) and only started 13 games since leaving high school in Mentor, Ohio. But it’s the job of John Fox and his coaching staff to win games, and if they come to a consensus that Trubisky gives them a better chance of winning, then it would make sense for him to start. What’s more likely in reach for Trubisky during training camp is showing enough to the coaching staff to lay the foundation for him to play in 2017, either as a substitute or as a starter later in the season. 

3. Kevin White

Aside from the quarterbacks, it’s hard to think of a player with more to prove than White. It’s too early to label White a bust, given those two leg injuries limited him four games in his first two years, but the Bears at least need him to be healthy this year to start to figure out what they have in the former seventh overall pick. White was targeted 36 times before suffering his season-ending injury last year and averaged 5.19 yards per target, which was the third-lowest average among receivers with at least 35 targets in 2016. That's surprising for a guy who was drafted with such good speed, so not only will White have to prove he can stay healthy, but he'll have to prove he can be more productive within the Bears' offense. 

4. Leonard Floyd

While White may have the most to prove, Floyd probably has the highest expectations placed upon him in 2017. Floyd’s 7 1/2 sacks last year were promising, and he appears to be past the scary post-concussion malaise he suffered in January and February. If Floyd grows into a double-digit sack guy for the Bears this year, he could be the catalyst for some significant improvements for the entire defense (a better pass rush begets more opportunities for interceptions, etc.). But he’ll also have to prove the issues that led to those two concussions last year — chiefly, poor tackling form — are a thing of the past, and that he’s able to make that Year 1 to Year 2 leap the Bears think he can. 

5. Kyle Fuller

Fuller faces an uphill climb to make the Bears’ 53-man roster, so what he’s trying to prove may be of more value to finding a post-Chicago landing spot. Vic Fangio’s pointed comments about Fuller’s willingness (or lack thereof) to play last year cast doubt on his future, but he’s still still here after being neither cut nor traded in the offseason. The Bears declined Fuller's fifth-year option earlier this year, though, so training camp may be Fuller's last chance at sticking in the NFL, either with the Bears or elsewhere. 

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

This Bears rebuild has taken longer than expected. Ideally, in year three of a GM/head coach tandem, they should be contending for the playoffs. 

That’s not to say the 2017 Bears can’t. It’s just unlikely. They don’t have enough players opponents have to gameplan for. They don’t have the depth to overcome key injuries. When franchises get on a winning roll, it’s when they have enough of those studs on both sides of the ball, and have the depth to avoid as many emergencies as possible. And that happens when second- and third-year players make a jump in their play.

Offensively, we saw an impressive jump by Cam Meredith, but another left leg injury still have us wondering exactly what Kevin White is, and how good he can be. Jeremy Langford’s growth was stunted by his ankle injury. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu missed the entire year. On the defensive side, we never got to see if Kyle Fuller could’ve proven his first-round status in his third year. Safety Adrian Amos started another full season, but is now in a battle to do the same a third straight year. We can see star qualities in Eddie Goldman, but how much of a difference-maker can he be by remaining on the field? We’ll learn the same about Leonard Floyd if he can do that this fall. And there are a handful of other second-year players we’ll be watching, from Deon Bush to Deiondre Hall to Cre’Von LeBlanc. There’s also 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who learned what it took to become a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

“It was okay. I got about 17 snaps a game,” Bullard said of his rookie season during last month’s minicamp. “That’s not what I wanted coming in. But it is what is. I want to move on to the next year and hopefully be able to help this team in a big way.”

Rookie seasons for every player lay the groundwork. How high their ceiling goes starts to get established in year two, between the player’s effort, and getting coached-up correctly.

“They asked me to gain a few pounds. I was like 282 last year, and right now I’m at 296, so hopefully that helps me, said Bullard. “I’m just trying to make all this solid and not lose my burst that got me here. So I’m looking forward to it. I got a year under my belt now, I know what they expect. I’m gonna be ready.”

Part of Bullard taking things upon himself was hooking up with a former defensive end, from the same alma mater, who happens to be fourth in franchise history in sacks (albeit in a 4-3 scheme): CSN’s very own Bears analyst, Alex Brown.

“We saw each other at the Florida spring game and we kind of linked up and put in some work at his facility down the road,” Bullard explained. “We’ve met up quite a few times, just working on little things. He’s just trying to give me a better understanding of the game, and some of the veteran things he knows that I want to incorporate into my game.”

So what kind of a teacher is Alex?

“He’s alright. I make him him jump in there. I tell him he’s not that old.”

And while Pace didn’t make the big splash in free agency as he tries to match up salary with his grades for players, Bullard has to prove he’s now better than last year’s starter, Mitch Unrein, as well as a hungry fellow former Gator, Jaye Howard, who was brought in on a “prove it” one-year deal after being cut just before the draft by Kansas City.

“As far as him being a Gator, it’s exciting. But it’s a competition. He’s gonna come in and try to win the starting job, and I’m gonna do the same. It’s just gonna have to be a friendly competition when training camp comes, and may the best man win.”

Let this, and many other Bourbonnais battles, begin.