Bears

Moon: 49ers, Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI

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Moon: 49ers, Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI

My only miss through the NFC playoffs was the Green Bay loss to the New York Giants. Actually that was the only one on either side of the draw. This was a postseason for staying hard on the home teams, for a reason.

Home teams in playoffs win the preponderance of games. Playing at home is an obvious advantage, but thats really a little backwards.

The reason teams are at home in the playoffs is nearly always because they won more games in the season. Meaning: Theyre the better team. Thats why you ultimately win.

That will be the case Sunday as well.
Baltimore at New England - 2 p.m.

I have long been a Ravens appreciator. Ray Lewis is one of the dominant players of his age and Ed Reed is a close second. Terrell Suggs gives them an elite player in each area of a defense: line, linebacker, secondary.

The Texans were close in the divisional round but only because the Joe Flacco is not a dominant quarterback. Not a seriously deficient one (Suggs comments notwithstanding), and no quarterback has ever been so consistent getting to playoffs this early in a career.

But the Patriots are not the Texans.

New England is one of those rare teams in sport that truly begin each season with the mindset that anything less than a championship is a wasted year. Bill Russells Celtics, Magic Johnsons Lakers, Jordans Bulls, the Steel Curtain Steelers, the MontanaYoung 49ers, the (you pick one) Yankees.

The reason is simply that they are a team that functions perhaps better than any other at the highest moments. Tom Brady does that and with only occasional exception, so does Bill Belichick.

The Ravens are fully capable of storming the gates sufficiently to blunt and disrupt Brady, but seldom has he had the options he has now, particularly in the ranges involved. Deep threats will not be the problem for Baltimore; mid-range daggers, before Suggs can get past Matt Light at left tackle, will be, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Gonzalez along with Wes Welker are the consummate dangers in those underneath areas of the field.

The surprise will be if this game is a blowout.
Patriots, 20 - Ravens, 16

New York at San Francisco - 5:30 p.m.
An entertaining sidebar to this one is that only once previously have two No. 1-overall quarterbacks (Eli Manning 2004, Alex Smith 2005) playing each other in a conference championship. The only other time was when Vinny Testaverde quarterbacked the New York Jets against John Elways Denver Broncos in the 1998 AFC Championship.

Notably here, Manning (San Diego) and Testaverde (Tampa Bay) were not playing for the teams that initially drafted them. Nor was Elway (Indianapolis, then Baltimore).

For that matter, too, No. 1-overall quarterbacks dont necessarily even get to Super Bowls: Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, Terry Bradshaw, Elway, Peyton Manning, Jim Plunkett. Paul Hornung reached the first one but he was a running back in the NFL.

Few matchups have as colorful a history as the Giants and 49ers, albeit most of it when the current players were just kids. This one is the same.

The best part of this game is that the Giants and 49ers right now are excellent teams. Both do things well on both sides of the ball, which is rare (see: AFC, BaltimoreNew England) and both are capable of excellence both running and throwing the football.

The Giants hold a huge advantage in Manning over Smith, and the single biggest factor in this game will be Smith if he flusters under pressure from Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and that bunch, and turnovers start, the New York offense will put up points off of short-field position that the 49ers will be hard pressed to match.

But this Alex Smith is not the one who languished under previous coaching (including Mike Martz). Jim Harbaugh has done something with Smith, Vernon Davis and that side of the ball that makes the whole better than the sum of the points.

The 49ers are good enough on defense to take away the New York running game and make the Giants one-dimensional. That in the end will be the difference.

49ers, 23 - Giants, 20

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

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USA TODAY

Promising start turns ugly as Bears drop another one to an NFC North rival

Oh, it all started so promising.

The Bears looked like a well-oiled machine early Sunday, looking like the kind of team bouncing back from a gut-wrenching loss to the Green Bay Packers a week prior. But with another NFC North rival in town, this time the Detroit Lions, things turned ugly in a hurry — and the result ended up the same.

The Bears lost for the seventh time in 10 games this season, falling to the Lions by a 27-24 score on the shores of Lake Michigan.

An offense that has struggled to put points on the board much of the year — and couldn’t match a Packers offense led by backup quarterback Brett Hundley last weekend — started strong, with three scoring drives in its first four possessions. Mitch Trubisky led scoring drives of 70, 55 and 73 yards, producing 17 points and had the Bears ahead by 10 midway through the second quarter.

The lone Lions points came after a rare miscue by the offense in the opening 20-plus minutes when Trubisky fumbled a snap, only for D.J. Hayden to run it back 27 yards for a touchdown. But still, the Bears looked the superior team on both sides of the ball.

It was then, though, that Matt Stafford flipped a switch and started picking apart the Bears’ defense. Backed up at his own nine-yard line after an offensive pass-interference penalty, Stafford marched the Lions down the field, rattling off completions of 17, 40 and 28 yards, the last a touchdown pass that took advantage of a badly burned Marcus Cooper.

Stafford then led a 73-yard touchdown drive, once again picking apart the Bears’ secondary and giving his Lions a lead right before the half, a sudden turn of events considering the Bears had a double-digit lead not long before.

After an uneventful third quarter, the Bears tied the game with five minutes remaining on a stellar touchdown run by Tarik Cohen. But Stafford marched the Lions right down the field immediately afterward, and the Lions cashed in with a 52-yard go-ahead field goal.

Trubisky led the Bears downfield and put them in position for a game-tying field goal, but Connor Barth’s attempt was way off the mark, sending the Bears to another upsetting defeat.

Tarik Cohen gets back in the game

After earning much social-media scorn the last few weeks, the Bears’ coaching staff brought Tarik Cohen back with a vengeance.

The rookie running back proved himself a dangerous offensive weapon early in the season, but he had been largely absent for weeks, combining for just five rushing attempts and three receptions in the previous three games against the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and aforementioned Packers.

Well, the Bears’ coaches must have heard all that criticism and heavily involved Cohen, who finished with nine rushes for 44 yards and four catches for 15 yards. He was targeted a total of six times.

And Cohen came up with a huge play late in the game, taking a shovel pitch from Trubisky, running to the pylon and flipping his way into the end zone, extending the ball in midair to make sure it was a touchdown. That score tied the game at 24 with five minutes left.

Banged-up Bears

The Bears’ defense — already well bothered with injuries — added a couple more to the list Sunday.

None seemed more significant than the one to Leonard Floyd, who was taken off the field on a cart in the fourth quarter after Kyle Fuller crashed into Floyd’s right knee. Floyd spent a good deal of time on the ground before the cart came out.

Fuller suffered a wrist injury on the same play, with TV cameras catching the sight of an awful lot of blood.

At various points, defensive linemen Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman left the field with members of the training staff. And on the offensive side, wide receiver Josh Bellamy was announced as being in the concussion protocol after a play in the third quarter.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16