Thursday, December 6, 2001

Bring on Da Bears!

Before getting to the Bears, it is worth stopping for a moment, just to marvel at the Packers' comeback against the Jaguars on Monday night. Oh, sure, they should not have had to have a come-from-behind finish against a 3-7 team, but the Jaguars played just well enough, and the Packers played just poorly enough, to fall behind 13-0 and then 21-7. And then Brett Favre seemed to strap the rest of the team on his aching, "old man" back and carry them to victory. I re-watched the early part of the game over the last couple of days, and of course it seems much different when you know how the game is going to come out. At the time on Monday night, I was just despondent about all of the bad things that happened, and then was almost broken when the sack, strip, and touchdown return happened to make it 21-7. But watching it again, it seemed to me that the Packers were playing better than I had recalled. A couple of touchdowns were just barely missed (the ball in the second quarter that went through Schroeder's hands after he and the defensive back collided and the defensive back fell down; the ball to Driver in the end zone that was just tipped away in the first drive of the third quarter). The Packers came away with no points on these drives, but could have had 14 points. Of course they also got the benefit of a somewhat questionable interference call to negate what would have been an interception. But still, they were playing better (in my mind) than the score up on the board.

And then they just got it all together, starting with the two-minute drill to end the first half. Hmmm, let's see now, they scored 14 of their 28 points in two-minute drill offenses. Maybe the Packers should serve up some hurry-up offense of their own, just as they did back in the mid-1990's a few times. Given how the hurry-up offense of the Jaguars set the Packers back on their heels in the first half, I really think this is worth some consideration. Anyway, the comeback was something to watch in amazement and enjoy, and I hope that we have not become so used to watching this sort of thing, as Packer fans, that we no longer realize how good we have it and have had it over the last 9 years.

And now, here come our primal enemies from across the border. I suppose we all knew, deep inside, that it would come down to this. Even after the Packers' win in Chicago 4 weeks ago, it was apparent that the re-match would count for something, unless you assumed that the Bears would simply collapse after losing to the Packers. At the time, I guess that a collapse seemed feasible, since the Bears had been winning under the most improbable circumstances, so it was possible that, their bubble having been burst, they would crawl back under a rock or something of the sort.

But if it wasn't clear then, it certainly is now, that the Bears have some talent. They went into the House of Horrors (a/k/a the Metrodome) and beat the Vikings, something the Packers seemed to have no chance of doing in their game there earlier this year. The Bears beat the Buccaneers in Tampa, too, another thing the Packers could not do. In fact, the only games the
Bears have lost have been to the Packers and the Ravens, both pretty good teams, and both were fairly close games. The Bears have not been blown out in any games (unlike the Packers, in Minnesota), and they have not lost any games to inferior teams (unlike the Packers, in Tampa, Minnesota and against Atlanta). In short, I hate to say it, but the Bears have been a lot more consistent than the Packers this year.

As a result, I don't expect the Packers to have an easy time of it on Sunday, much as I might wish that they would. If the Packers put it all together, for 60 minutes, I suppose that they should have no trouble with the Bears. But since they haven't really done that all year, maybe with the exception of the Ravens' game, I am not expecting them to do it this week. (It would be a heck of a good time to start, however.)

This game could go either way, but I think the Packers will win it, in a close game. Something like 24-17. My guess is that the Bears will fall short mostly because of their tendency all year to play so conservatively on offense. They are among the lowest in the league in average gain per pass attempt, which suggests that they throw mostly short passes. So they are not as prone to making the big mistake, but they also are not as likely to make a big play. Packer fans will probably recall that the announcers criticized the Bears' offense for not going downfield throughout the first meeting between the two teams.

This should be a good game. It is the Packers and the Bears, playing for the division lead and a possible bye week in the playoffs, in December, in Lambeau Field. What could be better than that? It brings back memories of Lombardi and Halas, Butkus and Nitschke, Sayers and Hornung. It reminds me personally of the first Packer game I ever attended, in 1962, when the
Packers beat the Bears by the score of 49-0! More recently, it reminds me of the animosity that was so evident between Mike Ditka and Forrest Gregg when they coached these teams, and the Instant Replay game, and the Refrigerator, and the Bears' 46 defense. I guess that I am biased, but I don't think there is a better rivalry in the NFL than the rivalry between the Packers and the Bears, even if it seemed to lose some of its luster for awhile there during the Dave Wannstedt years. My only regret (other than not being there) is that it will probably be just slightly too warm for it to snow. This game should be played in snow flurries, just like that game back in 1995 when Favre had a badly sprained ankle, but played anyway, and threw 5 touchdown passes to beat the Bears, 35-28.

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