View from the Moon: Rematch of the century awaits

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View from the Moon: Rematch of the century awaits

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted: 10:33 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

First, to make this very simple: The winner of the Bears-Seattle Seahawks game at noon Sunday hosts the NFC Championship game. Sixth-seeded Green Bay, my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, played out a jaw-dropper over the Atlanta Falcons, far beyond the expectations even of those who thought theyd dispatch the Falcons.

The speed-based Bears didnt especially want to go to Atlantas Georgia Dome. But they cannot be looking very forward to Aaron Rodgers and Friends coming in next weekend either.

In any case, Saturday was not a good day for defensive coordinators.

My picks of Pittsburgh over Baltimore and Green Bay over Atlanta were OK, -- the Steelers covered and the Packers won outright -- but the point production was staggering. The Steelers were No. 1 in scoring defense and gave up 24 to the Ravens, who ranked No. 3 and allowed the Steelers 31. The Falcons were No. 5 and gave up 28 points to the Packers in just the first half alone.

No. 2 Green Bay was the only one of the defenses on the field in the divisional playoff round that played to its defensive seed. And thats what waits for the Bears if they get past the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.

The unaccounted-for No. 4 scoring defense? That would be the Bears. Very unlikely that they suffer the same kind of points hemorrhaging as the other elite defenses, but on any given Sunday. ...

What happens Sunday?

My thought is that New England will ease past the New York Jets 30-20, a points differential reflected in the differential between Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez.

The Bears-Seahawks will play out just about the same way, although not based on the quarterbacks. The Seahawks simply have no significant area of real excellence, and the playoffs are about high-impact playmakers. Even Arizona had Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin when they eked into their recent Super Bowl.

The Bears do. They have a defense that should be awake now, after seeing what the Seahawks did to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and recalling what Matt Hasselbeck did to them back in October.

If Jay Cutler and Mike Martz can internalize the lessons of the first eight games since the off week and not regress to the kind of performance they gave at Green Bay, the Bears will slowly pull away in the second half. Cutler will throw for three touchdowns and the Bears will be one game from their second Super Bowl appearance under coach Lovie Smith.
Bears 31, Seahawks 14You wanted who?

The Bears, stuck with nobodies like Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, could certainly use a true No. 1 wide receiver, couldnt they? Like the ones that other teams went after, like Tennessee and Randy Moss, like everybody and Terrell Owens?

Like the Baltimore Ravens and Boldin oh, wait, he just dropped a TD pass in the one-touchdown, divisional-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. ...

Like the Seattle Seahawks and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and his 40-million deal ... oh, wait, the Seahawks let him go and Baltimore picked him up. So then, like the Baltimore Ravens and Houshmandzadeh ... oh, wait, he just dropped a fourth-down pass, the final play for the Ravens in that loss to Pittsburgh.

Of the top 35 wide receivers in the NFL for 2010 in number if receptions, only Roddy White in Atlanta, Wes Welker in New England and Greg Jennings for Green Bay were still playing this weekend. So, please, enough about how the Bears absolutely have to get themselves a No. 1 receiver.
Final pre-playoff Lovie contract thoughts

The outcome of the divisional-round game will factor into organizational thoughts on adding a year, two or more to the contract of Lovie Smith, which expires after 2011. The market has tightened and Smiths price is unlikely to tick dramatically upward from its 5.5 million given the widespread belt-tightening going on throughout the league.

If the Bears fall to the Seahawks, so too could the urge to keep Smith from entering his contract year. If the Bears progress to the NFC Championship game, however, the surprise will be if he and the organization do not extend their association.

Negotiations rarely are public with Smith, agent Frank Bauer and the Bears. And Smith, like Dick Jauron before him, keeps his innermost thoughts just that: innermost.

However, Smith is confident in his abilities, with cause. He reached a Super Bowl in his third year, one sooner than Mike Ditka, and went to the playoffs in his second year, one less than Mike Ditka, and reached a Super Bowl in his third, also one year faster than Ditka.

Since taking over a team with Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn for quarterbacks, an offensive line with Qasim Mitchell at left tackle and Steve Edwards at right guard, and David Terrell as the lead receiver, Smith has had no season with a winning percentage below .438 (two at 7-9) in his last six. Ditka had two of below that in his final four years.

What that means is that while considerable leverage rests with the Bears (Smith is under contract and the league is going cheap with multiple first-time head coaches), Smiths temperament is such that as far as agreeing to anything, he will likely be willing to let this season finish out first, if even then.

Hell gamble on himself.

Angel Gabriel

Former Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel used his billet of writing for National Football Post this week to do some self-serving puffy-chesting about how he was all over running back James Starks on draft day 2010. Gabriel had the kid on the phone but GM Jerry Angelo decided at the last minute to go for a quarterback, Western Michigans Dan LeFevour, in the sixth round.

Interesting timing by Gabriel, trumpeting his find (and taking a shot at Angelo, who let Gabriel go last offseason) after Starks bagged 123 yards in the Packers wild-card win at Philadelphia.

Thats great, especially by a sixth-round pick, although Starks had 47 yards through three quarters against Atlanta; couldnt find another Gabriel item on the guy. And I kept going over and over Gabriels original NFP Starks post and couldnt find his mentioning the picks of Dan Bazuin, Juaquin Iglesias, Mark Bradley, Roe Williams, Jarron Gilbert, Michael Okwo, Michael Haynes. Maybe those were all Angelos, too.

Oh, never mind ...

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

Bears Camp Shorts: Kyle Long out, 'The Interceptor' is in the house

Bears Camp Shorts: Kyle Long out, 'The Interceptor' is in the house

BOURBONNAIS — As expected, right guard Kyle Long was absent from practice on Friday, nursing a calf strain that the Bears will handle conservatively and not rush their Pro Bowl offensive lineman back onto the field.

Long strained his left calf late in Thursday’s practice and Friday saw veteran Ted Larsen step in at right guard with the No. 1 line, as the Bears leave rookie Cody Whitehair in place as the starting left guard for now.

- Additionally, rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to make his way through lunch but not onto the practice field after leaving due to ongoing illness Thursday.

[MORE: Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine]

- Former Bears cornerback Nathan “The Interceptor” Vasher is in camp as a defensive intern, and the Bears also have brought in former New York Jets center Kevin Mawae to work with the offensive line and young center Hroniss Grasu. Vasher is part of the NFL’s internship program while Mawae is in as a guest instructor, something routinely done for stretches of training camp and preseason.

Vasher earned his nickname in 2005 when he was a Pro Bowl and All-NFL selection after collecting eight interceptions — the Bears combined total for all of 2015 — for Lovie Smith’s first playoff team.

“The league instituted [the internship program] a while ago,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “Have had a lot of guys that were ex-players that are now coaching in the league. I think everybody kind of searches for what they want to do when they retire at a very young age from the game, so I think some guys have coaching in them, some don't. I think Kevin was a very smart player in his career; he can help in the NFL in the coaching profession."

- The Bears secondary could use a little dose of “Interceptor” right about now. Demontre Hurst managed an interception of a Brian Hoyer pass on Friday, but that represents the lone takeaway by the defense through two days of practice. The lack of takeaways proved lethal to the Bears last season, with the lowest full-season total (17) in franchise history.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

- Thursday’s rains appeared to leave the Olivet Nazarene University fields healthy but apparently a little treacherous, as a number of Bears had their feet slip out from under them through Friday’s practice.

- Officials were on hand to “work” the Bears’ practice on Friday, throwing flags where warranted and drawing occasional sharp disagreements with certain Bears coaches.

“You know, you try to simulate as well as you can a real game and they're out there in games,” Fox said. “These aren't NFL officials; they'll be here next week as we prepare for our Fan Fest at Soldier Field to build towards getting ready for games, but obviously it's helpful. They get to monitor the players and kind of do's and don't's and I think it's good simulated football.”

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

Bears wide receivers give defense a taste of its own medicine

BOURBONNAIS — For much of this offseason’s practices, the Bears’ offense has had to put up with spirited mouthiness from a feisty Bears defense. On Friday, the day before the Bears get into full pads for the first time in nearly seven months, a touch of the smack flowed the other way, set in motion by one of the smallest players on the roster.

Wide receiver Daniel Braverman, the diminutive (5-9, 185) seventh-round pick of the Bears in this year’s draft, outfought fellow rookie Deiondre' Hall (6-2, 201) for a contested ball across the middle, bounced up and let out with a yell to confirm exactly which side of the ball came away with it.

The catch was the first of many by Braverman, whose day was mirrored by starting wideout Kevin White also making repeated, sometimes acrobatic catches against what until now was a defense firmly holding the upper hand this offseason.

[MORE: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler]

“I think [Braverman] is a guy who was very productive in college, our scouting department really liked him, that's why we drafted him,” said coach John Fox. “I think you know he caught our eyes as far as putting it all together in the offseason and he's continued on that so far this camp.”

Running back Jeremy Langford added several long bursts on runs through the interior, and various receivers added to the day that belonged in large measure to the offense despite missing starting right guard Kyle Long (calf injury).

The defense did have its highlights. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks generated a pair of dominating pass rushes that produced a simulated sack of Jay Cutler and a throwaway, Willie Young blew up a pass play coming clean on a blitz, and safety Harold Jones-Quartey threw Langford to the ground on a non-tackle tackle after the latter had ripped off one of his gashes through the defense.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

Braverman also has been worked on kickoff return and will have myriad chances to be a roster surprise, given the four preseason games and handful of practices in New England with the Patriots.

“These coaches preach every day how important special teams is, and that's something I have to learn to get adjusted to because I was just a returner,” Braverman said. “But now here you have to be a ‘gunner’ and and R2, L2, [position] stuff on kickoffs. It's just getting one day better in every little detail and aspect you can possible in 24 hours of a day.”

Bears: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler

Bears: Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Akiem Hicks has spent the better part of his four-year NFL career intent on annihilating quarterbacks. The defensive lineman also has spent those four years in the presence of two of the greats of this or any NFL era – Drew Brees in New Orleans and Tom Brady in New England.

He has seen some of what makes them great. And since joining the Bears last March, Hick has seen similar traits in his current quarterback – Jay Cutler.

“They have those intangibles,” Hicks told CSNChicago.com on Thursday. “All the stats that you see – the 4,000-yard seasons, the 50-touchdown [seasons] – they also have things that people don’t get to really get to see all the time. It’s something when you’re close to it and see it all the time… . Tom Brady, for instance. This is a real leader.

“And I see the same qualities in Jay Cutler – somebody who knows how to motivate his guys, knows when to get on his guys’ heads, all that. You see it all the time in practice and then it translates into the game. Guys believe in them more.”

Brady has won twice as many Super Bowls than Cutler has playoff games. The two are rarely mentioned in the same sentence.

But Hicks’ assessment of Cutler is not the first by a teammate to focus on the “L” word – Leadership. As Hicks says of Brady and Brees, outsiders do not see what teammates say. And that is the bigger point.